The “Mean Girls” Guide to Email Marketing

In 2004, Tina Fey bestowed a great gift upon the world: the movie Mean Girls.

For the uninitiated, a brief summary: Lindsey Lohan stars as Cady Heron, a home-schooled 16-year-old forced to enroll in public school when her family relocates to Illinois from Africa. Unprepared for the “survival of the fittest” nature of high school, Cady gets tangled up with a clique known as The Plastics, the most popular — and most hated — girls in school. Through this lens, Mean Girls explores the effects of social cliques in American schools.

With its oft-quoted script, Mean Girls has become one of the most popular movies of the last decade. However, it has much more to teach us beyond how to survive in high school. Cady and the Plastics actually have a few key lessons that can help you succeed in email marketing!

#1 – You don’t have to wear pink on Wednesdays.

The Plastics wear pink every Wednesday — but for no good reason really. It’s only because Regina, the queen bee, at one point arbitrarily decided that they would. However, as any email marketer knows, Regina should have made a data-driven decision instead. To see the most success, Regina should have tried wearing pink every day of the week and seen which day resulted in the most heads turned in her direction. Through simple testing, Regina could have easily generated more consistent attention to her and the other Plastics.

Don’t make the same mistake with your emails! Just because you’ve always sent your Newsletter on Wednesdays at 2pm doesn’t mean you must always do so in the future. Make sure you are constantly testing send times. Your audience’s patterns likely to change over time, particularly around holidays. Never assume that just because your CTR was once highest at a certain time that it will always be highest at that time.

More broadly, though, let the strength of your content drive your email marketing strategy, not routine timing. If you are sending emails just to send them because it’s “Newsletter Day,” you’re not bringing much value to your subscribers. Send Newsletters because you have valuable content to share, not just because it’s Wednesday at 2pm.

#2 – Your negative metrics are just as important as your positive metrics.

When Cady begins to spend too much time with the Plastics, her new-found popularity blinds her to people’s increasingly negative feelings towards her. Despite the mounting hostility, she doesn’t attempt to change course until it’s too late. Her downfall comes because she was overly focused on her positive metrics and ignored her negative metrics. However, those negative metrics were sending her an important message, and she could have prevented many of the movie’s later complications if she had paid attention to her negative feedback in the first place.

As an email marketer, you should certainly celebrate your good Open Rates and CTRs, but make sure you are also paying strict attention to your Spam Complaint Rates and Unsubscribe Rates. If you are remaining blissfully ignorant of dangerously high Spam Complaint Rates on your campaigns, you risk damaging your sender reputation and running into deliverability problems in the long term. Your potential for amazing open or click rates will mean nothing if your emails stop getting delivered due to high complaint rates.

#3 – Make your importance known — with numbers!

In Mean Girls, popularity during the holidays revolves around one major KPI: number of candy canes received from secret admirers. For example, a certain status is conferred upon Glen Coco for getting four candy canes. This earns him respect and admiration from his classmates, particularly because some students (i.e., Gretchen Wieners) didn’t receive any candy canes at all. However, the only reason anyone knew to respect Glen Coco was because Damian announced to the class, “Four for you, Glen Coco. You go, Glen Coco!” If Damian hadn’t said anything about the four candy canes, Glen Coco would have been just another kid in class.

Does your company know what an important role email marketing plays in reaching corporate goals? Make sure you are sharing specific numbers that illustrate how your email marketing efforts are contributing. This can come in many forms based on the way your company shares knowledge internally, but make sure that email marketing’s contributions are being recognized somehow. The only way anyone will know the value email marketing brings to your marketing strategy is to show them numbers representing email’s role in achieving corporate goals.

#4 – “Best practices” aren’t always really the best.

As Cady Heron’s popularity begins to rise, the other students at North Shore look to her for social cues and style trends. One student even goes so far as to say that she bought army pants and flip flips purely because she saw Cady wearing them. Essentially, Cady had established a “best practice” that others began to follow blindly.

I’m a big believer in the idea that best practices are good training wheels, but nothing more. They are a great place to get started if you need ideas or want to learn about new concepts, but you should not let them dictate your email marketing strategy. You must TEST! Blue buttons with 16px font may have worked for one company, but that doesn’t mean they will work for you. What works well for one audience might not work for another. The only way you’ll find out is to test; you’ll never find out if you live and breathe by “best practices.”

What do you think? Are there other potential lessons for marketers hidden in Mean Girls?


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