July 19, 2011
Case Study

Remarketing Emails: How JetBlue's automated triggers get 1,640% more revenue-per-email than promotional emails

SUMMARY: Sending triggered emails to visitors who abandon online shopping carts is a well-known way to increase conversion rates on a retail site -- but do similar tactics work outside of retail?

See how JetBlue created a system of four triggered emails that generated higher open rates, clickthrough rates, and revenue-per-email-sent than its promotional emails. Find out why the airline's marketers were careful not to add too much personalization or promotion in the emails.
By Adam T. Sutton, Senior Reporter


Danielle Compitello, Email Marketing Manager at JetBlue Airways, is responsible for all marketing emails sent by the airline. She joined JetBlue more than three years ago and brought a wealth of experience in online retail.

Her experience taught her that triggered emails could be a powerful way to drive visitors back to a retailer's website and boost conversions. However, she noticed that similar remarketing emails were not used in her new industry.

"We did a lot of research and there weren't a lot of airline competitors that were doing the same sort of trigger to our knowledge," she says. "We figured this could be a really good opportunity, not only to fill that gap, but also to deliver a relevant communication to our customers."

Compitello's team wanted to test automated triggers in JetBlue's marketing, but there were serious questions for the brand, she says. Some team members were concerned that the emails could make customers feel uneasy about their actions being monitored. How could the team test triggered emails without giving its audience the creeps?


JetBlue created a system of triggered emails to be sent to visitors who started but did not finish booking a flight on the airline's website. The emails would avoid featuring too much information from the visitors' behavior and would not make a hard sales pitch. If the emails improved results, Compitello's team could then comfortably invest to improve them.

Here are the steps the team followed:

Step #1. Consider the impact on the brand

There are many different types of triggered emails that can encourage a person to return to a company's website. Some feature detailed information from the visitors' behavior, related content, suggestions based on purchase history, and other information.

Compitello's team knew its emails could feature very detailed information but was not sure the approach was right for JetBlue's brand.

"We definitely wanted to be careful with how this came across, because we didn't want to be invasive to the customer," she says.

- Start with a 'medium' approach

The team researched triggered emails it had received from other companies and identified messages that had too much personal information, as well as messages that did not offer enough personalization. The team chose an approach between the two extremes, which is described below. If the emails worked, the team planned a phased approach to increase the relevance of the emails to subscribers' behavior.

Step #2. Set the emails' goals

Since Compitello had seen success with cart abandonment emails, the team wanted JetBlue's triggered emails to reach people who abandoned the flight-booking process. The team also wanted the emails to communicate some key attributes of JetBlue's brand.

"That's when we asked 'What's the really important thing that a customer should know about JetBlue?' And that is definitely our loyalty program," Compitello says. "I think we by far have one of the best loyalty programs out there."

This gave the emails two goals:

1. Encourage visitors to return to JetBlue's site to finish booking
2. Encourage visitors to join or log in to JetBlue's TrueBlue loyalty program

Step #3. Identify four different drop-off points

The emails were sent one day after a visitor abandoned a flight-booking session. The team identified four pages from which a person could drop-off and receive a triggered message:

o Flight selection - after selecting departure and destination cities in a search for flights, the visitor was given a list of specific flights to choose from.

o Seat selection - after choosing flights, visitors were asked to select their seats on this screen.

o Ancillary - this page offered additional services such as car rental and hotel rooms in the destination city.

o Payment - this page collected the visitor's credit card information and finalized the sale.

- Email sent to subscribers

Because the system needed a visitor's email addresses to send a triggered message, the team focused this effort on subscribers to JetBlue's email programs. Any subscriber who started to book a flight but left the site from one of the above pages would receive a triggered message.

Step #4. Customize the emails' design

The team created four similar email designs based on two attributes of the audience. Here are the two attributes and how they affected each email's appearance:

Attribute #1. Visitor's final destination

If JetBlue's system detected a visitor's intended destination city, then the triggered email mentioned the city in a customized:

o Subject line
o Headline
o Text

If data on the visitor's destination city was unavailable, then the above elements were generalized. In all cases, the top half of the email listed the benefits of flying on JetBlue, and included a "Book Now" button that directed visitors to the airline's booking tool.

Attribute #2. Loyalty membership status

The bottom-half of every email featured information about JetBlue's TrueBlue loyalty program. If the visitor was a member, this portion featured:

o Headline: "The Benefits of TrueBlue"
o Bullet points listing the benefits
o "Learn More" button linked to the TrueBlue page

If the visitor was not a member, then the bottom-half featured:

o Bullet points listing the benefits
o "Join now" button linked to the TrueBlue page
o One of two headlines:

"Join TrueBlue and Earn Points on Your Next Flight to [CITY]."
"Join TrueBlue and Earn Points on Your Next Flight."

Combining these attributes gave the team four types of triggered emails:

Email #1 - City known, current loyalty member
Email #2 - City unknown, current loyalty member
Email #3 - City known, non-loyalty member
Email #4 - City unknown, non-loyalty member

- Soft sales pitch

Rather than feature a strong offer or discount, the team designed the emails to highlight JetBlue's strong points and encourage people to return to JetBlue's site.

"If you look at the content of the email, we're not really pushing anything. They're pretty simple. It's a gentle reminder to return to JetBlue," Compitello says.

Compared to JetBlue's standard promotional emails, the triggered emails generate on average:

o 150% higher open rates
o 170% higher clickthrough rates
o 200% higher conversion rates (conversion defined as a sale made from the email)

The emails also generate a 1,640% increase in revenue per email delivered as compared to JetBlue's standard promotional emails.

"It was really important to prove that we're sending small batches of emails to a customer on a targeted and relevant level and we're making X-Y-Z in revenue," Compitello says. "It's been tremendous. As email marketers, it's a difficult job for us to convince everybody that volume is not always the key, and that targeting, relevancy, and the content you put out in your email is much more important than the size of your distribution list.

- Most-relevant email prevails

Of the four triggered emails, the email with the highest performance was sent to visitors whose destination cities were known and who were TrueBlue members," Compitello says.

"That makes sense because these are active customers. They're checking their emails. They're part of our loyalty program, and they're interested."

- Plans to improve the system

"Now that we know how successful a simple email like this is to our customer base, this is where we are going to get more relevant and, I'm assuming, more effective in our communications ... Phase two would be to modify the copy for those drop off points. So, if you drop off the flight page, you're going to have a different email and different copy than if you dropped off on the ancillary page," Compitello says.

JetBlue's triggered send campaign is just one of many unique case studies we've covered. If you're interested in reading more email marketing case studies and how-to articles, subscribe to the complimentary Email Marketing newsletter.

Useful links related to this article

1. Email #1. City known, current loyalty member
2. Email #2. City unknown, current loyalty member
3. Email #3. City known, not loyalty member
4. Email #4. City unknown, non loyalty member

Email Marketing: Reclaim abandoned shopping carts with triggered ‘remarketing’ emails

Email Marketing Optimization: How you can create a testing environment to improve your email results

Email Testing: More specific subject line improves open rate by more than 35%

Members Library -- Email Marketing: How a triggered alert program maintains 40% open rate, 60% click-to-open rate for millions of subscribers

Members Library -- Remarketing Emails: 3-part triggered series generates 53% click-to-conversion rate

e-Dialog -- team's email service provider

TrueBlue -- JetBlue's loyalty program


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