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How PayPal discovered its email mojo

Friday 7 June 2019 Customer ExperienceDigital Marketing


Matthew Slaymaker's picture
By Matthew Slaymaker

Creating engaging emails is already tough enough.

But as a financial services provider, PayPal operates in one of the most regulated industries in the world. And that means all its correspondence must include specific pieces of legal copy to comply with regulations.

With the company relying on email marketing for upselling and product engagement, it needed a way to create compelling emails – without sacrificing compliance.


The challenge: multiple points of potential failure

So, with emails packed with non-negotiable legal jargon, plus the need to accommodate language and cultural differences for nearly every country in the world, PayPal was looking for a way to increase engagement.

And because customers’ personal preference information was lacking, it was all too easy to bombard them with everything it had to offer in a single email. That’s not just annoying – when you’re dealing with both B2C and B2B customers like PayPal does, you need to segment your messages carefully.


The solution: form follows function

Given this brief – and CACI’s experience working with financial services clients – we could see PayPal needed highly functional emails that wouldn’t sacrifice compliance standards, but that were also highly engaging and encouraged customers to click through.

We worked with PayPal to develop a three-stage process:


Stage 1 – Collaborative ideation

Getting the first stage right is critical to the success of any email campaign. So, we brought designers and developers together, to avoid the risk of an ambitious design being created, which is simply far too complex to code.

A key requirement for PayPal was to keep email functionality at the fore. The team came up with an idea which helped change customer perceptions of the brand, without using gimmicks which would have simply cheapened its message.

Once this important foundation was firmly in place, the form could then follow…

Stage 2 – Inclusive design

With more than 200 million customers worldwide – using every major email client, device, and screen size – there’s no one-size-fits-all option for PayPal.

The emails needed to cater for everyone – otherwise customers are punished for simply not for having the latest device or an unusual screen size.

Fallbacks were created for every email so they would even work in clients that don’t fully support them – just in a simpler form.

Again, the team were on the lookout for anything that could potentially create issues down the line. How, for example, would customers interact with the email when viewing them in a prohibitive environment like Outlook?

They created storyboards for all the interactive elements to give clear instructions to developers. This also served to maintain expectations for the wider team.

Stage 3 – Unconventional build

The team used the opposite of the standard progressive enhancement (i.e. taking the lowest common denominator and scaling it up) for its development process.

Interactive elements, like tabs or accordions, are key for PayPal’s emails – they enable the company to retain the necessary legalese, while also enhancing customer engagement.

The production process was therefore front-loaded with the most complicated interactive elements first – and gracefully degraded the HTML to suit other email clients. This ensured as many customers as possible would be engaged by those all-important interactive elements.

In addition, dynamic fields for language variations were used so the marketing team doesn’t need a completely different email template for every country.

To underpin this approach, PayPal keeps testing and learning – on as many devices as possible. The company finds this is the quickest way to find and resolve any bugs, to ultimately benefit customer experience.


Useful emails that are on the money for customers

Making boring emails fun and interactive – especially in highly regulated environments – won’t happen overnight.

But set out exactly what you want to achieve from the start, work across teams, and be realistic. You’ll be able to deliver compliant emails that do an important job – while encouraging customers to read and click through.

And if you continue to test and learn, you’re much more likely to see positive engagement from emails – with a corresponding uplift in revenue.

For PayPal the results were clear, and the company has seen a significant boost to its click-through rate to new products.


Want to make your emails matter?

Cutting through a full inbox to reach your audience has always been a challenge – but writing emails that people want to read is only getting harder. Take a look at my Four Tips for Advanced Email Personalisation blog to learn how the companies leading the way in email marketing get their messages through.

Legal jargon is boring. But for a payment provider like PayPal, it’s a fact of life. This is the story of how PayPal’s marketing team turned legally compliant emails into something people would actually read.

How PayPal discovered its email mojo