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April 19, 2007

The best email marketing I ever got

by Josh Bernoff

I call people out when their marketing is lame. Now I'd like to show you the best pitch I got in the last six months.

Four years ago I rented a villa in Provence for a few weeks for my whole family. If that sounds great, well, it was. I have very fond memories of the time I spent there. I found the property on a site called rentvillas.com and yes, I'd use them again.

Rentvillas' problem is this: their customers may not think of going back to them again, since it's typically years between visits. So they sent me this email.

Now our email expert Shar Van Boskirk could tell you all about what email works -- how frequently you can touch people, what kinds of things to say, what kinds of software to use, all of that. But this email is somehow different.

1. It's completely different from every other sales email I've ever gotten since it doesn't go right at the problem.

2. It taps into the uneasiness every American feels about vacationing in a foreign country, and reminds us that that's part of the adventure.

3. They send me maybe three emails a year, so they don't tax my patience -- they're timed just right for people planning a vacation.

But somehow, this marketing email actually managed to stimulate the nostalgia I had for that trip, and generating an emotion like that from an email is just spectacular.

As Nikki HootonHootman, who wrote this email, told me, "The interesting thing is that we actually tried a much more "professional" looking format with a very nice visual element... but we discovered that people treated it like a mass mailer you might get from Amazon.com or another huge company. When we just use plain text and a photo or two, people consider it much more personal."

Marketers, my advice is not to emulate what rentvillas did. My advice is to emulate how they think, tapping into the emotions of your customers with whatever is special about your product. And if nothing is special about your product, quit and find a better place to work.

From: Rentvillas.com
To: Josh Bernoff
Re: Rentvillas.com -- My lunch hour crisis


As I wander through the picturesque main street of tiny Castellina-in-Chianti, I find myself a bit dismayed. It's 2 PM, and I'm famished. In America this wouldn't be a problem, but here in Italy I'm faced with empty streets and closed doors. That's right: lunch is over, and everyone is fast asleep.

Where was I at noon? I was photographing Podere Cristina, the most family-friendly accommodation I've ever seen. Younger guests are welcome to play with the outdoor toys and splash in the pool, while adults will appreciate the window screens (rare in Italy) and terrace views. Everyone who visits raves, which is why I was assigned to bring back some better shots. Check out Earth, Air, Fire, and Water-- believe it or not, there's still some availability for this year.

Podere Cristina - Fire

Back to Castellina. Eureka! At a corner grocer's, I find an open door. The proprietor, a middle-aged woman with a farmer's rough hands, takes pity and puts together a crude Panini. I point to some olives bigger than my eyeballs and she adds them to my bag. I take my "American" lunch hour on a bench in the sun, grinning as an old Italian gentleman ambles by and, seeing my impromptu picnic, laughs. So what if I'm stuck on American time? I'm still having fun!

After lunch, I realize that the directions to my next destination didn't make it into my bag. So I start driving. Four kilometers out of Castellina, a sign flashes by. Is that what I think it is? I pull over and turn around. Hallelujah! It is! Lago Antico, a brand new addition to our catalogue, is a cluster of medieval-era buildings-- complete with two-foot-thick walls, pigeon-hole windows, quirky corners, and a subterranean barrel-ceiling wine cellar. Here, the view is unique: forested mountains, completely untouched, extend as far as the eye can see.

That evening, I sit in the rustic kitchen of Lago Antico Uno, chatting with the manager as Stefano (a local chef) prepares one of the best meals I'll ever eat, using award-winning organic olive oil made right outside. Turns out he's not just a culinary genius; he's a pacifist too: several wasps have managed to sneak in, and one by one he captures them and frees them outside.

In spite of my lunch-hour crisis, this is one of the most satisfying days of my trip. The icing on the cake comes the next morning, when I wake up and peer outside. Dawn is just breaking, illuminating mountaintops and casting a pink glow on the mist-enshrouded valleys below. The world is silent. Bellissimo.

Until next time,

Nikki Hootman
Writer/Editor, Rentvillas.com

P.S. Here are a few more properties you might want to check out if you're still looking for availability this year:
- Our favorite apartment in Florence
- A fully equipped villa for family or friends, south of Siena
- An Italian lakes villa with a picturesque terrace
- Lemon-scented sea views at this Amalfi Coast villa

P.P.S. If you'd prefer not to receive any future communications from me, please un-subscribe [link deleted].

700 East Main Street
Ventura, CA 93001

ph: 800-726-6702
ph: 805-641-1650
fx: 805-641-1630

"Providing unique accommodations for authentic European experiences."

RentVillas.com - European Villa Rentals Since 1984

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Was the writer's watch set on the wrong time zone? 2pm is well within lunchtime range in Tuscany. On the contrary, if she'd shown up at a restaurant's door at noon, it would have been way too early, and they would have told her to come back no earlier than 1pm.
It is rather ludicrous to portray the writer's experience as a "crisis" and, even so, to get the details so wrong. As an Italian, I also find myself resenting the suggestion that "it's 2pm... and everybody is fast asleep". That's like writing email newsletters about lazy Mexicans and no-good Puertoricans. It's simply not true that Italians sleep in the afternoon, as the writer could easily discover by venturing outside the Chiantishire tourist ghetto and visiting any Italian city or town.
To me, this mail reads like a stereotype-ridden, transparently manipulative and not particularly well-informed piece of writing. If this is the best email marketing you ever got, well, that says something about the rest of them.

Rick Klau

Josh - I'm with you - great e-mail, and it would totally remind me of great family memories.

Technical comment: by including the unsub link in the reprinted e-mail, you're probably making it very easy for a curious reader to unsubscribe *you* from the very mailing list you so admire. Might want to edit the post!


Definitely something to learn from this mail! Thanks for great article. :)


let's just admit it, no you will not find open restaurants around 2 pm, not even in Rome in some areas. Yes of course the tourist traps remain open to charge the poor foreigner 20 Eur for a plate of pasta. We can argue about the nap time, if an italian however is on vacation in Italy yes they do take naps. And yup we love it, and then we stay out late strolling our piazzas and eating gelato we don't call it la dolce vita for nothing... And isn't this a nice stereotype? yes, it e basta.Bye the way I am italian living in Italia, un saluto

Chris Baggott

Wow. This is exactly the kind of thing I'm always talking about.

Act like a human being. Our goal as marketers are not "institution to many" it's One to One.

People talking to people.

She could throw a little more data into this pretty easily...like showing a picture of the actual house you stayed in. Give you a property update, that sort of thing.

Josh Bernoff

Paola has a point.

Even so, I think the writer deserves credit for trying to describe what was clearly a real experience instead of going for conservative marketingspeak sameness.


Nathan Gilliatt

Wow, Josh, thanks for putting a really expensive idea in my head. ;-)

Hmmm, a couple of weeks in Avignon?


For email advertising success, visit www.EmailMarketingUS.com


This is an amazing email, and not only works for you, but will work for me - I'm going to get on Nikki's mailing list.

We spent a night two years ago in Radda-in-Chianti (at a hotel, not a villa) and it was amazing! Can't wait to go back again - Nikki's email brought it all back.

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