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Cruise Dreams

By: John Landsman, Director of Strategy and Analytics

For most of us, it’s true dead of winter, with yet another month until Spring.  The cold and gloom and dirty piles of snow are depressing.  What better escape than even the fantasy of a few warm, tranquil, barefoot days, cruising the subtropics and sipping rum drinks?  You say that’s not in the cards for you this year?  Well, it’s not for me, either.  But cruise lines do use email, and in surprising ways.  So let’s look at some of that.

The table below shows the email activity of six prominent cruise lines over the past thirty days.  From left to right, they are shown in order of their overall email audience size (panel reach).

  • By the standards of major retail brands, these are relatively small email audience sizes (Target’s, for example, is almost 40 million), but even so, the six cruise brands reflect considerable range in their comparative reach, from nearly 10 million for Norwegian, down to less than two million for Celebrity.
  • The largest three cruise brands (Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and Carnival) also sent the largest number of campaigns (120-156) during the period, and 78-187M actual deployed emails). The smaller brands (Princess, Holland America and Celebrity) also had much lower activity:  32-46 email campaigns; 13-58M emails deployed.
  • Surprisingly, and by almost any standard, inbox performance is relatively weak for all six of these brands — only 56-79%. We consider anything under 90% to be problematic.  One can only speculate as to the causes of such consistent weakness.  However, a key spam-driver is mailing into relatively email-inactive audience segments.  These would be likely be common with the cruise brands’ email lists, because big-ticket cruise consumption is so infrequent for most of us, and the buying cycles are so long.
  • Average period read rates range from only average (11% for Norwegian), to moderate (17% for Celebrity).

  • Another surprise is the extent to which the subject lines of these emails reflect explicitly promotional substance. The table below shows the five most used subject line words for each cruise line brand, highlighting words with clear promotional context or meaning.  Of the thirty words shown, over half reflect promotional intent.

  • Looking at the top two performing emails for each brand (table below) reflects some of this same promotional emphasis. Of the twelve campaigns listed, eight subject lines contain clear promotional references.
  • The campaigns are ranked in order of their read rates, which range from a strong 27% for Princess, down to an above-average 15-16% for Norwegian.
  • The strongest performers tend to have both promotional references and those related to specific destinations, time periods or events. This pattern is similar to those we see in successful retail email.

Clearly, the nature of their business creates challenges for cruise lines in the acquisition, engagement and retention of qualified email audiences.  But the basic principles of successful email execution are still applicable, regardless of industry vertical.