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Big trouble in little Cheesecake Factory?

Posted by Rob Ropars on October 7th, 2009

cheesecakefactoryI recently received an email from the The Cheesecake Factory. The “From Name” seemed to be more appropriate for a welcome message, “Cheesecake Factory Greetings”. It was confusing in particular because Gmail truncated it so I only saw “Cheesecake Factory Greet.” As I’ve been on their list for some time, the “Greetings” comment made me pause-why not just have “Cheesecake Factory”?

The subject line also left me a little cold, “Announcing More Small Plates & Snacks”. What’s a “small plate”? I see there are more of them now! And oh boy…more snacks. Perhaps the snippet text would provide further insight and make me want to open the email? Here’s what I saw “To ensure you continue to receive email from THE CHEESECAKE FACTORY® , please add …” Yep…I’m drooling now…

Joking aside this illustrates the growing importance of snippet text (aka preview text). Increasingly, email clients are adding this feature after the subject line as a third means for a recipient to decide whether to open an email. At this point I know who wrote me, but unsure why they’re sending “Greetings”, the subject line is vague and there’s not really any snippet text driving me to open the email. I probably wouldn’t normally have opened it to be honest.

But for the sake of a full review of the message I pushed on. I found yet another email marketing message sent as an all-image message. With no snippet text and an all-image email, they’re forcing me to read alt text to get the gist of the message and fortunately my email client support this functionality or load images.

The email layout is a little busy with a full column main item, with an extra item stuck in it and then two items side-by-side under that item. They also varied the font style and size of each item’s headline. As I started to scan the message, my eye was somewhat confused as to where I was supposed to look. The logo at the top drew my first view, then “BIG FLAVORS…” main item title, then the bottom right’s “REUNION of a lifetime”. What reunion?! and finally “Stefanie’s Ultimate Red Velvet Cake Cheesecake”, who the heck is Stefanie?.

Now I’m dizzy and have a lot of questions. Maybe that was the intention, but I tend to like clarity and answers. The details in the supporting copy are in a very small font size, which are frankly a bit hard to read. As a consideration for an online population that’s growing older, and who are always interested in desserts and snacks, I would tend to recommend using a larger font size. If I’m struggling to read it-I’m sure people older than me would also be having an issue.

They did do a lot of things correct, they included a web link to an HTML copy of the message to view in a browser, used alt tags behind the images, had some other links to their site as a navigation row, had the typical email marketing/legal best practices (opt-out link, add to safe sender info, privacy policy link, postal address, etc.), included a social media link (Facebook), a forward to a friend link (viral aspect), and even referenced which email address the message was specifically sent to, which is useful if people have emails forward to other accounts to read.

What could have been done better?
• Tweaked the from name to be more precise
• Had a more concrete/exciting subject line
• Add some snippet text above the message for email preview and mobile devices
• Use HTML text throughout instead of images embedded in graphics
• Consider larger font sizes throughout to improve readability for old timers
• Calls-to-action/links should be HTML text and underlined to reinforce they’re links
• Section titles should be consistent in size/shape appearance
• The blurb about their homemade sauces and dressings is great, but it’s forced into the main item box and therefore competing with the main item (it could easily have been a separate full width item right after the main item).
• The footer area contains two statements including all caps wording telling me to not reply to the message as the address “does not accept replies.” That’s not only plain rude (in particular after some shouting text “DO NOT REPLY TO THIS EMAIL”), this could very well be a CAN SPAM issue as the law gives people the right to email to unsubscribe. It’s one thing to not encourage people to manually reply, another to blatantly try and discourage them. And repeat the message by your unsubscribe link “Please DO NOT reply to this email to unsubscribe.” (now they’re trying to be polite after shouting twice).

It’s a good email, but not a great one. With some work and changes it could really get people salivating and excited to get their snack on.

They really need to reconsider the all-image concept and work on making the layout and copy easier to digest (sorry couldn’t resist). They have a lot of interesting items to point out, but overall I think they’re losing people with the presentation and some of the choices made.

One of our COMPASS reports could provide The Cheesecake Factory with a detailed full review of an email with pages of recommendations and ideas. Anyone can apply for a review-we would love to help!

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