This is the story of how we emailed 50,000 companies, with the “best cold email ever”, offering the services of Ramp, the smartest, simplest, custom t-shirt ordering site in the world. Each sales email featured a photo of me, Ramp’s CEO, wearing their company t-shirt so that they could see what they would be buying.
(UPDATE – We’re currently raising investment. Drop us a line if you’re a professional investor and interested in helping a smart, innovative, data-driven company reach its potential. My email address is in most of the screengrabs.)
So, here’s the TL;DR version.
50,000 people have received an email in their inbox with the subject line: “I’m wearing a [YOUR COMPANY] t-shirt!”.
How could they not open that…?
When they opened it, this is what they saw.
We built a system that sent this engaging sales email out to tens of thousands of people, each featuring a personalised image, letting them know that we made it really easy for them to great quality merchandise for their team or event. Read on to find out how we did it….
how we created the “best cold email ever”
A few months back we were reading the ReallyGoodEmails site, and got to wondering how to personalise an image in a sales email, and not just the text. As with all good ideas, it took a few of us chatting to take inspiration from that, and come up with the idea of sending an outreach email for Ramp, but which included a photo of someone wearing a t-shirt with the recipient’s company logo on it.
Like all good startups, we decided to test the theory in the quickest, cheapest way we could. We found some stock photography of a model wearing a plain white t-shirt, and manually photoshopped in the logo of 50 different companies, and sent them each a sales email. It took about 4 hours to create all the previews, get all the emails, and then do the mail merge. We didn’t think too hard about the copy at this point. We just wanted to test how people responded to the image.
It was an instant hit. We got several replies, and a solid 50% open rate. OK, we had something. But it was labour intensive, and not hugely scalable. The response rate at this stage just didn’t justify the time we’d need to spend on it. We needed to dig around for an automated solution. Technically tricky, but by no means impossible.
We started patching together various web services – we found PlaceIt.net, which allowed us to upload logos and automatically create previews of random models wearing t-shirts. The photos were good quality, and the images looked professional. We even discovered that they allowed us to create video previews. So we created a bunch of videos, turned them into animated gifs, and embedded those into the emails.
However, in split tests the animated images performed even more poorly, which was a surprise to us. We reverted to static images. It was at this point that we thought that the ultimate preview would feature me, the company CEO, wearing a preview of their t-shirt.
But it still took time and money to use other people’s services.
Here comes the science bit
The next step was to build something to do this at scale, so we sat down with our CTO, Milen, and came up with a system that could:
- Get company emails.
- Get company logos.
- Create a unique preview for each company.
After some research we found a bunch of micro-services like Clearbit, Hunter, and Zapier to achieve the first two. The third one took some image processing wizardry from the tech team, but it was doable. The main issue was now tying it all together.
We’re writing up a full technical rundown of how we did this, but the short version is that all we do now is feed the system a list of domain names. It finds all the emails (it weeds out anything like support@ and info@), and the company logos. The resulting preview images are uploaded to our server with a unique image URL, which can be embedded in the relevant email so that person at company X receives a picture of me wearing the logo of company X.
Now that we had built our own bespoke system, we would need our own photo of a person wearing a blank t-shirt. And it made sense for it to be a photo of me, the company CEO. Like many people, I’m not a huge fan of having my photo taken, but it’s the ultimate mark of trust and reliability, right?!
So, I stood up against a white wall, and Romina took 50 shots of me. We picked the least awful one, and have used it ever since.
The whole process took about six weeks from idea, through testing, to roll out of the fully automated system.
We had three main types of replies:
- Amazing! 90% of the people who responded had a positive comment on our marketing, or just bought straight away.
- Funny! The majority of the rest were amusing.
- Angry! A tiny handful were upset, and just didn’t get it. We had legal threats, insults about my appearance, and some other unsavoury comments.
I have a folder of literally hundreds of these emails. Here’s a small handful.
Some recipients were inspired to fire up Photoshop or MS Paint, and send us their own versions!
Nice quick work from Reach Robotics, below, who seemed to email this nice bit of Photoshop back to me literally seconds after they received our email!
This reply from Daniel at Oliver Harvey gave us a huge giggle (but also highlighted how marketing automation at scale means that you don’t always get your targeting right!
But our all time favourite response came from Rusty at Impact Canopies who loved our email so much, that he decided he wanted a t-shirt featuring me, wearing his company logo. And we couldn’t let him down, so we printed one and sent it.
And here he is!
He tells us that it hangs proudly in his booth, much to the amusement of his colleagues.
Some people just didn’t get it. Or they got out of the wrong side of the bed that day. Whatever caused it, if you get an email that starts “Look my friend”, you know it’s not good.
But thankfully very few people were angry. Some people liked it so much they decided to tweet about it!
— Miriam Ballesteros (@mirballgo) August 2, 2017
Best cold email, ever? pic.twitter.com/BsVUmXjmef
— Adam Breckler (@adambreckler) November 16, 2017
So, where are we now?
After going through a few versions of the campaign, we’ve reduced the campaign to a single email, where once it was three emails. We felt that the impact of the first email was enough.
- Open rate – consistently above 50%
- Click Through Rate – Some campaigns/sectors have received a whopping 25%+ CTR
- Total revenue – We might reveal full details at a later date. But for now, let’s just say – Tens of thousands of pounds, dollars and euros! 😉
Want to know what it looks like in your inbox?
Want to get an automated email like the one above, but featuring your company logo? Just put your email address in this box. You won’t be added to a list, and you’ll just receive a single, example email. (Note – ideally a proper company email. If you use a Gmail or Hotmail address, for example, you’ll get a photo of me wearing a Gmail or Hotmail tshirt…)
What we learned
- Beyond avoiding the spam filter, it’s worth thinking about sales emails as a sales funnel. What do you need to do to get them to the next stage? The first stage is just opening the email in the first place. The second stage is grabbing their attention. The third stage is making them read your pitch etc etc etc.
- On that note, at every stage think to yourself “What would make me open an email? What would grab my attention? What would make me read the next sentence?”. There’s a famous tech journalist that says he receives over 1,000 emails a day, and that the best way to get him to even open your email is to put a massive, all-caps, filthy swearword in the Subject line! 😉
- There are a ton of micro-services out there that allow you to bootstrap/growth-hack/whatever your way to proving that your idea works. Zapier, Hunter, Gmail plugins, DuxSoup etc etc. We spent less than £50 on subscriptions and licenses to prove this approach worked. From there, we knew it was worth committing the technical resource.
- You don’t need to be a tech genius. We pretty much proved the concept between the few of us with our hand in marketing before we moved it “up the foodchain” to Milen and the tech team.
- Cold sales emails aren’t just something for tech companies. I mean, we’re a tech company, but we’re selling something fairly “traditional”. You could sell your consultancy service with this very same email – “See how I made you open and read this email? I could do this for all your prospective clients, too!“
We’re on Twitter (if you want to tweet about this article like lots of others already have, then copy us on in – @RampTshirts), Facebook, and Instagram. And don’t forget, if you need high quality merch or swag for your team or events, head to our homepage and upload your company logo to see just how simple and smart we’ve made it to get great quality screenprinted custom t-shirts. And just in case you’re still not convinced about our sales email, here’s a random selection of the hundreds of responses we’ve received….