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March 05, 2010


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Toni Anicic

Really nice ideas there David.

I've never seen an e-mail newsletter system capable of segmenting people into different lists by the imput from some sort of external database that would contain information such as - in this case - the number of miles you've traveled.

You might have just uncovered a great idea for the next generation e-mail newsletter technology startup.

Todd G

Great points. With the amount of customer data available, it amazes me how little effort they put into crafting 1:1 email campaigns. Unfortunately, AA is only one of many not creating content based on data.

Jen Horton

I too am an Executive Platinum member on American Airlines (although you have me beat by about 20,000 miles) and completely agree. I would be curious to learn about the incentive metrics for their email marketing team. I often find that email marketers that do not segment are incented by volume numbers (say number of email opt-ins and number of emails delivered) versus looking at true levels engagement with offers.

I also find it troubling that American has different email channels based on products (AAdvantage, AAirmail, Net SAAver, and AA Vacations). Why not consolidate this into a single channel and ask me for my preferences on information I want to receive and send communications that are segmented by elite status, personal interests, and upcoming trips! Turn the email into my virtual travel concierge. And with the amount we fly - we need it! Help me make the most of my travel. Create meaningful experiences rather than pushing disjointed offers.

In working with my clients, segmentation is what really drives quality engagement. Relevance is the key – especially in a channel such as email where your audience has a pretty short attention span. Lack of relevance can do more harm than no communication at all in many cases.

David Meerman Scott

Toni - I think such email systems exist. I hope that someone representing one comments here.

Todd - absolutely agree!

Jen - You've paid much more attention to the emails than I have. Wow - I hadn't realized that they are product based. Makes sense. Probably a half dozen different marketers who don't speak to one another have access to the email lists. Ugh. No wonder it is a fail.


Dave Morse

I agree - AA is being lazy!

It reminds me of the amazing open letter about/critique of the AA website by Dustin Curtis (see "The Incompetence of American Airlines" http://dustincurtis.com/incompetence.html). A MUST READ!

This seems to indicate that, just like their website, the email marketing "teams" are probably operating in individual silos, with regard only for their OWN narrow agenda (instead of the holistic experience addressing the CUSTOMER wants/needs ... what a concept! *gasp*)

Next time you go to AMS, please stuff me in your suitcase. :)


I completely agree that the e-mails that a company sends should apply to that specific buyer, are they a current customer, are they a customer that stopped purchasing, are they just someone that reads your newsletter, but has never purchased your product.

If AA has a database of all of their customers and has the e-mail addresses of these customers, then they should have a way to export them into specific lists for their e-mail marketing.

It may get harder when you are talking about customers that may buy a product in store and then may sign up for a newsletter later, and you don't know that they are a current customer. However, I think it is important to know the status of your customers at any company, and that a survey sent to your list to make sure they are in the right place would not hurt.


Jen Horton

David - I bet that is exactly what is going on. I have seen it many times before. And, I simply pay attention to their email strategies because I am a bit of a geek. I work with my clients to leverage marketing automation systems (specifically http://www.eloqua.com - for full disclosure) to do the hard data integration and segmentation required to create compelling experiences for their email subscribers.

Personal Development

Niche and knowledge.

Understand your clients needs and be of service to them.

David...What do you think the best email program is?

I use mailchimp and they're pretty good so far.


David Meerman Scott

Thanks Jen. Yup Eloqua does some good stuff here. Thanks for jumping in again.

Disclosure - I spoke at the last Eloqua user conference and I am on the Eloqua board of advisors.


Mark Copeman

David - boy this stuff makes me mad... and I had a similar experience... This post explains my rant - and it appeared to actually work...http://bit.ly/cnZfPg

Re next gen email systems - we launched this in January, because people asked if they could buy the makeshift system we'd cobbled together to approach our targets.

Personalised marketing is the way forward... this does it very

It is of course a blatant plug - however it does respond to the points made above.


(We can now do this in bulk as well as one to one...)

Best wishes,

Michelle Tripp (@michelletripp)

Great post, David! This is just another example of the "broadcast vs. engagement" mentality. It's the quick and easy way and doesn't require truly connecting with customers or being committed to the relationship. Sad. Just further evidence that many marketing departments out there still don't understand we're operating in a new era. Fortunately, social media gives customers the opportunity to call them out on it and influence future marketing activities for the better.

Linda VandeVrede

I get bombarded with promo offers for business cards from Southwest, when I already own one, and calls from the Arizona Republic to subscribe, when I already do...you would think in this economy that companies would figure out how best to target their outreach instead of sending and calling everyone haphazardly.

Dragan Mestrovic

You are right with that.

They could segment customers. And yes, there are email systems out there which are able to personalize a campaign down to the size of your shoes.

I think they simply did not care that there are differences in email marketing. And to do it right, they have to have a deeper understanding what email marketing is and how to use it.

It looks like they need help and consulting on how to approach customers the right way online...

I am looking forward to read from their next attempt and I hope you will post it as well.

I am curious if they monitor social media and blogs and if the next email campaign reflect this blog post.

David Meerman Scott

I tweeted the post and someone from @AAirwaves tweeted back within about an hour. So good twitter response.

Ellen Weiss

I am trying to get the attention of someone at DELTA and wondered how the AA people noticed. Is there a particular setting you used? Thanks....


Yup! Similar frustrations, my pet peeve is the bargain flights that include non from (or even close to) the city I live in. AA KNOW I fly from SFO and could easily craft a relevant email (or non at all!), but choose not to.

Joey Curtis

You can segment your customers almost anyway you want in almost every marketing automation system available. And I'm guessing they are using one that can do this very easily.

To me, this is simply "pilot" error. Their marketing team should know better.

David Meerman Scott

Ellen - After I wrote the blog post I tweeted a link to the post and included the AA twitter handle @AAirwaves in the tweet so they would see it.

Joey and Graham -- YES and YES


've been Executive Platinum for 9 years and I'm now Platinum for life.

I am a huge fan of American - they have great people and mostly run a great operation. I say mostly because while they're terrific around the flying experience, they are "not smart" about their data bases and e-mail marketing.

I get e-mail for both my account and for the accounts of both of my daughters. I'm Platinum and they are not. American does recognize that I'm Platinum since I get a slightly different e-mail from the one sent to my daughters and mine arrives a few minutes before the ones to my daughters.

Here's the slight difference - my e-mails mention my AA status - but that's it! The news, the content, and the offers are the same in the e-mails to my daughters and to me. So - even though it's clear they know I do have significantly different status - they pay zero attention to that.

And yes, I agree, it's clear they have four different product groups sending different e-mails. At least they've managed to get the branding consistent!

Lots of room for improvement!


Great article David. As Marketing Director of a community college we use Email marketing regularly to promote classes and upcoming events at the school. We have a wide range of offerings at the school so it is absolutely necessary to use different email lists. We also have automated class start date reminders and class material confirmation emails that go out to the students who have an upcoming start date. We use Exact Target which gives us great flexibility to achieve the results we are looking for. I know lists can be generated or created because we do it!

Paul Anthony Kelly

The great thin about the days we live in is the ability to respond in real time to issues just like this one. That AA can get into the fray and deal with this issue is there. Now let's hope they rectify the situation. Now I am not AAA Platinum lever super star Concierge service - but I aspire to be someday. So when I get there I damn expect AA to treat me right!


One other big member of the "Clueless on Marketing" club is Citibank.

I've had credit cards there for 20 years - they have a remarkable amount of data about me. You'd think they would be able to figure out that since I already have both a Visa and a Mastercard with them I'm unlikely to need another card from them. You'd also think that since I have never ever run a balance I'm an unlikely candidate for one of their "balance transfer" offers. I've asked them to please stop sending me direct mail and e-mail about new cards and "balance transfers' but I can not get them to stop.

This was annoying enough when I was viewing this from the perspective of a customer - it's even more annoying now that we're all stockholders!

Any suggestions on how to get them to stop are welcome.


Martha Skinner

I personally think you are over-reacting. A general marketing email doesn't offend me in the least. There are too many other things going on in this world today to be upset over a mass maketing email. I get them all the time. If it refers to me, I utilize whatever, if it doesn't I simply delete it.

Ralph Leon

I don't fly much, maybe once a year, so I probably would not have reacted the same way. Though I completely agree with you since you have obviously proved to be a loyal customer. You are the kind of customers companies want and should make an effort to keep. I really think this is just sloppiness on the marketing department. If I was flying as much as you and giving them just as much business I would be just as annoyed. Personally I think the company is just cutting corners. They should really have a special list that is more personalized and that does not get mixed up with the other groups. Luckily with the expansion of social media one comment or call can really go along way. You shouldn't have to do that, but sometimes its the only way things will change. Since I am in the marketing department this really just ticks me off personally.

Kristin Hambelton

It’s been interesting reading through all these responses. Brings to mind one of our customers in the hospitality industry that used greater list segmentation to support their transition from a “product oriented” business, to one hyper focused on improving the customer experience. The hotel chain went from a “send all to all” email strategy using limited personalization (seemingly similar to this AA case), to being able to create detailed profiles of customers that allow the chain to customize offers based on customers’ travel preferences including preferred properties (family oriented or luxury), activities (golf, water sports, etc.) and time of year (for vacation planning). The travel industry seems ripe for these sorts of marketing automation-driven strategies where executing campaigns that are highly relevant, targeted and sent at meaningful intervals will naturally help conversion rates take flight…pun intended! Full disclosure, I am responsible for marketing for Neolane that provides marketing software that addresses these customer experience challenges.

Kevin Senne


Great article. I've worked in the email marketing world for more than 10 years. Us so-called experts preach relevance to our clients all the time. Companies that take the advice can build a fanatically loyal user base. I think the problem is really the medium itself. Email is relatively cheap in the grand scheme of marketing dollars. Executives see that you sent 100 emails and made 10 dollars, so it stands to reason that if you send 200 you'll make 20. It doesn't work like that. Some get it and some don't. I am also a big fan of American. They do a lot of things I like, but I understand where things like you suggest can get swept under the budget/resource rug.

I think we'll see a big shakeout in the near future, where recipient engagement (not funny unmeasurable metrics) will rule the day. The consumers voice will be heard via action.

Good to find you. I look forward to reading more.

Víctor Acero

It is curious nobody from AA has jumped into this conversation yet. You said they tweeted back in an hour. But after 24 hours, do you think they should try to engage in this conversation where several AA frequent flyers are talking in not very good mood?

Anders Johansson

I am also an AAdvantage member, but since AA stopped the flights between Chicago and Stockholm, Sweden, I had to move most of my business to SAS. They have the system you are looking for. I just got my account balance and their system knows my milage and I got several good ideas how to use my miles. They have three categories sole - travel by your own, romance -bring someone along or family - take your whole family. They come closer to creating a feeling that they know you than AA.

David Meerman Scott

Victor - AA tweeted and reached out to me privately. But you're absolutely right - they should be commenting here... David


We read your article with interest. As an email marketing company that does provide segmentation perhaps this is another example of one size fits all marketing. If you can segment why wouldn't you? Sounds like they missed the "make feel special" aspect of this campaign for you at least.

Mark Kolier

What's most distressing is that the solution is so obvious. Of course AA can segment the emails. That it takes your post David to bring it to light speaks more about AA than anything else. Bet the next email you receive will be much more targeted.


This was a great post David, thanks for sharing your experience and I can't wait to hear what AA's explanation will be about this. It blows me away that an enterprise level company like AA is being so lazy about segmenting their audience communications. Basic buyer persona analysis if you ask me, something any decent broadcast email program will allow you to do quite easily.



I've got the answer - they hire you and you fix it.

I know you'll turn it into a customer focused program rather than product focused. And you'll turn it around to be interaction with customers instead of a "push" strategy that you can choke on.


Chris Stone

David, first this is a great post! Poor data management (and a lack of managing other key components, i.e. autoresponders, triggers, etc.) seems to be a hallmark for big companies employing email marketing. You asked about email marketing systems. We're an agency partner of Send Labs (http://www.sendlabs.com or http://twitter.com/sendlabs), and they have a pretty robust API that allows integration between a clients' database and their software. It sounds like AA could use help with data management! But, at least they're respectable at monitoring their social media!

Shannon Russo

Good stuff David - totally on point

the only think that made me chuckle more was the "red" button for buy now!.....

I appreciate your perspective,

Jeff Ogden

I think you make a great point here, David, that has nothing to do whatsoever with American Airlines. Sure, the email came from them, but it points to a larger problem.

Here's what the recipient thinks. I'm me. I care about me. I want you to know me. When you send me an email, I want you to talk to me. If I'm special, you should know I'm special.

The era of email blasts are over. Technology exists to hyper-segment databases and to send highly personalized email. This is what marketers need to focus on.

Jeff Ogden, President
Find New Customers "Lead Generation Made Simple"



I'm sorry if this posted twice (computer snafu), but I wanted to chime in to tell you that I received a similar offer from BMW this morning. We had a 5 lb package waiting in our mailbox when I checked it. It included a very expensive (I'm guessing) glossy book of cars, coupons and a letter saying that they missed us and wanted us back as customers.

Our family has been loyal to the BMW brand for the last nine years. We trade our car in every 3 years for the exact same model, just 3 years newer. We have been loyal to this dealership from the days that my wife was in law school and bought her first new car from them all the way through.

This package felt like a slap in the face because they don't even recognize their most loyal customers. They didn't even take the time to realize we have been BMW customers for 9 straight years. I drove ours just this morning.

They aren't going to lose my business over this because I think it is an excellent product, but someone in their marketing department needs to get with the times.

Thank you for writing this post.


David Meerman Scott

Melanie. Sadly this is all too common. Thanks for sharing the story.

Account Deleted

Hi David.I have read your article I must say it's a great idea.To create email list.As we all know email marketing is one of the most effective forms of advertising.Anyways thanks for this excellent post.I really appreciate your work.

Best Regards,

marketing automation solution

David, thanks for posting on this topic. I can say from personal experiences, you're not alone. Companies such as American Airlines should revisit their email marketing process. Historically, most companies would send out an email blast to their entire database. With marketing automation technology, marketers can segment their database to send relevant content. In this situation, American should have segmented their database to only send a message to people who have points under a certain threshold.

AAdvantage Miles

David, I just have read your story. All I can say,thanks for posting on this topic and you are quite humble.

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