(Stacey Symonds is a speaker at the upcoming MRA Insights & Strategies Conference)

At Orbitz, we send out various types of emails to our customers to welcome them to our Orbitz Rewards loyalty program, to share exclusive deals and promotions and to update them on their travel reservations, among others.

In addition to using basic email performance metrics (i.e. click-through rates, tagged email zones, tracking multiple unique URLs, noticing the impact of device type), consumer insights can help illuminate how customers are interacting with your email and identify opportunities for improvement.

Here are several ways we have done this at Orbitz to improve our email program:

  1. Survey Research: Asking direct questions about how customers understand the content of your emails or other stimuli can help identify text that is confusing or irrelevant to them. Customers can also articulate general likes and dislikes of the email overall that are good foundational insights. It is important to keep in mind, though, that how someone actually interacts with email may not be consistent with their stated opinions of it. One example is that any display advertising typically will get resounding dislikes in surveys, however, consumers continue to click through relevant links. This is why it is so important to combine performance metrics with direct questioning and other techniques.
  2. Image Editor: In addition to the stated perspective that customers can provide to us in surveys, image editing/highlighting and follow-up probing can provide insights. This can bring images to the forefront for customer feedback, moreso than they would have been mentioned in open end survey responses of likes and dislikes. Visual treatments of text, such as a bulleted format also have garnered useful feedback for us through image highlighting. This can also provide a way for consumers to communicate their visceral reaction to the stimuli even if they can't articulate exactly what they like or don't like.

    Email Testing Marketing Research Conference

  3. Eye Tracking: This is a tool that has been in existence much longer than surveys, and definitely much longer than the Internet. Non-invasive eye tracking was used in the early 1900s to monitor eye movement while reading and looking at photographs.1 It has come a long way since then, and is now possible to do using a standard webcam and a laptop or desktop computer with no additional equipment required.2 We worked with a company called Sticky for our email study (Website: sticky.ad). This new iteration of eye tracking has opened up new low-cost opportunities to reap the benefits of this biometric method, allowing you to see where your customers are actually looking and how much time they spend on specific elements or zones within your emails. This helps ensure customers are looking at the content and images you'd like them to see and that they are spending enough time to absorb it. We found that some elements in our emails were getting more or less attention than desired so we made easy adjustments to correct for this.

In summary, using both email performance metrics as well as several consumer insights techniques, Orbitz gained a much more holistic understanding of how our customers interacted with our email marketing. Once we developed some foundational insights, we were able to apply these learnings into our email development efforts. As a result of these enhancements, we have seen improved performance in both open rates and click-through rates. As a regular practice, the consumer insights team at Orbitz uses multiple lenses to help us understand consumer needs. This lets us understand the holistic story of the what, how and why of customer reaction to our marketing materials.


  1. Buswell, G.T. (1922). Fundamental reading habits: A study of their development. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
  2. Sticky.ad: Sticky's cloud-based AutoGazer eye tracking algorithm allows accurate eye tracking from webcams at any scale without the need for other hardware

How well do you really understand digital consumers? How does "queuing," a foundational consumer-to-digital behavior, affect people's abilities to think and act? How is digital context different from traditional context? What are the implications of digital context and decision-making for mobility and wearables, sensors and the Internet of Things, social media and advertising, location-based tools?

Explore the shift from omni-channel to digital context and consumer expectations for digital derived from a multi-step insight gathering process when Stacey Symonds joins Stone Mantel's Martie Woods at the 2015 Insights & Strategies Conference.