Snowball.com Finds That Sometimes Less ISNT More

  |  November 30, 2000   |  Comments

If you publish an email newsletter, you know the conventional wisdom about delivery: Once a week is the maximum an audience can handle. But sometimes it pays to question convention.

In a recent conversation I had with an email marketer, he mentioned that his company sends out its email newsletters twice a month -- because as everyone knows, you don't want to overwhelm subscribers with newsletters.

I nodded my head in agreement, thinking about all the marketers I know who send out newsletters. It's conventional wisdom in the industry: Once a week, most say, is the maximum an audience can handle.

But sometimes it pays to question convention. Shortly after that conversation, a speaker at the ClickZ B2C Email Strategies conference mentioned that her company sends out a newsletter almost daily.

How successful is this strategy? The short answer is: quite.

Here's the longer answer.

Target: "Gen i"

Snowball.com, a content-oriented online network, carries a number of subsidiary sites, including IGN.com, an entertainment and gaming site that was recently voted the best entertainment site by Wired Magazine's Readers Raves.

Never heard of it? Then you probably aren't part of "Gen i": those aged 13-30 who have grown up or are growing up with computers. Gen i is the target audience for IGN.com, and 98 percent of the site's registered users are male.

The IGN web site was launched back in May 1997, but only later did the company decide to send out an email newsletter specifically for the purpose of attracting new members. (By the way, the company was already sending newsletters to those who had registered at Snowball.com sites.) In December 1999, the IGN Games Newsletter began shipping to Hotmail members who opted to receive it; Snowball.com chose Hotmail because it opened the site up to millions more potential visitors. The newsletter, then as now, offers news, previews, reviews, demos, codes, cheats, and strategies.

Here's where the break with conventional wisdom comes in. Snowball.com had been sending out three internal newsletters, one devoted to games, one to science fiction, and one that is a more general "for men" newsletter, for some time. Subscribers were given options on delivery frequency. Would they like it once a week? Three days a week? Four or five days a week?

Well, Hotmail didn't offer Snowball.com the option of allowing subscribers to choose how often email newsletters were delivered, so Snowball.com had to make an executive decision. Staff members looked at the internal games newsletter and saw that between a quarter and a third of the subscribers opted for the most frequent delivery, so they decided to send out the Hotmail newsletter five days a week.

Frequency Pays Off

Elise Falcone, director of consumer marketing and relations at Snowball.com, says this decision paid off for the company. There are 1.5 million or so subscribers to the Hotmail newsletter, with a 5-10 percent churn rate per month -- not bad for an acquisition vehicle. She hypothesizes that frequent mailings work for this audience because the audience is made up of fanatics, people who are passionate about gaming and very interested in receiving fresh daily content. (She notes that this delivery schedule probably wouldn't work for an e-commerce site that tried to sell something in each newsletter.)

As happy as the folks at Snowball.com were, they nevertheless decided this past August to test the delivery frequency strategy. Without changing any of the variables -- content, format, and so on -- they lowered the newsletter delivery down to four days a week. Interestingly enough, Snowball.com saw a slight drop-off in the average CTR, between .75 and 1 percent.

A theory that Elise and I hold is that people become accustomed to doing something every day, and making the reading of the newsletter less of a habit lowers its attractiveness. What do you think?

So now Snowball.com is considering going back to delivery five days a week. But this won't happen for a while because the company is working on developing other aspects of the newsletter, such as personalization and dynamic content.

Conventional wisdom says that this should up the newsletter's appeal, and it probably will. (But who knows? Maybe a case study going against this bit of conventional wisdom will eventually cross my desk! I'll keep you posted.)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Heidi Anderson

Heidi is a freelance writer who covers the Internet for both consumers and businesses. She's a former editor of the E-mail Publishing Resource Center and coauthor of "Sometimes the Messenger Should Be Shot: Building a Spam-Free E-mail Marketing Program." Her work also appears in Smart Computing, PC Novice, What's Working Online, and Editor & Publisher.

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