A Regular Joe Drives Extraordinary Results

ClickZ readers know email newsletters have the potential to be enormously effective marketing tools. An email newsletter can be a relatively inexpensive channel for getting your message out to the consumer in a highly personalized way. Plus, newsletters can be wonderful loyalty-building tools. Then why are so many of them so darn boring?

Fortunately, there are exceptions, such as the newsletter from Webshots, an imaging network that allows its more than 25 million registered users to browse, download, share, and store digital images. Webshots members upload more than 85,000 new images daily, and Webshots currently stores tens of millions of member photos. Why has Webshots grown so popular? Well, one of the reasons is a guy named Joe.

That’s right, Joe. Webshots routinely sends out a straightforward newsletter featuring a character known as Joe Photo. Joe is a regular guy with a regular guy’s name, but he has a personality, and newsletter recipients can relate to him. For instance, one week Joe wishes his mother a happy birthday. The next week, he might make a spelling mistake — and apologize for it the following week.

“We wanted the character to be a little quirky and capable of making mistakes,” says Narendra Rocherolle, co-CEO and founder of Webshots. “When the list grows too large, you don’t want to confuse or irritate too many readers. Joe allows readers to feel like there’s someone on the other end of the email.”

Joe was not born on Madison Avenue; he started out as a simple sketch one day in the Webshots offices and grew from there. Joe appears randomly throughout the site, and he’s an integral part of the online newsletter. Webshots uses the newsletter as a critical tool in building a personal relationship with its users, and the newsletter allows the company to promote products and services from Webshots, as well as highlight paying advertisers. Here’s a sample:

Subject: Webshots Be My Valentine

Try our Webshots Cards!

Send a valentine or two to loved ones or
secret crushes (shhh!!!)
## http://cards.webshots.com/cats/valentinesday.html

or put up some valentine wallpaper
## http://www.webshots.com/photos/valentineart1.html

We’ve also dropped in some new photos that’ll be
fun for kids…
## http://www.webshots.com/photos/funforkids.html

Still single this February 14th,

–Joe Photo

p.s. a valentine’s wink for all the ladies…

This email is sent ONLY to subscribers.
To unsubscribe. Send email to: leave-webshots@webshots.com

As you can see, the message is short and sweet, and Joe’s personality shines through in his signature and his message to the ladies.

“We knew it was working when we started getting feedback directed to Joe,” Rocherolle adds. “People were asking him, ’How could you do that?’ or telling Joe, ’I want more of this.’”

Granted, we don’t want to rely on anecdotal evidence in a case study, and results are tough to track here. Still, we have a few hard numbers. Webshots gained about a million new newsletter subscribers last year alone, and it has grown from 0 to 6 million members in four years. Plus, Rocherolle notes the CTR on products and services Joe endorses in the newsletter typically approaches 40 percent. The opt-in newsletter is a key driver for partner promotions and entices users to join the Webshots subscription service.

If we had a true comparison test, I’d be able to show you two groups: those who received the “Joe-enhanced” newsletters and those who received standard newsletters. Unfortunately, I can’t do that. But Rocherolle says when Webshots was owned by excite@home, the “Joe” email would see open rates of around 50 percent while the Excite newsletter was around 15 percent. Yes, this is like comparing apples and oranges. But perhaps you should compare your company’s newsletter to the Joe email newsletter. Your own “regular Joe” could help build your subscriber base — and give your company some personality to boot.

Meet Heidi at ClickZ E-Mail Strategies in New York City on May 19 and 20.

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