The concept behind using email to sell goods or services is a simple one. You produce the merchandise, send out email to potential customers, and monitor the all-important click-through and conversion rates. The customer database, the specific offer, the “spiciness” of the message, and other factors will vary, but the basic method of email marketing is the same whether we’re talking about a new company with one product or a multibillion-dollar corporation with hundreds of items for sale. What doesn’t change from Company A to Company Z is that they all have something to sell.
Unless we’re talking about Logos Research Systems Inc. This electronic-book publishing company used email marketing to sell a product that didn’t yet exist, and in the process, it raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue and made a whole bunch of customers happy in the meantime.
And no, of course, I’m not praising fraud. Everything was clear and aboveboard. Here’s the deal: Logos, which sells a range of Christian electronic books and software, had developed a strong database of loyal consumers. (For those of you still struggling with how to do this, now’s a good time to pay attention.) Way back when, the company had no ad budget to speak of, according to Marketing Director Dan Pritchett, so it focused on building an email address database in every way possible. The “on hold” message notified consumers of the permission-based list, customer service employees asked if callers wanted to receive an email invitation to the list, the sales force mentioned the list to each potential customer, and so on.
The company decided to put that database to good use. Rather than simply email members about new products available — Logos sells to the Christian market around the globe — it used the database to help create a product and then sell it.
You see, there existed in print the Unabridged Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 9,081-page, 10-volume reference work containing more than a dozen languages and discussing 2,300 “theologically significant words.” To create this as an electronic text — in other words, to put it into the Logos Library System format — promised to be a massive undertaking because of the variety of languages, the number of necessary links, search capabilities that would require text and not bitmaps, and other factors.
The company didn’t want to invest in creating the electronic text unless it knew it had a sufficient number of individuals willing to purchase it, so Logos went to its members in a three-step campaign.
On January 5, 2000, a mailing was sent out to the more than 60,000 members notifying them that Logos was considering producing such a work. Members were asked to reply if they would be interested in buying the product at a prerelease price of $150, and they were not asked for any further commitment. Two reminders were sent out over the following month. Logos received sufficient response, so it was on to Step Two.
Two months later, it was announced to members that due to their response, the company had decided to proceed to the next step. (Keep in mind that at this point, Logos had not put any work into the production.) On March 5, members were sent an email message containing a link allowing them to place a preorder. And — this is crucial — individuals were told that if enough consumers preordered, production of the electronic text would begin, but credit cards would not be charged until the product was ready to ship. On May 18, Logos sent out an email letting members know the work was nearing completion and describing some of the enhancements in the electronic edition.
With the project almost complete, on June 21 the vice president sent out a message thanking customers for making it possible. On July 7 the shipping announcement was released via email, and those who preordered were notified that their credit cards would now be charged.
Eventually, the company booked $300,000 worth of orders in preorders alone, more than double the cost of producing the text in electronic format, and the site continues to draw in more orders. Plus, the technique worked so well that Logos designed a whole new secure database/shopping cart system to continue with this marketing idea for a whole range of new products. Not a bad ending for what started out as an email-only campaign!