Create Loyal Customers by Building a Community, Part 1

I last wrote about an Australian email marketing case study and promised more case studies from outside the U.S. Today’s comes to us from India. It’s a two-part story about of how a company created a community of customers by aligning itself with a popular sport, then communicated with that group via email.

First, a little background. The century-old Kingfisher brand is the largest selling beer in India, with a market share of about 40 percent. Now available in 52 countries across the world, Kingfisher was one of the first beers launched in India. And as in most other countries, India has a number of legal restrictions on liquor advertising.

Consider how Bud Light is associated with American football. In India, the Kingfisher brand is also associated with activities such as cricket, soccer, and horse racing. Over the last few years, Formula One (F1) racing has gained an immense fan following in India, spawning enhanced TV coverage and Internet press. Fans often gather to watch with friends and fellow enthusiasts on a pub’s big screen. Kingfisher decided to leverage F1’s fan base to create its own branded community.

Building the Community

The idea of Kingfisher Team F1 was formed with two objectives: build a community of beer drinkers who share a passion for F1 and compete with Foster’s (the official beer of the F1 championships) for increased media visibility during race days. In mid-2002, Kingfisher worked with BridgeoverTW, the interactive marketing division of Xerago. The companies launched the idea of a F1 community as a pilot project.

The community was planned as a subscription-based club. Members would pay INR 250 per season, which translates to about $5. The season runs from March to October, with membership valid for 12 months, including post-season events. According to Anannya Deb of Xerago, “A conscious decision was made to charge a nominal membership fee to ensure serious F1 enthusiasts joining the community.”

At first, the biggest challenge was to draw members to pubs on Sunday afternoons and deliver an experience that would make them want to be a part of the community. Kingfisher and the agency set a target of 2,500 members by the end of 2003.

Kingfisher hired a team of event managers to put enthusiastic individuals in Bangalore pubs to promote the club. These people, called promotion executives, wore Kingfisher T-shirts and carried a kit of supplies, including entry forms and instruction booklets. Kingfisher trained the promotion execs about the club, especially about the kind of members it sought. The first step to identify potential members was to check with the bar as to who ordered what kind of drinks. Promotion executives would then approach people who ordered beer, approximately 70 to 80 percent of patrons across pubs.

Once a promotion executive identified a prospect, he would approach the patron and enquire about the patron’s interest in the club. If the patron was interested, the promotion executive further explained the club’s features and privileges. Those interested provided their contact details, including email address.

After email address collection, mailings began. The team put together an eye-catching HTML email. The email featured a Kingfisher beer and the words “If F1 is your religion… get baptized!” at the top. Below were details on Team F1, becoming a member, and membership benefits. For example, the average cost of a mug of beer is INR 50 (about $1), and members were entitled to two free mugs of beer.

Overall, the first mailing had a 73 percent open rate and 40 percent conversion rate. Conversion in this case means the recipient joined Team F1.

A second mailing was sent to those who opened the first but didn’t convert. The bold headline read “BEER AND RACING BENEFITS.” The message focused on all the benefits of joining the club, such as free beer on race days in select pubs and a Team F1 cap and car stickers.

Thirty-three percent of these recipients opened the second email. The conversion rate was a whopping 87 percent.

A similar mailing was sent to those who didn’t open the first invitation. Half of those recipients opened this mailing. Of these, 66 percent converted. (Proving the old adage: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.)

During the club’s pilot run (the last three races of the 2002 season) the club numbered about 600 members. Kingfisher was happy with these figures, so the following year the exercise was conducted for one week each month throughout the 2003 season. I don’t have the monthly figures, but Deb informed me promotion executives approached about 7,500 patrons total and about 5,000 of them supplied email addresses over the season. Registration drives also took place at other arenas, including youth hangouts and movie theaters. E-mail was sent in nine different bursts, about once a month, to addresses collected over the previous month.

Remember the original goal of 2,500 members during the 2003 season? The final 2003 total was 4,200 members, exceeding the goal significantly.

Next, I’ll cover how Kingfisher continues to communicate with its F1 community via email.

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