Cruising to E-Mail Results

It’s a lesson we learn in school: Showing is more effective than telling. The same often holds true in email marketing. The more you can show, rather than tell, the better.

Holland America Line is a 130-year-old company that offers worldwide cruises. It has been conducting email marketing campaigns for several years and has gathered a hefty list of opt-in email addresses. Recently, Holland America decided to use email marketing to raise its market share of the Caribbean Cruise purchases.

The approach came in two parts. One was to promote HalCaribbean. The site received about 200 visitors per day, and the only way to get to it was via a link from Holland America’s main site. The company knew it could get more visitors. HalCaribbean needed an overhaul.

The second part of the approach was to drive visitors to HalCaribbean via email marketing and test Java video effectiveness within email. As this is a column about email marketing case studies, I’ll focus on the second part of the equation.

Holland America worked with Studio360, an interactive media design and content development company. Studio360 took existing stock of Holland America’s video footage and graphics and distilled the content of archived images into usable products by developing three videos. Those videos were used in revamping the Web site and placed in email messages.

Holland America knew quite a bit about its audience. It had about 128,000 opt-in recipients who were primarily from 44 to 65 years old. Studio360 took that information into account and created two types of messages, an HTML message and a video message. They were identical with one exception. The HTML message contained a still photograph. In the video mail, recipients saw one of three different videos featuring customers and employees sharing why they chose Holland America as their cruise line.

Studio360 divided the list into six equal groups and, over three days in the middle of the week, sent out two segments per day. Each day, one segment (about 21,300 people) received the HTML mailing and another segment (also about 21,300 people) received the video mail. (Though I can’t show you the email message, you can view the videos themselves on the front page of the HalCaribbean Web site). The Java video email required no plug-ins to appeal to the widest demographic of viewing audience; the message detected the recipient’s connection speed and streamed in the optimum message, which ranged in size from 400 kilobytes to 8 megabytes.

The Results

The Java video email had a 33 percent higher CTR than the HTML mailing. This isn’t surprising, as other case studies have shown rich media can substantially lift response rates. What makes this interesting is the Java video email cost only 20 percent more than the HTML email. The video email was more cost-effective; Holland America got more bang for its buck.

If you’re thinking the case study doesn’t really show this because I haven’t shown you conversion rates — you’re right. Unfortunately, Holland America hasn’t tracked purchases (in its defense, these aren’t impulse purchases and the impact on conversion may not be measurable for some time), and higher CTR doesn’t necessarily mean higher conversions.

But the company is off to a good start with the higher CTR, and the following stats show video email likely helped increase branding: The average length of the site visit for video email recipients was 9 minutes; those who received the HTML mail stayed an average of about 5 minutes. From this, the video email seems not only to have encouraged more visitors to head to the site but also encouraged them to stay longer once they got there.

Studio360 also provided me with some miscellaneous results that don’t address the video versus HTML issue, so I won’t delve into them too deeply here, but you might find them interesting. HalCaribbean’s average went from 200 daily visitors to 2,700 daily visitors. Of the three videos, the Lindsey testimonial was viewed most. And about 400 recipients used the “send to a friend” feature.

Note: I’m on vacation and ask for your patience in my response to email as I am offline for two weeks.

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