E-Mail Case Study: Hold the E-Mail

Today’s case study is not an email marketing case study. You won’t find a single email message referenced. So why the heck am I presenting it in a column devoted to email marketing case studies? To demonstrate a few ideas you may want to use in your email marketing campaign, and to show where online marketing may be heading.

Toshiba America is Toshiba Corporation’s U.S. division. The company is one of the world’s largest electronics manufacturers (perhaps you’re reading this column on a Toshiba notebook right now). Some of its major competitors sell directly to consumers. But Toshiba mainly sells its products through authorized resellers (ShopToshiba, a division of Toshiba America, does sell directly to consumers and small businesses).

This business model creates a special challenge for Toshiba’s marketing department. Because the company doesn’t sell directly to consumers, it was difficult to gather customer information, encourage buyers to register new computers, and up-sell products and services. Although some resellers gathered data for Toshiba and the company obtained data if customers registered products via telephone, such disparate sources made seeing the overall picture difficult for Toshiba.

Much of that data was not initially in electronic form. It wasn’t always convenient for customers to register through the Web site, and it’s sometimes difficult to locate serial and model numbers and other requested information. Given all this customer information spread between various sources, Toshiba had trouble providing timely offers.

It came up with a solution. All laptop and PC OEMs shipping Microsoft’s (MS’s) Windows OS on machines must use MS’s “out of box” experience. When a buyer first fires up a new Toshiba computer, he sees a Microsoft/Toshiba cobranded registration form. The back-end is powered by DataLode’s RealConnect software. The form asks if the user would like to register, then requests registration information. (To clarify, RealConnect isn’t subject to conforming to the MS user experience.)

The registration information is encrypted and sent over a private channel to create a customer profile. Toshiba uses this to select one of five different extended warranty offers. It sends the appropriate offer to the registrant. Should the consumer want to purchase the warranty, she can do so via a prepopulated form.

Results? The first month Toshiba implemented this method, warranty sales increased 37 percent and average sales price increased 4 percent.

But there’s a catch (at least for you email marketers). Toshiba sends the offer not via email, but in a message screen that pops up on the user’s desktop.

How does this relate to email marketing? Here are a couple topics for you to think about.

The Registration Form

A reader recently asked how much information to include on such a form. It depends on the form’s purpose. Are you offering the ability to download a white paper? I’d recommend asking just a few questions, and only the most relevant. The offer is a hook. You don’t want to make potential customers jump through lots of hoops for a “gift.”

In this case, Toshiba’s registrants are customers clearly willing to spend money on its products. These people likely have more tolerance for an online form than someone taking advantage of a free white paper or other incentive offer. Toshiba’s forms have three short, easy-to-use screens. Users type in name and address, but the rest is easy thanks to checkboxes, radio buttons, and pull-down menus.

Toshiba put thought into what questions to ask. How many times do forms request gender when it probably isn’t relevant to the company’s knowledge of the consumer? Such data can be interesting, certainly, but one needs to choose questions wisely. Toshiba focused questions on more relevant information, such as computer usage.

The Warranty Offer

The warranty offer resembles something you might see in an HTML email. Immediate and timely, it looks simple and links to more information. This is something email is good at, so why wasn’t it sent via email? Big sigh on my part here…

“Because of the challenges of trying to rise above spam,” says DataLoad President Gaylyn De Martini. Marketers everywhere are finding consumers ignore legitimate email messages because they’re overwhelmed by spam. Toshiba is trying another method of placing offers in front of its customers.

I’m not suggesting every marketer could or would want to work with vendors such as DataLode to present these types of offers. But as the marketing community tries to avoid the appearance of spam and ensure messages are noticed among scores of little blue pill offers, it may be something worth thinking about.

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