Got Answers? Three Campaigns — Three Conundrums

Ready for some audience participation?

Here’s your chance. I’m going to present to you three riddles — case studies in various stages of completion — and see what you make of them. One has me stumped, one has me curious, and the last has me saying “Oh, no!” Here goes:

Case Study One: The Underperforming AOL Mail

A large, popular, service-oriented Web site was sending emails to its existing customer base. The database is strictly opt-in. Visitors to the site must check a box (there are no default checks) to receive email. When they opt-in, they choose to receive mailings in one of three forms: text, HTML and AOL.

In this instance, the company created a mailing. It sent a text version to those who selected text and the same HTML version to both the AOL and HTML users. According to the marketing VP who headed the campaign, “The code for both versions (AOL and non-AOL HTML) is nothing complex, like Java or DHTML or animation, just basic stuff like images (five or six) and a table or two.”

Result: The non-AOL HTML open rate is 56.9 percent. The AOL open rate is 13.3 percent.

What’s going on here? We discussed several possibilities, but haven’t come up with anything definitive. The site in question has a close relationship with AOL, so it’s unlikely the outbound servers aren’t being recognized. AOL users might be so overwhelmed with commercial mail they tend to delete them without opening, but at those rates, that’s unlikely to account for the significant difference. Could it be a large percentage of the AOL user base is using old software versions and they could barely read HTML?

Please send me your thoughts and ideas. I’ll compile them here next week.

Case Study Two: More on AOL

AOL users are a special case, as is clear from other case studies I’ve written. In the past, email marketers struggled with AOL’s HTML support, although later releases of the client software have changed this somewhat. Now, there’s a new dilemma.

“When sending a text email, in order to make the links clickable in AOL you need to wrap them in a bit of code (),” writes a friend. “Granted, it’s not pure text, but that’s what we do for text versions so people can click in AOL the same they would be able to in Outlook or Yahoo. What I’ve discovered is this only works in the software version — AOL’s Web-based mail (and CompuServe’s) bungles the HTML coding!”

What have others done to get around this? We’ve tried to get an idea of what percentage of AOL users log on to the Web site to check mail, rather than dialing up through the AOL software but those statistics are unavailable. Have any of you encountered this problem? Any suggestions?

Case Study Three: Champagne Spam

I got the following email query from Mike Booth of World Printmakers. My first reaction was, “Oh no! Don’t do it!” I replied to him and suggested he allow me to include this in my column and solicit alternative solutions. He agreed. So here you are. My comments are in italics:

“I’ve got quite a sweet little Web site called ‘World Printmakers,’ which gets about 50,000 hits a month but doesn’t sell many fine-art prints.

“I think I have to get more proactive and go out and get’em, i.e.: email marketing.

“Problem is, my opt-in newsletter only attracts artists (around 2,000 of them), and I want to approach companies. So my plan is to buy one of those $99 email spider programs, spider through a lot of company Web sites, grab their emails and send out some brief, tasteful mailings offering them our authentic limited-edition fine-art prints as corporate gifts.

“I know what you’re thinking: Spam! Arrrrgggghhhhh!!!”

(Yes, that’s exactly what I’m thinking. No. Please no. As a consumer, I know how much I hate spending even a second on unsolicited commercial email. As a marketer, I know that it can lead to some nasty backlash).

“Am I permitted to disagree? What I propose is plain, old-fashioned direct marketing. My prospects can throw away my (brief, tasteful, attractive and educational) mailing, or asked to be removed from my list. We get direct-mail publicity in our mailboxes every day and nobody (almost nobody) gets nervous or aggressive about it.

(Brief, tasteful, attractive and educational are in the eye of the beholder…)

“I know the prevailing wisdom is spam is a no-no, but I submit that there’s spam and there’s spam. Mine will be “champagne spam,” so tasteful, light and delightful that people will anxiously await the next mailing.


“As for buying opt-in mailing lists: a) I don’t have any budget to pay for lists. I’m lucky to have the money to pay the phone bill and the printer ink! b) Opt-in lists which are for sale are bogus, anyway. Sure, somebody opted in for something in the beginning, but you can be sure he didn’t opt in to have his email address rented out all over the world! Am I wrong about this?

“Bottom line: Am I deceiving myself and heading into a lot of trouble? Or do you think I might have a go and see what happens?”

OK, readers, please be nice. There are many points to address here. I only touched on a couple. If you’d like to influence the direction of this case study, email your ideas and I’ll post them here next week. Plus, I’ll let you know what Mike ended up doing, and any results he can share with us.

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