Growing Your E-Mail List, Part 1: Acquisition

How does your database look? We all know the importance of acquiring visitors’ email addresses and obtaining their permission to send them relevant marketing email. But in this climate, it’s increasingly difficult to drive folks to your site, demonstrate to them the value of becoming a member of your community, and keep them looking forward to your company’s communications.

Let’s take a look at a business that successfully meets all three goals. Today, we’ll focus on the acquisition piece of the puzzle. Next, I’ll show you how the company retains its subscribers.

Philosophy, created by Cristina Carlino in 1996, creates and sells a line of skin and body care products. Distributor partners include Sephora, Nordstrom, Marshall Field’s, RedEnvelope, and QVC. In addition to offline channels, Philosophy sells products directly via a toll-free number and on its Web site.

Philosophy prides itself on loyal customers. It wanted to grow its database to pursue and enhance its relationship with those customers. The company teamed with Inbox Marketing and used two well-known but often underutilized tools, sweepstakes and a home page sign-up form, to quadruple its mailing list in just a few months.

Lucky Sweeps

In the fall of 2003, Philosophy was featured in Lucky Magazine. Each month, the magazine features Lucky Breaks, offers designed expressly for readers. The offers are strictly editorial and cost nothing for the featured company.

Lucky Magazine’s demographics mirror Philosophy’s target audience, and in September Lucky Breaks promoted a Philosophy sweepstakes, in which Philosophy gave away 1,000 Resurface kits, each valued at $65.

Lucky Breaks encouraged readers to go to the Philosophy Web site and fill out the sweepstakes form. There are quite a few things I like about the form. On the logistic side, it takes less than a minute for visitors to complete, the email address is right up front, and the opt-out clause is prominent. Visually, the design is clean and simple, and the colors and look are consistent with the Philosophy brand.

Once readers filled out the form, they viewed a thank-you page. The page not only confirms the visitor’s entry, it reiterates Philosophy’s message and includes a refer-a-friend feature on which the sender can add a personal message.

In addition to the thank-you page, Philosophy sent a thank-you email. Why both? Karolyn Stayer, marketing manager, notes her company wanted to incorporate a way to encourage visitors to return to the site; they believed (rightly, in my opinion) those who entered the sweepstakes would be more receptive to immediate offers. The message included a special offer, a useful gift with any purchase, to entice sweepstakes entrants back to the site. Plus, a thank-you note is a nice way to show Philosophy appreciates its customers.

If a site visitor filled out the refer-a-friend feature, that friend received a promotional email. This welcoming message also included the same special offer and encouraged the recipient to join Philosophy’s mailing list.

By all accounts, the promotion was a success. The Lucky Breaks placement was free. Though the company spent some time and energy developing the sweepstakes, the effort paid off. The membership database doubled in one month. Philosophy attributes 25 to 30 percent of the new sign-ups to the refer-a-friend feature.

Second Sweeps

The promotion worked so well that toward the end of November, Philosophy ran another sweepstakes to capture holiday shoppers. In this version, entrants could win one of 100 Holiday Blues foaming bath and shower gels. The sweepstakes cost the company little to create. The ad budget was nil; the contest was promoted on the Philosophy site. And because the sweepstakes forms and template email messages had already been created, technical development costs were low.

Check out the sweepstakes and thank-you page. As you can see, the holiday sweepstakes mirrors the Lucky Breaks sweepstakes. I like the same things about this promotion as I did the earlier offer.

I like the results even better. The list grew another 100 percent; it now has four times as many subscribers as it did a few months before. With the sweepstakes infrastructure in place, Philosophy plans to run other sweepstakes promotions in the next few months.

Finally, I’d like to point out the sign-up feature for the email newsletter on Philosophy’s home page. Inbox Marketing’s research shows 80 percent of unique visitors don’t return to a Web site, so it’s important to capture them right away. A sign-up form on the home page can reduce the number who slip away.

Next week, we’ll look at how Philosophy keeps its subscribers looking forward to its email communications.

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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