How to Do an E-Newsletter Really, Really Well

I recently spoke about email marketing case studies in the food marketing industry at a conference in Orlando, FL. The audience was split between those who had no email marketing experience and those with a little to a great deal. Of the three case studies I presented, the most useful and best received covered creating a successful e-newsletter. People without experience didn’t know where to start, and those with experience were looking for ways to improve their own email newsletters.

So I anticipate most regular readers will find today’s case study useful, no matter which industry you’re in.

Back in 1939, Stanford University classmates Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard started a computer company now known as Hewlett-Packard. HP offers a wide range of services and products. One division, hpshopping.com, launched in 1998 as HP’s direct-to-consumer e-commerce store. Now a wholly owned subsidiary, hpshopping sells computers, peripherals, and related products.

An email newsletter is just one method of driving consumers to the Web site and toll-free telephone sales center. Launched about five years ago, today the newsletter reaches over 1 million subscribers.

Hpshopping encourages site visitors to sign up for the newsletter on its home page, among other places. See a sample issue here. The newsletter mirrors the site’s look and feel, so readers know what they’re getting at first glance. There’s a lot I could focus on, but given space limitations, we’ll cover two topics: personalization and navigation/layout.

Navigation and Layout

Hpshopping performed a significant amount of usability testing. It invited individuals to testing sites and observed how they read the hpshopping email newsletter and others. One item the company found critical is the main navigation bar.

The newsletter contains a main navigation bar at the top that links to the main areas of the Web site: desktops, notebooks, iPAQs, and more. Hpshopping found recipients who aren’t interested in a specific offer still seek the navigation bar to browse other categories. The company embedded unique codes into this bar and found that, overall, the navigation bar gets on average over 25 percent of the total clicks in any single newsletter.

Another navigation feature common to Web sites is a search engine. Hpshopping tried one in the newsletter as well. It was a successful experiment — if you consider learning what doesn’t work to be successful (I do). The search engine was not a hit; the navigation bar received a CTR higher by about a factor of 10 compared to the search engine. So, hpshopping dropped the search feature.

Consider another common newsletter feature: the forward-to-a-friend link. You’ve probably included them in your own newsletter. Like many marketers, you probably include the link at the top or the bottom of the email message. Hpshopping experimented with placement. When it moved the forward-to-a-friend feature from various spots in the newsletter to the specific product offer areas, including near the top and on the left side, the feature’s CTR doubled.

Hpshopping also worked with the newsletter graphics and overall layout to improve readability and response. Because so many recipients use the email client’s preview pane, catching their eyes immediately is critical. The top graphic grabs a reader’s attention.

Hpshopping tested graphics for the optimal size. The company ended up increasing product image size and decreasing the amount of copy. It also draws out certain features with simple graphical elements, such as product pricing in boldfaced type. The anchor links on the left, in the table of contents, make navigating the newsletter easy; and hpshopping always puts a special offers section at the bottom of each newsletter. Recipients know right where to go for special offers.

Personalization

As an industry, we’ve moved well beyond “Dear Heidi” as the mark of personalization, but we don’t always use personalization as best we can. Hpshopping has true personalization. Let’s start with the My Printing Supplies Store (not visible in the sample; it’s on the left side of the page, in place of the “Register here” section). If users register for this feature, the newsletter recognizes they’re registered and links them directly to a page on the site where they can access a list of products specific to their printers. For example, if I own a LaserJet 4300, the newsletter links me to information about ink, paper, and other related supplies for the 4300.

The newsletter also includes a section called “Recommendations for you.” On the left side of the section, the newsletter displays supplies compatible with your HP printers. On the right, you’ll see recommended accessories for your HP desktops, notebooks, cameras, and iPAQs. If a recipient doesn’t have a purchase history, the newsletter targets the reader based on various criteria, including click behavior, to present relevant information.

Results

Overall, repeat revenue for the store has almost doubled each year. Newsletter revenue increased by a factor of five, year over year; and the database is over 70 percent larger than it was a year ago. Unsubscribe rates have fallen; and CTRs have increased over time.

Since hpshopping carried out well-run tests, the company can see exactly what’s made the difference. Implementing personalization was key, as it increased CTR by 32 percent and revenues by 30 percent. By utilizing split testing, usability testing, and other tests to tweak the layout and content, hpshopping was able to drive an additional 15 percent CTR increase.

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

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