It’s All About the List

Personalization, targeted offers, and best testing practices are just a few of the many techniques for successful email marketing we’ve looked at over the years. This case study demonstrates that, in one case at least, a single component far outweighs all the others.

Consider the story of a large, established Australian specialty retailer. For over 100 years, this corporation has sold items to collectors all over the world. It’s run a mail order catalog business for decades. A half-dozen or so years ago, it began experimenting with online marketing.

The company began adding its Web site URL and email addresses to all print collateral, including catalogs, newsletters, order forms, and ads. From time to time, feature articles in company publications encouraged customers to buy online. Even the telephone answering system carries messages asking callers to visit the Web site. When customers can’t immediately get through on the phone to a sales rep, the message reminds them they can buy online.

The retailer has conducted email marketing campaigns for several years now at a rate of two per month. Initially, the company had a list of some 2,000 email addresses, many from its then-existing database of mail order customers. The company grew its mailing list using various techniques. The current list is slightly over 7,000. About 70 percent of the customers are Australian, the rest are international, with the bulk of the latter located in the United States.

Over the years, the company has tried many different email marketing ideas. At first, email didn’t work as well as expected:

  • Renting other companies’ lists. This is a commonplace tactic. One of my first ClickZ case studies was on successful third-party list rental, so it isn’t surprising the company experimented with this. Yet the company says response was virtually nil, and the list was full of duds. The verdict: It’s just not worth the time and expense.

  • Web-only offers. One example was a promotion offering consumers a gift for buying online. Sounds attractive, right? Well, there were a number of unattractive consequences. Members without Web access complained about being excluded. Those who did have access began to put off ordering until the next promotion. If it didn’t appear soon enough, they’d call to ask what the next offer was and when it would appear. The company couldn’t discern any noticeable increase in sales from this strategy.
  • Banner ads on highly targeted sites. Yes, this falls outside of email marketing, but it’s worth noting banner advertising generated virtually no response. Like third-party list rental, it clearly wasn’t worth the time and expense.

So a few months ago, the company performed another review of its email campaigns’ effectiveness. It discovered:

  • Over the past couple of years, the open rate has remained remarkably consistent, around 50 percent, give or take a percentage point or two.

  • Average CTR of those who open the email has risen from 20 to 25 percent.
  • Overall CTR (the number of email messages sent compared to the number of opened messages from which recipients clicked) has risen from 11 to 13 percent. (However, the company says it didn’t find this last statistic very useful. It prefers to measure the CTR of opened email.)

“We’ve noticed it is always the same people opening the emails, no matter what we do,” sums up a company spokesperson. “In other words, the company has a very loyal online customer base. This is not surprising, as our historical offline customers have always been very loyal. Our customers, at least, will open whatever we send them.

“This supports one tenet of email marketing, the one that says ’get a good list,’” he adds. “But it debunks the others about personalization, layout, subject lines, offers, etc. In the company’s experience over the past four years, these things made little difference.”

Getting a Good List

One of the most effective measures was moving the online membership sign-up form to the top right-hand corner of the page, where it’s more visible. The sign-up process was streamlined and membership benefits were highlighted.

Another element that’s benefited the company’s email marketing efforts: About once every year, it releases a product that just seems to hit the spot with its market and sells better than expected. Whenever this happens, the company sees a significant increase in new customers. These new customers join, and stay on, the email marketing list.

Because of the nature of the company’s collectibles and its 100-year reputation, customers tend to be loyal once they’ve purchased. This case study proves offline loyalty can extend to an email marketing list’s open rates and CTR, despite other variables.

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

Related reading