Lessons Learned in 2002

For my final column of 2002, I’d like to reflect upon the past year in Email Marketing Case Studies — looking back at what I’ve written, and what I haven’t written.

Many of the case studies I’ve presented deserve a second reading (or a first reading, if you’ve recently started receiving this column) as we mull over the year gone by and resolve to improve our email marketing programs in 2003.

For instance, marketers operating on a tight budget would do well to follow some of the examples set by the folks at the University of Dayton. The university consistently comes up with low-cost, effective email marketing campaigns. The most recent one I wrote about focuses on the school’s efforts to drive traffic to its Web site and promote its brand through offering free screen savers.

Those of you interested in the ongoing HTML v. text debate might want to revisit the CareerJournal case study, which tells the story of the Wall Street Journal’s career Web site. While anecdotal evidence says that HTML outperforms text for many marketers (although, of course, you should always keep in mind that different audiences yield different results) this case study showed that text messages can be more effective.

While you’re considering text and HTML, don’t forget the rich media options. I’m a huge fan of rich media, in part because, as a consumer with a high-speed connection, I find the messages can be quite compelling. Consider the New York Rangers case study, in which rich media was used to sell hockey tickets. As a writer, I reluctantly admit that sometimes words alone simply can’t get the message across. And, having spoken at several ClickZ conferences in which panelists have presented rich media case studies, I have learned that these bells-and-whistles typically don’t cost as much as I would have suspected.

The column that generated the most email by far was the one I wrote about a potential spammer. At the ClickZ conference in San Francisco this November, several of the presenters spoke about their belief that spam is on its way out. I certainly hope so. But until I stop seeing case studies like the one that appeared in these virtual pages, I have my doubts.

Speaking of reader mail, I received an interesting letter a couple weeks ago about my most recent column. Receiving feedback from readers is one of the most rewarding parts of writing for ClickZ, and, since this note sheds light on what goes into putting together these case studies, I’ll share it with you now. The case study on Ricochet, a company that provides rapid Internet connections via the user’s desktop PC, laptop, or PDA, elicited these questions and comments from Richard in Illinois:

  1. What is “total clicks”…is this just a click-through-rate?
  2. How can you say that this campaign is “successful” when they have not yet demonstrated that they sold anything?

To get a response to these inquiries, I went to Melissa Edison Barnes at Blue Ink Solutions, the company that delivered the campaign. (By the way, when I send your messages along to others for comments, I strip out any identifying information.)

Her response:

  1. Total clicks means total aggregate clicks for the message. (I’m not sure how to be more clear about that.)
  2. While conversion is an important metric, it is not the only metric. There is a lot to know about campaign performance in addition to conversion rates — for example, one set of variables (list, subject line etc.) may have converted better, but it also may have cost twice as much to reach that person with that message. You need to understand how all the variables impact campaign results to calculate campaign ROI. Additionally, consider that the campaign goal could be branding — conversion is not the only end goal. This case study is a snapshot in time of one particular effort. We hope to have the opportunity to report on conversion when we have that data available.

This leads nicely into a topic I’d love to discuss in depth but can only touch upon here and there. Richard’s second question is about conversion rates, and I’d like to talk about that metric a little. When I’m researching these case studies, I ask the interviewees what results they can share. Unfortunately, but understandably, many times the companies have data that they simply don’t want to release to the public — and their competitors. I’ll keep pushing for conversion numbers, but occasionally, even when they do have hard numbers, they don’t want them printed in this space. Conversion rates aren’t the only stats marketers are reluctant to part with, either. On nearly a half-dozen occasions in the past few months, I’ve had a case study written but, right as we’re about to publish, the client withdraws (or we find that the client had never given the vendor) approval to publish. It makes for some interesting scrambling to meet deadline!

Despite all the hurdles, sharing stories of successful campaigns with ClickZ readers is well worth it. I’ll continue to bring you interesting and informative case studies over the next year. Happy Holidays!

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