@Once Helps Vans Deliver Cool Shoes

Picture this. You’re a shoe company, and not just any shoe company, but Vans, the shoe company made popular by the movie “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” (Remember Sean Penn as Spicoli? The next time you’re channel-surfing late at night and the movie is on, be sure to check out his shoes.) You set up a Web site that showcases all your goods, and you know that email marketing is a great way to get the word out to your current and future customers about what’s going on at Vans.

So you design offers designed to appeal to your young, hip audience. Take the Compel shoe line. The Compel Tones is a girls’ skate shoe that changes color when exposed to sunlight. It’s white when indoors, but outside it turns blue, pink, or yellow, depending on the particular shoe.

What sort of email message would show off this product to best advantage? The folks at Vans decided rich media was the way to go. They put together a message that shows the shoe changing from white to pale pink to deeper pink. The text tells recipients that the shoes sell out quickly in stores, but because they are loyal vans.com customers, they are receiving a special email offer. The message also links to shopping portions of the Web site and gives administrative details.

But there was a slight problem.

Vans is a shoe company, not an email marketing company. And customers come from all over, computerwise. Many are AOL users. Some are using older Macs with slow modem connections. Others are on PCs with broadband connections. Some use Eudora, others use Outlook, and still others use text email clients that can’t read HTML, let alone rich media. You can imagine how difficult it was for the company to design a message that would look good to its entire audience.

“We tried, and it was a pain,” says Jody Giles, the vice president and chief information officer of Vans Inc. “AOL was a nightmare. Generating content was a pain.”

So Vans decided to get some help. A few months ago, they began working with the email marketing firm @Once. And one of the key pieces @Once took care of was quality assurance.

Now, I’m not a big fan of marketing-speak, and “quality assurance” is a term that makes me cringe. But quality assurance is critical, and @Once took it seriously.

The folks there ran the proposed message through about 40 different checkpoints. Staffers looked at the draft on PCs and Macs. They looked at how the message would appear to AOL 6.0 users and those with earlier versions of the software. They saw how the message would appear in Web-based email programs like Juno, Hotmail, and Excite. They looked at how the message would hold up in Pegasus, Eudora, Outlook, and other email clients.

“There are so many different clients that do so many different things,” says Betsy White, the director of e-messaging technology at @Once. “Some strip out javascript or tables within tables. Members of our creative team learn as they go what works best, and they tweak along the way.”

Once the message was deemed ready, it was sent out to about 10,300 girls and women who had already purchased from Vans.com. (Thanks to previous mailings, the @Once technology had determined how each recipient’s client was set up, so it knew what type of messages the recipient could accept.) The results, Jody says, were “fantastic.” The offer generated a 20 percent click-through rate overall, and fewer than 0.5 percent of the recipients unsubscribed.

Granted, I can’t show you quantitatively how this quality-assurance process made a difference, because we don’t have data that shows what the response would have been had the message not gone through this process.

But intuitively it makes sense that the better the presentation, the better the response is likely to be. And the less likely it is that recipients will look at the offer and walk away.

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