Plain Text to Deep Data

As most of you know, email newsletters can be an important customer communication component — as long as they’re done right. Today, let’s look at what makes one newsletter successful.

Farm Boy Inc. is a specialty grocer with six stores in eastern Ontario, serving a regional population of 1 million people. Known for its loyal following, internal surveys show Farm Boy customers rarely shop elsewhere. To encourage this trend and attract new customers, the grocer engages in a variety of marketing tactics, including radio ads and newspaper flyers. In addition, it sends email newsletters to its opt-in customer list, which numbers about 4,000 subscribers.

In the beginning, the newsletter was a text-only email. Farm Boy would send a weekly text message containing basic advertising news, such as the weekly specials. Though Farm Boy knew this format had one prime advantage (everyone could read the message), the company also knew it had numerous disadvantages. The manual process took a great deal of time, the newsletters weren’t as appealing as they could be, and the grocer wasn’t able to track results as well as it would like. With competitors publishing HTML newsletters, Farm Boy decided to take it up a notch.

It worked with cardcommunications to create an HTML newsletter that debuted in April 2003. The company now sees an average open rate of about 65 percent and a high CTR.

Before I get into the numbers, let’s look at the newsletter. Head to Farm Boy’s newsletter archives and click on the August 24, 2003 issue.

Farm Boy sends the newsletters early Saturday morning. As evidenced by the spike around 7 a.m., folks check the newsletters before they head out to do their weekend shopping. These people want to know the specials and take advantage of exclusive email coupons. Most are looking at the email via a home email address, rather than a business one.

Here’s some of what I like about the newsletter:

  • Consistent branding. Each issue carries the same recognizable logo at the top and uses a consistent color scheme and layout. Date and issue information are listed at the top, reinforcing the material is up to date and relevant.

  • Useful content for the recipient. Each issue includes weekly specials, recipes, coupons, and other interesting content. Plus, newer issues of the newsletter include a feature called My Shopping List. Members can create and print a list of favorite products.
  • Useful content/feedback for Farm Boy. Most issues contain a Quick Poll. This issue’s quick poll asks what the shopper’s priority is when buying fruits and vegetables. Farm Boy uses that data to provide shoppers with more desirable products.
  • Multi-format option. All subscribers have a text-only email option. If a subscriber is set up for text-only, the software is able to sniff it out (i.e., each recipient receives the format the email client is set to receive). Cardcommunications estimates 95 percent or so can view HTML.

I would have suggested improving the readability. The newsletter is packed with information, making it a bit hard to read. I didn’t get the chance because Farm Boy and cardcommunications beat me to it.

Check out the newly redesigned newsletter, first sent on February 7 of this year. It shows you can almost always take a good thing and make it better. Along with a new look that’s cleaner and easier to read, the newsletter includes new features, such as the “Find a Farm Boy store near you” and the ability to search recipes by ingredient, occasion, meal type, and more.

There are some nice results from the redesigned newsletter to share here.

It garnered a 62.5 percent open rate, pretty consistent with the norm for Farm Boy, but the CTR is what I find impressive. The unique CTR is 55.2 percent. The normal CTR was already fairly high at about 38 percent, so the jump is quite impressive. We also have CTR results for each link in the newsletter. Unique CTR was highest for coupons (35.5 percent), specials (25.4 percent), and recipes (17.1 percent).

When it comes to creating your own email newsletter, perhaps you can learn from Farm Boy’s experience.

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

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