Rich E-Mail: In-Line For Rollerblade

Today, I’ll revisit one of my personal favorite topics: rich media email. As I’ve discussed, rich media email has many advantages. Showing what a product can do and how it works is usually more effective than telling.

But rich media email isn’t perfect. It tends to cost a bit more than a standard HTML campaign, and typically involves more work. So before you invest in a rich media campaign, make sure your audience is ready for it.

Rollerblade is one company that seems to fit with rich media. A leader in the inline skating industry, Rollerblade sells a wide range of inline skates for novice and serious athletes. In the “real” world, customers try on a pair of Rollerblade skates before making a purchase decision. Online, Rollerblade needs a different approach.

About a year ago, Rollerblade launched a serious email marketing effort, working with marketing agency ANNODYNE iNTERACTIVE. Rollerblade had been diligently compiling a house list through various methods, including direct mail pieces, online contests and trade shows. But it hadn’t yet communicated to the list with a formal email marketing campaign. The challenge was to approach the database in a way that would keep list members interested, and wanting more communication. While rich media appeared to be a viable option, Rollerblade wanted to ensure its audience was ready.

Both companies worked to create an HTML campaign that would both educate recipients about Rollerblade and its products while at the same time clean up the house list and gauge response. The first mailing, sent last summer, is visible here. As you can see, the piece promotes inline skating and gives recipients a chance to win a pair of the (then) newest model. It also includes a dealer link, a forward-to-a-friend component, and links to sections of Rollerblade’s Web site.

Results: 17 percent of delivered email registered a response. In other words, eliminate hard and soft bounces, and other undeliverable email, and 17 percent of people who received the message clicked through to Rollerblade’s Web site at least once. (This figure is not to be confused with the click through rate (CTR) on opened messages. Some marketers — incorrectly, in my opinion — count the CTR on opens, instead of the CTR on all messages sent, in a bid to inflate results.)

It’s also worth mentioning this number is conservative, as the company only tracked the forward-to-a friend link through the initial mailing. It didn’t track what the secondary recipients did with the message.

Once their list was clean, Rollerblade and ANNODYNE iNTERACTIVE were ready for another HTML campaign. The second campaign had a similar look and feel to the first one. The focus was children’s skates. This campaign went out a few months later, in time for the holiday season.

The company expected a lower response rate as the offer was more narrowly targeted. Results met expectations with an 11 percent response rate.

Now that Rollerblade had a benchmark, it was ready to test rich media. The companies created a Flash piece to introduce the latest skate model. The reason Rollerblade thought Flash would be effective, says Anthony Campisi, president of ANNODYNE iNTERACTIVE, is it can more accurately depict the skate technology and engage the recipient. Rather than merely saying that Rollerblade is using new technology, the recipient can take action to view various components and can see how they work together.

Toward the end of May, the email was delivered to tens of thousands of house list members. The rich media message outperformed the first HTML email with a 19 percent CTR. An additional stat you may find interesting: 63 percent of those who opened the email clicked through to the Web site.

The uppermost question in my mind: Is the rich email worth it? A couple of factors and ideas for you to contemplate:

  • Rich media design in this campaign cost 38 percent more than HTML design. Keep in mind this isn’t overall cost; rather, solely design cost.

  • Given the nature of this product, recipients won’t convert online. They use Rollerblade’s site to identify dealers, then they visit stores to try on and buy skates. Therefore, tracking actual campaign conversion is extremely difficult.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Perhaps it’s time again for a column that answers your questions. Please send me email on this or other case studies I’ve written, and we’ll follow up next time.

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