Rubbermaid Bounces Ideas Off Recipients

So, you’ve been meaning to put that email newsletter together, but you just haven’t managed to do it yet. If you’re still trying to come up with just the right format, you might learn from this example.

Rubbermaid Commercial Products (RCP), a division of Newell Rubbermaid Inc., makes products for the commercial and institutional market. Products include everything from storage containers and food carts to wastebaskets and housekeeping carts.

The company wanted to put together an email newsletter to communicate with distributors and end users — a business-to-business-to-consumers (B2B2C) product. RCP saw that such a newsletter would have two main advantages over the current way of conducting business: lower cost and increased frequency.

You see, the old way was to get into distributor catalogs, such as those from Grainger and Sysco, once a year. If RCP released products after the catalog’s deadline, it would have to wait a long time — in some cases, nearly an entire year — before that opportunity rolled around again. And catalogs are relatively expensive, whether you’re advertising in third-party offerings or producing your own, as RCP does once a year.

Plus, RCP’s products are extensive and varied and cover a number of markets. So, the company decided to put together newsletters containing a variety of articles. The goal was to gather information from readers about which articles were most relevant, important, and so forth to increase customer loyalty and promote branding.

The newsletter, Focus on Commercial, was born. RCP teamed up with iMakeNews, a provider of e-marketing and e-newsletter technologies and services. iMakeNews provided the solution, including template, list management, and customer analytics tools. And RCP provides the content.

Sylvia Hernandez, the e-marketing manager for RCP, talks with product managers, then creates an editorial calendar based on the new product releases. She pulls elements from product info sheets (written by a copywriting agency), adds some stats and anecdotes, and builds a newsletter issue around one topic.

For instance, the first newsletter was the “slip and fall” issue. Hernandez found out how many deaths related to slipping and falling occur yearly in the U.S. (any guesses? Answer at the end of this paragraph) and how much it costs the average business (again, want to take a guess?). She wrote up a brief lead story, which she followed with a handful of product-related features. (The answers: 6,800 deaths and $60,000 per lawsuit.)

You can check out a sample issue online. Here’s why I like the look of this newsletter:

  • It contains a consistent, recognizable header, which helps with branding.

  • The layout, too, is consistent, which helps with branding. It’s easy on the eyes and, after an issue or two, recipients know what to expect.
  • Date and issue information are clearly listed below the header.
  • The subscription information is up high on the left side and easy to find.
  • The photos and short teaser are interesting and don’t bog the reader down.

Learning As You Go

The newsletter occasionally includes a survey tool. In an issue devoted to youth safety, for instance, “Focus on Commercial” asked whether the American Society for Testing and Materials standard was important to end users. As it turned out, many end users didn’t even know products needed that certification, and RCP tailored product marketing messages based on that response.

Also, when staff members look at the data, they can see what readers are most interested in. For example, in that slip-and-fall issue I mentioned earlier, RCP covered three products: spill pads, floor signs, and floor cones. It learned most users are interested in spill pads. The data helps RCP take the pulse of its audience.

(Something to think about: Spill pads were covered in the first article; perhaps placement had an effect. If you’re producing a similar newsletter, I recommend segmenting the database. Send the same articles but vary placement to see whether and how it affects response.)

Here’s another example. In a layout test, the March and April issues included a link to the RCP home page at the end of every article. In May and June the link was changed to a distributor locator link, and the staff was surprised to track an overwhelming amount of traffic to that specific page.

It all comes together in just a couple of hours. Hernandez estimates she spends two to three hours on the newsletter, maybe less, to pull it all together, including copy and layout. She has a background in Web design, but she says, “I never have to look at the code.”

As for results, the first issue of “Focus on Commercial” generated a 12 percent rate of unique subscribers who opened the email, and the response is still climbing. By the fourth issue, the number of unique subscribers who opened the email had grown to 37 percent. The subscriber database has increased by 70 percent. And RCP has enjoyed an 84 percent increase in site traffic, attributable in large part to the links included in the newsletter.

RCP didn’t reveal exact cost to me, but Hernandez notes that agencies wanted about $1,500 to $2,000 per month to produce a newsletter, and she found this was much less expensive.

In the future, RCP plans to work on the viral marketing aspect. Hernandez says she hasn’t gotten as high a response as she was hoping, so she’ll be testing placement of the “tell a friend” link. My hypothesis is that if it moves the link to the top, RCP will see a big impact on the viral component.

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