Taking a Great Program Another Notch Higher

Even the best can get better.

Think about what might constitute great email marketing. Here’s one scenario: Hundreds of thousands of names in your database. Multiple newsletters that promote your brand and your products. Several years’ experience successfully sending out offers to your customer base.

That’s the situation a major media and entertainment company found itself in a few months ago. (Sorry, gang — I couldn’t get permission to use the name of the business here in the case study. If it comes through, I’ll be sure to let you know in next week’s column.) It had been producing three newsletters and sending them out a couple of times per month to more than a million people. But it knew its email marketing efforts could use some fine-tuning.

So the company turned to marketing consultants Blue Ink Solutions, and together they came up with several enhancements that made a good strategy even better. The minor improvements led to a measurable net gain in new sign-ups, a higher open rate for the HTML newsletters, and an increase in the rate at which readers took advantage of the “forward to a friend” features in each newsletter.

Here’s what they did.

1. Streamlined the sign-up process. The media company had three online newsletters, but since they were launched at different times, had different content, and ran on different schedules, they weren’t all clearly integrated in the eye of the user. For instance, to sign up for one newsletter, readers would go to one Web page, but to sign up for another, they needed to go through several jump pages first. Clint Kaiser of Blue Ink Solutions said his company “rolled up” the process.

Now, when users sign up for one newsletter, they are presented with check boxes at the bottom of the Web page encouraging them to sign up for the other two newsletters. Plus, originally each newsletter asked for different information, further extending the sign-up process. For instance, one asked for the subscriber’s mailing address and another didn’t. Now users can submit the same information while signing up for each newsletter.

Primarily as a result of streamlining the sign-up process, the company saw a net gain of more than 300 subscriptions per day. It may not sound like a lot at first, especially for a company with such a large subscriber base, but over time that increase becomes quite significant.

2. Improved the subject line. Like many email marketers, the media company had been sending out one of the newsletters with static subject lines. The thinking likely was that consumers signed up for a particular newsletter, so advertising the name of the newsletter in the inbox through the subject line would be a great way to entice recipients to open it. The subject line was simply the name of the newsletter, without even a date to distinguish it from other editions. Sure, it worked, but not as well as the new version.

The marketers realized that each edition of the newsletter carried exclusive content, information not found even on the company Web site or in the other two newsletters. They decided to change the subject line to highlight this unique content. In one case, the subject line was changed to read along the lines of “See certain exclusive photos of [name omitted].” In another, it advertised getting the scoop on an upcoming event.

The cost, Kaiser points out, was nothing but brainpower, but the benefits are obvious. The newsletter has about 500,000 subscribers who receive the standard HTML version. (The others receive either AOL or plain-text versions.) After the changes to the subject line, the open rate for the HTML version has gone up about 10 percent on average. Not bad for a simple change that cost next to nothing to implement.

3. Highlighted the viral-marketing component. Like many online newsletters, these contained a “forward to a friend” component that encouraged readers to pass along copies to friends.

But the problem here was that the mechanism was buried. It was contained in the bottom of the newsletter, where the unsubscribe, copyright, and other fine-print information was located. So the feature was moved up in the newsletter, to an area distinctly separate from the administrative stuff, and highlighted with a graphic (in the nontext versions, of course).

And the result was that the forwarding rate jumped a whopping 170 percent.

These are just some of the examples of fine-tuning that took place. The company continues to look for ways to improve its email marketing efforts. Maybe it’s time you did the same? If you do, or if you already have, feel free to send along your tips.

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