Waking Hibernating Email Addressees

Here’s the situation: You’ve captured a number of email addresses. You know they’re good addresses because they come from people who have visited your site and voluntarily handed them over to you. The individuals clearly were interested enough to join your program, but now they’re inactive. They don’t respond to your mailings or visit your site often. How do you encourage them to participate?

MasterCard knows what this is like. The company has a program called “MasterCard Exclusives Online,” an online program providing MasterCard cardholders special discounts and offers at certain retailers when they use their MasterCard. Once members sign up, they access offers through the online directory and receive email about once a month. For instance, members can save 20 percent at retailers such as Avon and Loews Cineplex Entertainment.

MasterCard has fantastic results with the program, with hundreds of thousands of registered members, but it knew it could do better in terms of how often members participated. It looked at the database of subscribers and found tens of thousands of registered members not taking advantage of the program.

So the company came up with an email marketing campaign designed to bring inactive members back into the fold. MasterCard teamed with Digital Impact, an online direct marketing firm, to create a series of HTML email messages targeted at its registered but inactive members. The series was sent over the course of about four months, from last October to January of this year.

The first email, dubbed the “first educational” message, reminded members of the program and its benefits. Those who clicked through the message were sent an “enticement” email about two weeks later. The enticement message contained a specific offer or two; for instance, one offered a substantial discount on orders placed at Proflowers.com.

A couple of weeks later, MasterCard sent a second educational message to those who hadn’t replied to the first. As with those who responded to the first educational message, people who clicked through received the enticement email a couple weeks after the educational message.

Finally, those who didn’t click on either educational message were sent a different enticement two weeks later.

How successful was this effort in encouraging members to participate? According to Dave Kleinberg, senior vice president of marketing at Digital Impact, the overall CTR (defined as the number of people who responded to at least one message divided by the number of people who were sent mailings) was about 20 percent, and MasterCard reactivated 18,000 formerly dormant customers in the MasterCard Exclusives Online program. (Kleinberg notes because MasterCard can’t track purchases, “reactivated” is defined as clicking through the email.)

Those who didn’t reply to any messages were moved to another database and sent quarterly emails, as opposed to more frequent mailings.

Some thoughts:

  • Why send the educational offer first? Don’t people respond better to enticements? Well, maybe people click through an enticement offer more readily than an educational one, but MasterCard’s goal in sending the educational emails first was to identify people who were truly interested in the program and reward them for their interest.

  • MasterCard accomplished another goal with this program. Anyone who clicked through an enticement email was asked to update her profile. MasterCard used that information to better understand what offers are most appropriate for its customers.

The most important point to keep in mind, in my book anyway, is to remember these are folks who opted in to receive these types of mailings. The only way for individuals to enter the program is by going to the MasterCard Web site and signing up. All along the way, they have the opportunity to opt out. The unsubscribe option is clear in each message. In a different situation, sending this series of messages might be overkill. Here, it works.

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Author and e-business expert Alexis Gutzman undertook the complex process of starting and publishing an email newsletter and details her experience in this briefing. “Publishing Your Own Newsletter” originated as a multipart series on internet.com. This briefing is a compilation of Gutzman’s essential writings about the email newsletter publishing process. Along with tips, tricks, and advice on what works best and what pitfalls to watch for, this ClickZ Guide includes product evaluations, code for capturing user information, and sound advice on user privacy concerns before implementing some of the tools discussed.

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