July 27, 2006, 12:00 AM

Energizing E-mail

(Page 2 of 2)

Road Runner Sports has started to develop individualized content for members of its Run American Club and VIP Run America Club based on their buying patterns and other preferences. “If someone is buying ASICS, why would we send them a promotion for a Nike shoe?” Bock says. “If they’re just interested in content and running articles, we want to make sure we’re doing that.”

Road Runner also is testing different messages and frequencies with customers who have inactive e-mail addresses. Its goal is to reactivate 20% of the inactive file, Bock says. “It’s been interesting because we’ve really gone from all offers, all the time to ‘Hey, do you need new gear for your run today?’ or “Here’s how you hydrate in summer,’” he says.

Segmented content also is key to the e-mail strategy of Jurlique.com, a multi-channel retailer of skin care products. “If the message does not pertain to the recipient, then it should not be sent,” says Brandon Marsh, head of e-commerce and business development. For example, an e-mail recently sent out to promote the July National Wellness Event at Jurlique stores targeted consumers with super-sensitive skin.

“Frequency of the message is not as much of a concern when the message makes a connection with the recipient,” Marsh says. “Our open and click-through rates increase dramatically when a customer has an emotional tie to the message.”

Some retailers’ e-mail programs are so sophisticated that they break down frequency and content for individual customers. That’s the case at Golfballs.com, which is developing a system that collects information on a customer’s order history, buy cycle, and products ordered to use in sending out e-mails.

“We’re trying to move to a more automated system, where the e-mails that go out will be based upon dynamic elements-what they bought, when they bought it, items in the same category,” says Steven Broussard, director of marketing. “If you order from me once a month, I’m not going to bombard you with e-mail two or three times a week. I’m only going to touch you once a month.”

Micro-targeting

Golfballs.com uses proprietary software and databases to compile information on individual customers, which it then passes along to its e-mail software provider StrongMail Systems Inc.

Golfballs.com already has tested micro-targeting, sending e-mails based on the brands a customer buys, Broussard says. “If you purchased a Titleist product, you’d get a Titleist-centric e-mail with no other vendors in it but Titleist,” he says. “That has done very well for us.”

Although the average ticket on orders generated by the micro-targeted e-mails is about the same as general e-mails-$60 to $80-the micro-targeted e-mails produce open rates of up to 17% compared with 15.5% for regular e-mails, Broussard says.

Opt-outs per mailing also were lower for micro-targeted mailings-an average of 85, versus 150 to 200 for general mailings, he says.

Almost all retailers have access to analytics programs that give them insight into their customers, although some programs are more sophisticated than others, CheetahMail’s Bergman says. At a minimum, e-mail services providers collect statistics on open, click-through and conversion rates, and in most cases, spam complaint rates. “There’s a lot of data every single marketer has whether they think they do or not,” she says.

Some retailers may be intimidated by the segmenting process. But even simple segmentation can produce good results, Sweetser says. American Eagle Outfitters Inc., for example, segmented e-mail content based on gender-men received messages with links to menswear and women with links to womenswear. “Guess what,” Sweetser says. “When you split that out, it works better than sending male-female to everybody.”

In addition to offering segmented content, retailers can prevent customer burnout simply by breaking a monotonous series promoting one sale after another by offering some other type of content.

Varying the message

Spiegel varies e-mail messages, sometimes promoting the brand by offering style tips or discussing the latest trends, Chong says. Other messages are more sales-driven, for example, offering discounts on purchases. “We don’t want to send an e-mail for the sake of sending an e-mail,” she says. “The content is very important to us.”

Chiasso also is moving away from sending out the same message over and over to its customers. Now it intersperses e-mails featuring a photo and information on a single product with e-mails offering discounts and free shipping, Berquist says. Since changing its e-mail strategy, Chiasso’s open rate-which had been in the low to mid 20s-increased to the upper 20s and low 30s, Berquist says.

But e-mail marketing has to be viewed as more than open and click-through rates, says David Lewis, vice president of alliances and market development for StrongMail Systems.

“At the end of the day, it isn’t about pushing information out there,” he says. “It’s about the interaction that you have with the recipient of that information. Your ability to capture that interaction, understand it and respond to it is crucially important.”

That’s become the goal of Road Runner Sports. “We’re making this change from just blasting out our communications to making sure that it is really relevant to that customer, at that time, and at that place,” Bock says.

linda@verticalwebmedia.com

Click Here for the Internet Retailer Guide to Providers of E-Mail Marketing

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