June 20, 2013, 11:18 AM

A zone offense raises e-mail click-through rates for The Finish Line

During the Final Four, geo-targeting boosted click-through rates 80% compared with last year.

Amy Dusto

Associate Editor

Lead Photo

The Finish Line sent customers an e-mail promoting all four Final Four schools if they were not located near one of the competing universities.

Athletic shoes and accessories retailer The Finish Line Inc. this March generated 80% higher click-through rates in its Final Four e-mail messages than in the same campaign last year, says Aaron Buchanan, the retailer’s e-mail marketing manager.

The retailer used technology from e-mail provider Movable Ink that detected which of the Final Four colleges a customer was closest to when he opened the message and then loaded images and products specific to that school.

“In this scenario, we’re not going to sell a ton of the products because only so many people love Wichita State, for example, but the engagement rate is what’s really important,” Buchanan says. The Finish Line’s main goal was to get users to click through the messages to its web site and keep them interacting with the retailer, he says.

The Finish Line set up rules for the campaign so that anyone in the state of one of the Final Four schools, say Kentucky, would open the message to find a central image and products with the logo or mascot of that team, in this case, Louisville, Buchanan says. The messages also loaded content particular to a school for anyone within a 100-mile radius of its campus, he says. That way, customers on the border of Michigan in Toledo, OH, who tend to be Michigan fans, would get still get Michigan Wolverines content, he says.

There were two exceptions in the campaign, Buchanan says. Customers who were not in one of the Final Four schools’ home states or within 100 miles of the school, and customers The Finish Line identified as fans of one of the Final Four that did not fit any location criteria. In the first case, the Finish Line sent customers an e-mail promoting all four schools. In the second scenario, it sent them a message tailored to their preference based on a map from sports media web site Deadspin that determined consumers’ preference for a Final Four school by U.S. county using the Facebook data of a county’s constituents, Buchanan says. That way, if residents of a California county overwhelmingly identified on Facebook as Syracuse fans, The Finish Line sent them Syracuse-themed Final Four messages, he says.

Movable Ink also enables the Finish Line to send auto-adjusted videos in e-mail messages, he says. It detects the type of device and e-mail service a customer is using to read a message and optimizes the type of video it embeds accordingly. For example, an iPad can support playing an HTML video in an e-mail message, but an older e-mail service on a desktop may not be able to. In the latter case, Movable Ink may send a message with a static image that includes a play button; when a customer clicks, it links her to a web page to watch the video.

Including video in e-mails has boosted engagement, in the form of click-through rates, significantly, Buchanan says—enough that Finish Line now includes videos in e-mails every time a brand has one available for a new product. 

Movable Ink pays for itself several times over each month, he says, declining to say exactly what the Finish Line pays for the service.

The Finish Line is No. 151 in the Internet Retailer 2013 Top 500 Guide.

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