Although some people are still trying to enjoy the last of the summer weather, the retail holiday shopping season has begun. With that, inevitably, comes the peak e-mail marketing season.
The holiday e-mail season started last year on Sept. 6 with a Christmas reference in a Sam’s Club e-mail, according to a report by the Email Experience Council (EEC), the Direct Marketing Association’s vertical working group called “Ring-Cha-Ching, Hear Them Ring: The Guide to Gearing Up for the Holiday Email Season.”
This year, EEC reports, the retail e-mail holiday season began even earlier — in mid-August, with references from KB Toys and Hallmark.
Clearly, e-mail marketing has become one of the more important tools used by retailers to connect with their customers. Not only is it cheaper than other forms of advertising, but it is far easier to custom tailor pitches and offers.
Unfortunately, few retailers take the trouble — or perhaps know what to do — to reach out to their customers in such a fashion. Those that do, however, usually can boast of exemplary metrics in this space: low opt-out rates, for instance, and high click-through sales.
One such company is Stride Rite, the owner of several brands of shoes including Keds. The following is how it views the path it took to success, a surprisingly simple one given high number of e-mail marketing campaigns that fail to deliver on even rudimentary goals. In the spirit of the season — at least according to the retail industry’s calendar — CRM Buyer spoke with Stride Rite to better understand how its e-mail marketing operations work.
Three Years and Counting
Three years ago, Stride Rite decided to communicate monthly with its customers and prospects, and e-mail marketing was the best route to take, said Gregg Poulin, the company’s director of e-commerce.
“Given what vendors offer for the price they charge, it made more sense to go externally,” he said. After a vetting process, it settled on iPost as its primary vendor.
The company was guided by a few central goals as it shaped its campaign strategy, Poulin said. It knew it wanted, for instance, to balance the brand and the relationship-building in the e-mails with an actual opportunity to buy the product. Revenue generation, of course, is hardly a unique goal to a Fortune 500 firm. However, Poulin said, meeting this goal can be deceptively complex when using what is viewed as a simple marketing tool.
When it first began sending campaigns, he remembered, the firm did not put as much focus on the visuals for the products. “We quickly found that our response rates weren’t to our liking,” he said. “Since then we have learned these e-mails need to focus more — much more — on actual images of the products.”
The company developed a template system to guide its design activities so they are consistent. Within that framework it continually tests different styles or images to see what worked best with the customers. “We are always refining what we are doing,” Poulin said.
“Stride Rite does a great job with the creative,” Russell Donald, iPost chief executive officer, told CRM Buyer. “The consumer always gets the feeling that the information the company is sending is a little bit exclusive or has insider status.”
Constant communication is another principle Stride Rite holds dear. The footwear industry has two main seasons: spring and back-to-school. It used to supplement the huge marketing campaign that it launches at these times with a monthly e-mail blast, he remembered.
“Gradually we began to develop a strategy so we would always have something new to talk to our customers about. Sometimes these messages are exclusive to the e-mail channel; sometimes they coincide with an advertising campaign we have launched.”
Within these perimeters, Stride Rite further segments its marketing messages according to brand, using its own database for customer segmentation.
“They have excellent list management practices,” Donald said. “In one day, for instance, they will hit four or five lists of, say, 20,000 customers.”
The result of this painstaking segmentation is a very low opt-out rate, Donald added.
“Subscribers rarely complain about getting too many e-mails.”
Poulin is the first to say much of this common sense, even as he tells of performance metrics for their e-mail marketing operations that are well above industry average. The opt out rate, for instance, is under one-quarter of a percent. Conversion rates, he said, are generally double the industry average.
Perhaps the difference between Stride Rite and other company’s campaign strategies, he speculated, lies in how Stride Rite views e-mail marketing. Unlike many firms that see it as a cheap way to broadcast a message designed for mass consumption, “We view it as a strategic pillar in our communication with customers and prospects.”