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May 03, 2005
Case Study

How to Use Evangelism Marketing to Grow Your Affinity Card Program & Online Sales: Schoolpop's Story

SUMMARY: Late last year Schoolpop hoped parent groups at 200 schools would sign up for its new affinity card program. Instead, 782 parent groups eagerly joined. How did Schoolpop beat goals almost fourfold? By tapping into the power of evangelist marketing ... the smart way. Check out this story for five specific Best Practices tactics you can apply to your own evangelism program. (Hint: No matter how big your overall goals are, give your individual evangelists easily achievable ones.)
Last summer Schoolpop's management team went on a retreat to brainstorm tactics to get more parents to shop through its site, a super-affiliate fundraiser that donates a portion of eretail commissions to local schools.

The team had already tested an affinity card program, but results were dismaying.

CMO Stephen Avalone explains, "Our challenge was to take a passive credit card program (they sign up for the Schoolpop Visa and earn 1% on all purchases) that was growing at a very small rate (approx 2%-5%) and put it into an actionable program for the school with a perceived context of being achievable and worth their effort.

"For the Schoolpop marketing team, it is all about increasing the check size for the school. So the decision point was - do we expand and invest in this program or do we retire it and invest in more profitable areas?"

The team decided to refocus and relaunch the program using five specific tactics.

Tactic #1. Tout achievable goals

Rather than marketing the concept of the most extraordinary possibility ("You can make $20,000 for each school if you can get X parents participating."), Schoolpop's marketers decided to suggest a goal that was more easily reached.

Plus, they added incentives. Aside from the standard donation equaling 1% of purchases, schools received a basic donation of $20 for each new card member in their area. Plus, if 20 parents signed up for the card and made a purchase through Schoolpop, the school would receive an extra $1,000 donation in addition to regular contributions.

"In schools, you might have a pool of 500 families. We said, just get 20 families. That's easy," Avalone explains.

Tactic #2. Incorporate the goal into marketing creative

Schoolpop's graphics and communications team tied the goal right into the title of the program: They named it the Schoolpop 20/20 Promotion.

Then content of all online ads, print ads, email newsletters, and launch kits included visuals such as eye charts and a child wearing oversized glasses, plus phrases that played on the 20/20 idea, i.e.:

--See your way to a $1,000 bonus --Open your eyes and focus --Look. See. EARN.

Tactic #3. Separate evangelists from average shoppers

From its very start, Schoolpop has placed users in two categories: typical shopper/parents called "Supporters" versus program evangelists called "Champions." As of late 2004, the site's opt-in database held about 250,000 Supporters versus almost 17,000 Champions.

Email communications are distinctly different for these two populations, especially for the card offer launch.

Champions' newsletters were designed to convince recipients to administer the 20/20 program. Articles focused on highlights of the program: that it was simple to launch, that Schoolpop wasn't asking parents to go out and buy another item they don't need (as in traditional fundraising), and that the goal was easily attainable.

Once Champions had taken on the 20/20 program, their monthly newsletter contained best practices for administering the program, different ideas on how to make it successful, and news updates.

In the meantime, Supporters' newsletters were split into two different sets of messaging:

a. To parents at a school where a Champion was already administering the 20/20 program, the message was: "Hey, did you know this is going on in your school? Contact your Champion" and included the Champion's name and contact information.

b. To parents at schools that didn't already have the 20/20 program in place, the message was: "Hey, if your school doesn't already have this program, go to your Champion and request it" and again included contact information.

Tactic #4. Equip Champions with a useful launch kit

Champions received a launch kit that included everything they needed to administer the program and ensure its success:

--an ad and text for school newsletters --instructions on using the newsletter ad and text --a letter to send to parents announcing the program --a reminder letter to send to parents --a press release with instructions on generating local media interest --a notice for teachers explaining the program --a "Jumpstart" flyer for the Champion that included "four easy steps" to getting the program started and answers to frequently asked questions --posters and flyers to distribute.

"We equip them with everything they need. We keep it simple, and give the perception that it was very achievable," says Avalone.

Tactic #5. Set aggressive Champion deadlines

Avalone's team felt that aggressive deadlines would help get Champions motivated.

"August 20 is when the first email went out, and they really had to launch this by October 15 because there's a cycle of a month to get a card approved, and they had to make a purchase by December 31," he says.

Schoolpop's marketing team had hoped to sign up 200 schools in three months. Instead, 782 schools joined the program, with an average of eight approved, actively-used cards per school.

"We got a really good reaction," says Schoolpop Founder and CMO Stephen Avalone modestly. "We started our first marketing in late August. We had 782 by end of October. There was a surge in October in schools and cards approved. We allowed cards that were activated (i.e., Chase-approved and one initial purchase made) until December 31st to count. We shut it off Dec 31st."

Roughly 60% of parent's card applications were accepted, which is higher than average. "We are one of Chase’s top affinity partners (>10%) for card holder demographics; i.e., we have the customers that Chase loves -- high balances, they pay on time, credit worthiness," Avalone notes.

Avalone believes the program was a success in part because "Most folks don't have a very strong affiliation with their credit card. You can get one percent back for yourself and buy a pizza at the end of the year, or you can have 20 or 40 people doing it for your school and it really makes a difference. The perceived effort versus the reward was very compelling."

That's why Schoolpop is investing in the program again in 2005, to the tune of "quite a few hundreds of thousands of dollars." Schoolpop's 2005 goals are to sign up 3,150 schools and grow to an average of 14 actively participating cards per school.

Seven bonus tips

Avalone offered the following tips to how to have a healthy and successful partnership with a merchant card provider:

Tip #1. Track the economics –- how much you earn on balances, how much the upfront fee per card is, how much the yearly renewal rate is, when you are paid.

Tip #2. Be sure their reporting is consistent, accurate, and on time.

Tip #3. Request an assigned account manager: one single point of contact.

Tip #4. Ask if they will support any technology and marketing needs –- website, application changes, etc.

Tip #5. Request multiple channels for customers -– phone, application, and web. You want a dedicated phone line that answers “Schoolpop Visa Card.” You also want short hold times.

Tip #6. Review their phone script and application. Each bank has a different legal tolerance. Some cause you to be on the phone for 16 minutes listening to disclaimers.

Tip #7. Naturally you also want to make sure you deliver. If you aren’t driving the cards, you are not going to garner any attention.

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples for Schoolpop:

YesMail - the email broadcast vendor Schoolpop uses


Note: Schoolpop is a member of, a forum for retailing online executives to share information, lessons-learned, new perspectives, insights and intelligence. More info at

See Also:

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