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Nov 19, 2008
Case Study

Recover Subscribers with Single Email: 3 Steps to Clear Up Technical Snafu

SUMMARY: A database snafu put a retailer in the worst possible place on the cusp of the holiday season -- missing a sizable chunk of possible shoppers.

Check out how the retailer responded to recover many of those lost subscribers with just one email. Includes three easy steps and more CAN-SPAM guidance.

It was late August, when the holiday season starts to rev up. Jessica Bassin, Senior Marketing Manager, Sundance Catalog, and her team were faced with a bit of a catastrophe at about the worst possible time.

A conflicting mail code had muddled 5% of their entire database. This nightmare in not-too-technical terms? They had no way of knowing if those subscribers were still opted in.

Without question, those subscribers could have requested to be opted out of both catalog and email campaigns at any point over the last few years. And, with the economy in turmoil, 5% of the Sundance list represented a lot of potential sales opportunities that could be lost.

Some of these subscribers were even recent buyers, Bassin says. "We had to make sure they were not people who were still in favor of receiving our email, but not the catalog, because they had become more environmentally conscious. We had to make sure that they all still wanted to hear from Sundance and do it an appropriate way."

Find out what three simple steps Bassin and her team took to recover from the snafu.


Bassin checked first with Sundance's email services provider to see if another client had run into a similar predicament. Indeed, the ESP had seen a similar case. So, they followed the ESP's already tested strategy -- use a carefully crafted email to bring as many subscribers back into the fold as possible.

The three steps they took:

Step #1. Heed legalities

Bassin and her team always followed best practices, but they were in a tricky situation with their ESP's advice. If people had opted out and then received a poorly crafted email message, it could be interpreted as a violation of CAN-SPAM.

The team checked and then double-checked with their ESP's lawyers to figure out how they could reach out to those on that list without breaking the law. They concluded that their message – if orchestrated carefully – would be viewed as *noncommercial* by the recipient in regard to the subject line and primary message, abiding with CAN-SPAM mandates.

"We knew that just because we had their email address, it didn't mean they had opted into our messages in that medium. What we learned [from the ESP] was that, because it wasn't a true marketing message that intended to drive sales, we could send them the [apology-driven] email we had in mind."

Step #2. Craft the email

After the consultation, Bassin and her team knew that subject lines and above-the-fold content has been often used to determine the nature of a message – whatever the intent. For this email, they used the concise-but-intriguing subject line: "Our Sincere Apology..."

People who opened it saw a three-paragraph letter that was presented in an upside-down pyramid style - the top paragraph was the longest and widest and the last one was the shortest and narrowest.

Here is the copy for the top paragraph:

"Due to an error in our system, your name may have been inadvertently dropped from our catalog and email mailing list. We are currently making adjustments to our web site and hope to make shopping with Sundance the best experience possible. If you would like to receive catalogs and emails from Sundance, please click the link below."

The copy was set on top of a full-color photo of a woman leaning up against a classic "hot rod" while the sun set in the background. Near the bottom of the design -- but still above the fold -- appeared a button that said: "Sign Me Back Up!"

Bassin explains: "The design went through a few iterations. We got our [core] message together, gathered feedback and then tweaked it again, until we felt like we had really gotten it. We didn't rush anything, especially the copy."

Step #3. Make landing page easy and smart

Bassin and her team then developed a landing page to try to seal the deal. Their goal was to make the process of allowing subscribers to re-permit themselves as easy as possible.

People who clicked through the email were taken to a landing page where they had to simply supply their email address to receive the catalog from that point on. To reinforce the person's *position of choice* in the matter, a prechecked box greeted them underneath the email address field. (If they happened to also un-check the box, the email address they supplied would have been thrown out in the process.)

In a separate field, they had the option of inputting their email address again to receive emails from Sundance. Once again, a prechecked box appeared below the field.

Three weeks after the database glitch, on Sept. 19, the email was sent.


The single carefully crafted email worked better than expected.
- 12% of the in-limbo list responded and said they wanted to receive the print catalog.
- Even more people said they would receive Sundance's emails -- most of them responded in the first week or two.
- The open rate was 40%.
- The clickthrough rate was 12%.
- They received zero complaints from recipients about the message.

"For right now, it's really helped us to get our file straightened out,” Bassin says. “We are not leaving those people out in the cold for our holiday efforts -- the people who want to get our book and email campaigns. And we were able to ensure that they were able to hear from us the way they wanted to."

Office politics alert! The overall effort involved no finger-pointing inside headquarters. That helped them get out in front of the dilemma sooner rather than later.

"There was no 'You did this,' and 'You did that' going on," Bassin says. "Instead, we tried to tackle the issue together in a proactive manner."

Useful links related to this article

Creative Samples for Sundance Catalog's database recovery:

CAN-SPAM web page addressing commercial vs. noncommercial emails:

Experian Cheetah Mail -- their email services provider:

Sundance Catalog:

See Also:

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