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Jun 29, 2006
Case Study

Before & After Story -- Email Redesign Increases Loyalty Plan Activation

SUMMARY: Aeroplan, Canada's enormous consumer loyalty club, is a coalition of more than 100 travel, retail and financial services brands.

Millions of Canadians are already members -- and 50,000-60,000 new members join each month. But hardly any of them clicked through on Aeroplan's member emails.

Discover how Aeroplan's email design team ripped their welcome messages and monthly newsletters apart, and then put them back together again for increased results:
Every month in hotel lobbies, travel agencies and hundreds of retail locations across Canada, thousands of consumers sign up to join the Aeroplan loyalty club.

In the past, the club had mailed out new member packets, including a member card and four-page benefits brochure. The goal was to maximize "activation" converting new sign-ups as into members who used their club benefits actively.

Unfortunately, only about 40% of new sign-ups ever activated their memberships. And, on average, they took about 14 months to do so. Plus, the cost of the new member packets was rising.

Naturally, the marketing team wondered if they could save money and speed activation time by switching to email. The printed packets with cards would then only be sent to retail sign-ups who proved they were truly interested by jumping through the additional hoop of confirming their registration online.

Great idea, but Aeroplan's other email campaigns such as monthly newsletters and e-statements suffered from lackluster open and clickthrough rates.

"Our objective was to increase member activation by 10 percentage points for 2005 -- all the while growing our member base," says Marketing VP Paul Gilbert. How could the team possibly meet that aggressive goal with a communication channel that wasn't working all that well for them to begin with?


First, the team reviewed their current email templates to try to figure out what was wrong with them. Originally designed by a direct (postal) mail firm, the creative (link to samples below) looked absolutely lovely ... when you printed it out.

But, viewing the email on-screen was another matter. Typeface was small, copy was long, paragraphs were dense (a typical e-statement letter started with a nine-line-long paragraph) and clickthrough weren't glaringly obvious, especially above the fold.

Critical -- the team decided to keep all brand creative elements in place. The goal was not to change the look of the email so much as it was to make the email far, far easier to skim over and clickthrough. So, although changes to copy and layout were radical, to recipients the changes felt subtle. (Idea -- click on our Creative Samples link below and print out before-and-after copies to see for yourself.)

Also, they decided against launching a redesign all at once. Instead, the team ran A/B tests for three months to portions of the list to make sure the redesign worked better than the control prior to rolling it out.

In the end, five of the biggest design changes were:

- Slightly bigger typeface.

- Shorter copy. Long letters were replaced with a series of headlined topics with summaries and hotlinks.

- More click links above the fold.

- More HTML graphics to click on.

- Commanding click link wording, i.e. "Start planning your rewards now.”

After determining which email templates and design rules worked best, the team launched two revamps:

Revamp #1. Welcome emails

In the past, new members received a single welcome email explaining their printed packet was in the mail. However, now the welcome email had to carry a far heavier load of convincing new sign-ups to register online in order qualify to get their printed packet.

So, the team expanded the single email to a series of five emails sent every week for five weeks. To encourage fast activation, the first message featured a virtual member card that was personalized with the recipient's name. Recipients were asked to print the email and cut their card out for use until their new plastic card arrived. "Start accumulating miles today."

The benefits copy in the following four messages was carefully adapted from the four pages of original direct mail brochure. Why not just send everything at once? Well, too much content can depress email results. Plus, multiple touches equals better conversion rates.

Revamp #2. Monthly newsletters & statements

Aeroplan had been sending out two monthly emails to members -- a transactional statement message plus a member newsletter. Research data indicates most consumers don't mind getting marketing information such as offers in transactional emails. Plus, personalized transactional emails typically get a far higher open rate than more generic marketing newsletters.

So the team decided to use the power of e-statements to improve newsletter reading. They combined the two emails into a single monthly send that included both elements.


Since the new email Welcome series launched in September 2005, Aeroplan hit their target of raising activations by 10 percentage points. So, relying almost solely on email rather than printed member packets as an initial conversion tool worked gangbusters.

Unique clickthroughs on the first email in the new welcome series were 63.9% higher than the original welcome email had had. Plus, some new members clicked more than once -- the non-unique click rate leapt by 95.6%.

The virtual card was very popular -- 20% of recipients clicked on it.

The following weekly emails also helped boost responses. The average new member used their club membership for the first time 25% more quickly than they had in the past.

Clickthroughs also increased for the revised monthly member e-statement/newsletter combo. 20% more recipients clicked to Aeroplan's Web site and 19.7% more recipients clicked on links to coalition member's Web sites to view members-only promotions.

Last but not least, Gilbert is very happy with the corresponding lift in online member registrations driven by email. “The profiles are critical to our whole strategy. The profile gives us geographical data and allows us to link member activity to what is going on with the Web site. Once they fill out a profile, they move from a generic home page to a personalized page. This is very important because it’s the first step in a long-term strategy to personalize all member touch points.”

Useful links related to this article:
Creative samples from Aeroplan’s email activation and estatement series

Thindata, the Canadian agency that developed the new welcome email and activation sequence

SurfAid Analytics, which provided tagging technology to track and measure behavior


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