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Aug 28, 2012
Case Study

Email Marketing: Helzberg Diamonds lifts sales with non-promotional sends

SUMMARY: The email marketers at Helzberg Diamonds tried something different for Mother’s Day. Instead of sending a promotional email, they sent a personal letter from the CEO. It was only the second time they had tried such a thing.

The email triggered heartfelt replies and sales from the audience, and it did not include a promotion. Learn how the marketers designed the email, and how they made it easy to visit the website.
by Adam T. Sutton, Senior Reporter


Helzberg Diamonds has sold jewelry for nearly a century. The retailer has a history of maintaining relationships with customers as they celebrate weddings, anniversaries and other milestones in their lives. Even the company’s television ads feature a personal touch.

"If you see our commercials, those are real people telling their love stories," says Laura Schraeder, Email Marketing Specialist at Helzberg. "They are not actors. They are not scripted. They are telling their real love stories, and Helzberg is a part of that."

Last year, Helzberg had not yet incorporated this philosophy into its email marketing. The company’s emails were powerful drivers of traffic and sales, but they were strictly promotional, Schraeder says.

"We really hadn’t had a chance to bring real people into our emails and online marketing as much."

Schraeder’s team wanted to forge stronger relationships with subscribers. On Christmas Eve, the team sent a "happy holidays" greeting, its first non-promotional email. Surprisingly, the message generated sales even though it did not include a promotion.

With Mother’s Day around the corner, Helzberg needed to push this strategy a step further. The marketing team needed to make a stronger personal connection without selling, and still allow people to browse the website. Could such an email work a second time?


Helzberg planned to send another non-promotional email on Mother’s Day, an important holiday for sales. The message would end the holiday campaign with a personal message. The team hoped it would also support Helzberg’s brand and generate incremental revenue.

The team took three steps:

Step #1. Set the campaign message

Helzberg ran a contest leading up to Mother’s Day called "Show Mom She’s Loved." Consumers could send a video or image with a story about why they loved their mothers for a chance to win a $5,000 shopping spree at Helzberg.

Before launching the campaign, Schraeder’s team wrote a Facebook post asking the audience to share photos and stories about their mothers. The post did not mention the contest (the team promoted it later), but there was a tremendous response.

"We had a huge response from people who said, ‘this is my mom at my wedding,’ and ‘this is us on vacation,’ or ‘here’s three generations of us.’ People just really love to share and show people that they are loved," Schraeder says.

Share your story

When it came time to create the Mother’s Day email, Helzberg shared a story from within the company. The message came from Beryl Raff, CEO and Chairman at Helzberg.

"This is a real story," Schraeder says. "We have real people working here, and this is our CEO genuinely wishing you a ‘Happy Mother’s Day.’"

Step #2. Design the email

As with Helzberg’s Christmas Eve message, the Mother’s Day email would not feature promotional copy. It was designed and written as a letter from the CEO.

Here are its key features:
  • Subject Line: "Wishing You a Happy Mother’s Day"

  • Personalized first-name greeting

  • Three sentences of copy, including a quote

  • Signature from the CEO

  • Large image of the CEO and her son

Link everything to your website

The email included Helzberg’s standard header and footer. A company logo and six navigational links topped the message. Additional information and links to Helzberg’s social profiles closed it off.

Only three portions of the email were not hyperlinked to Helzberg’s website:
  • Two lines of copy

  • Part of the signature

  • Footer text

Clicking almost anywhere else brought readers to the website:
  • Header logo

  • Navigation buttons

  • Quoted text

  • Signature image

  • Image of the CEO and her son

Clicking the navigation buttons brought readers to the indicated portion of the website, such as the clearance or gift sections. Most of the other links brought readers to Helzberg’s homepage, which included Mother’s Day messaging in a large display ad.

Step #3. Time the email to grab attention

Holidays such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day are important to Helzberg. The number of emails the company sends leading up to the holidays increases to two or three messages per week, Schraeder says.

As email volume increases, so does the risk that readers will unsubscribe or ignore the messages. Schraeder’s team had to carefully time the Mother’s Day email to give it the best chance of earning a strong response without annoying the audience.

Give it breathing room

Mother’s Day fell on May 13 this year. The team sent its final Mother’s Day promotion on May 9. That gave the audience four days of rest before receiving the personal message.

Had the team sent a promotional email on May 12 and followed it with this email on May 13, the response rate would have likely suffered.

Change the schedule

Mother’s Day always falls on a Sunday in the U.S., a day when Helzberg rarely sends emails, Schraeder says. Sending on this day may have given the company an element of surprise that helped spur engagement.


"We got an overwhelmingly positive response, along with greater than expected revenue from the campaign," Schraeder says.

Compared to Helzberg’s Christmas Eve email, the Mother’s Day email earned:
  • 250% increase in orders

  • 630% increase in revenue

  • Roughly equal open and clickthrough rates (although the open rate was 128% higher than the promotional email sent on May 9th)

"We really weren’t looking to generate revenue from this email. We wanted to support awareness, branding and [similar goals]," says Schraeder. "Any revenue we got was a bonus."

Readers sent personal replies

About a dozen subscribers replied to the email. Replies go directly to Schraeder, and she had never seen so many.

"We have never had that kind of response from an email," she says. "I thought that was really special, and you could tell that the email did what we wanted it to do. It showed people the human side of Helzberg."

Quotes from the replies:
  • "Thank you so much for the warm words. Happy Mother’s Day, Beryl."

  • "Thanks, a simple thought goes a long way."

  • "I sincerely hope your day was special and full of family and love."

Top 5 email links

Here are the five most popular links in the email and the percentage of clicks they earned:
  • 16.0% - Clearance button in top navigation

  • 11.9% - Unsubscribe link

  • 7.4% - Helzberg logo in top navigation

  • 6.6% - Jewelry button in top navigation

  • 6.2% - Pre-header copy

Although "unsubscribe" was the second-most popular link, Schraeder says this is not out of the ordinary. The email’s unsubscribe rate was "pretty much flat" compared to other emails in the Mother’s Day campaign.

"Unfortunately, we do see ‘unsubscribe’ in our top five clicks unless it is a highly promotional email with many click options."

Plan to be personal

Schraeder is happy with the results. She says Helzberg’s email marketing will feature additional personal stories in the future, especially around holidays.

"What sets us apart from the competition is that we are a very personal brand, and we interact with our customers … Yes, we have to be promotional. Yes, we have to sell during Mother’s Day, but let’s not forget who we are as a brand and as a company."

Creative Samples

  1. Christmas Eve email

  2. "Show Mom She’s Loved" campaign

  3. Mother’s Day email

  4. Helzberg homepage

  5. Helzberg Mother’s Day ad


Helzberg Diamonds

Related Resources

Call for Speakers: Email Summit 2013

Email Marketing: Helzberg Diamonds garners 288% sales lift with animated, personalized promo

Email Branding: Columbia Sportswear turns away from promotional emails in favor of brand and product awareness

Email Marketing: 11% list growth turns branding promos into long-term investments for Ted’s Montana Grill

Email Marketing: Landing page testing less popular but more effective

See Also:

Comments about this Case Study

Aug 28, 2012 - Gina Kellogg of Hott Cornflakes Communications says:
As a resident of Kansas City, where Helzberg has its headquarters, I'm very familiar with the company. This effort's success doesn't surprise me, mainly because I had met the company's previous CEO, and he was a man of true integrity. It's lovely to know that his spirit of warmth and sincerity has continued with the firm since his passing. Sincere efforts like these are what build loyalty among clients. Nice to see that Helzberg continues to get that.

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