"To be honest, the whole locality issue of the business makes marketing a challenge," says Jim McCarthy, Co-founder & Marketing Head, Goldstar Events.
Goldstar sells inexpensive tickets online for a variety of live entertainment -- music, theater, etc -- in Los Angeles and the Bay Area.
But getting people to visit a new site in a regional marketplace takes a lot of work, McCarthy acknowledges.
And competing with known brand names takes a lot of work, too: when McCarthy did manage to bring visitors to the site, how could he get them to trust his brand enough to purchase tickets from Goldstar Events, when they could just as easily purchase directly from the venue or from a nationally-known ticket vendor?CAMPAIGN
McCarthy's first question was, which works best to drive new traffic, trust and awareness for a regional site -- online or offline campaigns? He decided to test both.
-> Testing offline tactics
o In-store placements -- McCarthy tested putting small cards at the check-out counters of area video stores. The cards allowed shoppers to register to become Goldstar email members.
o PR -- McCarthy hired a PR firm to handle Goldstar Events' publicity. He charged the company with the mandate of pitching stories to LA and Bay Area media outlets to raise consumer awareness of Goldstar Events.
-> Testing online tactics:
o. Google AdWords -- McCarthy knew he couldn't advertise under general keywords (such as "events") that weren't regionally specific. Instead, he used terms such as Los Angeles events.
o Regional jazz and drama sites -- Local sites such as
www.curtainup.com were a natural for Goldstar to advertise on.
"We searched out local places that are successful in terms of traffic but aren't motivated by money and aren't even thinking they'll make money," McCarthy says. "For a couple hundred dollars, they were willing to try us."
o Permission lists -- McCarthy rented permission lists from a major portal that allowed him to select by zip code. (Note: McCarthy asked us not to mention which portal it is, but trust us, you know the name.)
-> Tweaking home page design to engender trust, gather permissioned emails, and sell too
Though sale of tickets was the ultimate goal, McCarthy knew that until Goldstar Events was a trusted brand, direct sales from his home page would have to take a back seat. Instead, he cleverly designed the site to achieve two different goals:
Goal #1: Entice visitors to sign up for email membership
McCarthy hypothesized that it would be more effective getting visitors to register for email alerts rather than to actually buy tickets on their first visit.
Once they were email list members, they would already be thinking about purchasing tickets from Goldstar -- the first step in an ongoing habit of buying tickets online, McCarthy hoped.
With that in mind, he included three design features meant to boost conversion from visitors to sign-ups:
o A box in the immediate top left corner said, "Don't miss any more events! Sign up to receive e-mail alerts." It asked for email address and zip code to begin an email membership.
Once a visitor clicked through to the sign-up form, they were able to enter up to three zip codes ("for example, home, work, and your favorite vacation spot," the form explained), and up to 12 event preferences.
o A bar across the middle of the page showed how easy it was to become an email member. It had four icons, with arrows leading the viewer from one to the next.
The bar was headed HOW IT WORKS, and the icons read: sign up -> get email alerts -> buy tickets online -> enjoy the event. (The bar wasn't clickable. It was simply added to show visitors the ease of joining.)
o Benefits: Copy was written to tout the benefits of becoming a member, with headlines such as: Get email alerts!; and Enjoy a night out for about the price of a movie.
Goal #2: Build brand trust
McCarthy felt a focus on the human element (i.e.: "There are living, breathing people going to these events and enjoying them.") would help visitors believe that Goldstar Events was an established brand. So, he added three site elements to build that trust:
In the bottom left corner of the home page, McCarthy added a little cartoon person that changed frequently. Next to the cartoon was a testimonial, such as: I love you people! We had the best time, and it was affordable. Thank you.
A real person's name followed the testimonial. McCarthy culled the testimonials from people who had attended an event and offered positive feedback.
o What People Are Buying Today
To give a sense of people actually using the site, McCarthy added a right-hand column titled "What People Are Buying Today." Each day, it lists the three hottest sellers.
If an event reached a certain level of sales in a 24-hour period, the system automatically tagged it with a "Hot Seller" badge.
Events that consistently sold well got an automatic "Best Seller" badge. McCarthy could also add badges manually, like "Member Pick" or "Way Funny."
-> Testing email to convert registered members into buyers
When a visitor became a member of the email list, they then received a single weekly newsletter -- an aggregated update of all the events in their chosen areas of interest and in the neighborhoods of their chosen zip codes (a neighborhood was the area within approximately 25 miles of the zip code).
Email members also received special updates -- any event that may not have made it into the weekly email.
(For example, when Bjork came to the Hollywood Bowl, Goldstar Events received its discounted tickets on Monday for a Monday night show. McCarthy sent a special email blast about the event that day, since Tuesday, the day of the regular weekly newsletter, would be too late.)
"If you sign up for everything in a bunch of different
neighborhoods, you might hear from us three times a week (one newsletter and a couple of alerts). Most people hear from us one or two times a week," he says.
McCarthy set about testing the best way to reach his members and convert to sales. (Note: for all tests, he divided his house list alphabetically by the first letter of the email address.)
Test a. Subject lines
"People speculate that subject lines affect views," McCarthy says. "Well, anytime everyone agrees that something should affect something, you need to wonder."
So in August, McCarthy ran a three-way test for a rock and roll club that was having three shows in a two-week period.
"We didn't want to send individual emails for each show," he says. "We wanted to present the idea of going to the Canyon Club as part of a lifestyle, the happening place to be."
Subject line #1: Half Price: Tony Orlando, Berlin, and 80's Dance Party (This was the control; traditionally, Goldstar's emails talk about price and the act.)
Subject line #2. Half Price: Live Music at the Canyon Club
Subject line #3. Three Chances to See Live Music at the Canyon Club.
Test b. Post-holiday emails
"Based on some observations, we thought that the day after a long weekend was death for selling," McCarthy says. They took advantage of Labor Day to run a test: they sent half their list the weekly email on the Tuesday after Labor Day (the day it normally would have run) and half their list were sent on the next day, Wednesday.
Test c. Time of day
They tested the exact same offer, morning vs. afternoon.
"We sell tickets like crazy," McCarthy says, in fact his best sales have been for a Paula Poundstone show and,
surprisingly, a horse ballet (yes, a *horse* ballet). The site was recently listed in LA Magazine's 101 Best Things About LA, a fact McCarthy wasted no time in adding to all ads and emails.
"It's easier to establish credibility when you're one of the 101 best things about LA," he says.
- In-store placement: "They were the lowest value members we ever got, near worthless," McCarthy says.
"We're big on the whole idea of putting a nickel bet on the table and if you win, you put a dime, then a quarter," he says. "With every offline thing we've done, we've lost the nickel bet."
- Thanks to PR, Goldstar Events had a story in the LA Times and a profile on a local news radio's Business Hour.
McCarthy has seen an immediate bump in sales after each coverage, but he says it normalizes quickly. Still, it helps to improve awareness, so he'll continue investing in PR cautiously.
- Google AdWords brings in "thousands of visitors a month," says McCarthy. "It's effective. We track customer acquisition costs and it's very effective." Ditto with the portal permission lists.
- Of all site visitors, about 5% convert to list members, and 10% of these purchase something from Goldstar their first day as members.
- Goldstar's HTML emails average an open rate of 45%, with click-through (based on total opened) of 20-25%.
- Sales directly attributable to newsletters and blasts average between two and two-and-a-half sales for every hundred emails sent, though Goldstar's had results as high as 10 sales per hundred names and as low as "sub point five."
- The second group in the subject line test (Half Price: Live Music at the Canyon Club) outperformed both the control and the third group: while the clickthrough was not significantly higher, conversions to sales were almost 50% higher.
On the other hand, "We've done a lot of subject line tests that didn't do anything, no difference at all."
- Time of day testing showed no difference.
- The newsletter that went out on the Wednesday after Labor Day outperformed the control (sent as usual on Tuesday) less than three hours after it was sent.
Overall, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, this might be the best indication of Goldstar Events' current success: "We're being watched very closely right now by a certain very large, well-known company," McCarthy says. Useful links related to this story:
Samples of Goldstar's marketing: