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Aug 18, 2006
Case Study

How to Get Thousands of Prospects to Examine New Products -- the Split Second You Launch

SUMMARY: Wednesday night, a few minutes after 7 p.m. Central Time, John Deere sent its single most important email campaign of the year.

And, literally thousands of farmers across America were sitting at their computers watching their inboxes like hawks so they could click through the second that email arrived.

Wouldn't you like to have your customers and prospects treat your emailed product announcements the same way? Here are some tips from the team at John Deere:
CHALLENGE

Let's face it -- marketing for John Deere isn't a hardship post.

"Farmers are equipment junkies -- they love to read about equipment. That works to our advantage. We're also fortunate to have the brand strength of John Deere," admits Russell J Walker, Manager Direct Communications.

But even beloved brands can improve new product launch impact.

Every summer, John Deere dealers would fly to a central location for the annual in-house show to be educated on the upcoming product line. "Then, they'd go home and wait for the promo kits to arrive at their door." They'd hang posters and exhibit at the local farm shows. And house ads would appear in the brand's printed magazine, The Furrow.

Thus, over the next few weeks, word "would trickle out" to prospects and customers.

Slightly frustrated by this pace, the marketing team wondered if there was a way to launch each year's new product line with more immediate impact.

CAMPAIGN

Walker did what the smartest marketers we know do … he looked around for proven ideas to copy, in this case from another division.

"The John Deere Credit folks do an exceptional job with email," he explains. That division had set up some of the most complex email preferences centers we've ever come across, including demographic and buying habit surveys for five marketplaces to fill out so these customers only got email that interested them deeply.

"I stole their ideas," admits Walker. However, instead of a long survey, he decided to ask prospective opt-ins just one question -- did they want an exclusive email invite to see the new product line before anyone else? Here's how the campaign worked:

#1. Brand the campaign

The team invented a name -- First-to-See -- and a creative template for the campaign that would be used for years to come (link to samples below). Copywriting used words such as "Exclusive" and "Psssst!" Images showed a hunter peering through binoculars at a, no doubt, shy prey.

#2. Keep the opt-in separate from other preferences

In order to stress how special this information was, as well as follow corporate permission practices, opt-ins would ONLY get two emails per year -- one in the early summer giving notice about the upcoming event and the second on the actual night of the event with the access hotlink.

So, these emails were not jumbled in with other communications. Nor did opt-ins have to fear they'd let themselves in for a stream of constant communication about things they didn't care about.

However, just because the team were careful about permission didn't mean they gave up the opportunity to get more information entirely. They carefully used the 'thank-you' page that appeared after an opt-in signed up to cross-promote other registration offers.

#3. Promote through multiple medium

Early every summer, Walker's team launched a pre-launch campaign developed specifically to grow the opt-in list for the single August email. The campaigns could include:

- Printed postcards for dealers to hand out
- Notices on the John Deere Web sites
- House ads in The Furrow magazine
- Pass-along invites for dealers to email their customers
- Pass-along invites for last year's opt-ins to email their friends

#4. Truly keep the information exclusive

The team fought their natural marketing instincts to push out product information through a huge megaphone to the world. They promised opt-ins that the info was exclusive, so it had to be exclusive.

The team worked with the Web department to create a special microsite that would only go live when the virtual switch was pulled just after 7 p.m. Central Time on the selected date in August. The only way to get to that microsite was via the special email hotlink.

Why that time and date? It was the night before the press embargo was lifted and just five minutes after the last group of dealers would leave the meeting room at the annual dealer meeting.

At 8 a.m. the next morning, the microsite was opened up to the full press and public. Would a slender 13-hour jump on the news be enticing enough for farmers to jump on the offer?



RESULTS

"We had a hunch it would be well received," says Walker. Results more than met the team's dreams. Plus, after three years they've seen the campaign continue to build strength. Thousands of farmers visit that microsite the split second they get the email each year.

"As an old advertising guy, I'd describe it as a teaser campaign. Now, as direct marketing guy, I'd call it an email acquisition program. Really, it's both," says Walker. "The biggest mistake we made was in not doing this before."

However, he notes that only brands with a "real hook" can get a huge response rate. Walker has tested the campaign in other markets John Deere serves and has seen varied success depending on how strong marketplace's emotional ties are for the equipment line in question.

On the other hand, the idea can go far beyond the agricultural world. "Bose has an audio product line they've started to do this with. It's got to be a product where the customers can't get enough information about you."

Useful links related to this article:

Creative samples of John Deere's campaign:
http://www.marketingsherpa.com/cs/johndeere/study.html


John Deere
http://www.johndeere.com


Note: Walker has asked that MarketingSherpa readers *not* sign themselves up for any John Deere email to collect live samples, as the company only wants to mail to customers who are sincerely interested in the products. Thank you in advance for honoring his request.


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Comments about this Case Study

Aug 17, 2006 - Jay Alling of Kihon Media says:
This is a brilliant integrated campaign. Merging traditional corporate communications with the product e-launch makes sense and certainly gives John Deere customers a feeling of being important members of the "family."



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