March 11, 2009
Case Study

Use Dynamic Content and Testing to Optimize Newsletters: 4 Strategies to Create Customer Dialogs

SUMMARY: Personalizing your email newsletters for individual subscribers’ interest areas creates a more relevant communication. And the more relevant your content, the more likely subscribers are to engage with your messages.

See how the marketing team at Sprint revamped its customer email newsletter with dynamic features that deliver targeted content based on subscribers’ wireless devices, service plans, locations and preferences. Those changes, combined with regular testing, have achieved double the CTRs of the team’s other campaigns, and are generating sales without being overtly promotional.

Over the past several years, the marketing team at Sprint has gradually shifted its Sprint Connection email newsletter strategy away from promotional content. So, when they planned another revamp of the newsletter in December 2007, they wanted to complete the product’s evolution from a promotional vehicle to a customer-loyalty tool.

They focused on new content and features to make the newsletter a benefit for existing customers. And they wanted to offer the most relevant information -- personalized content targeting each subscriber’s needs and interests. “We knew there were specific, one-to-one dialogs we wanted to initiate with our customers,” says Pam Messier, Marketing Manager, Email Programs.

The team began using dynamic content features that would deliver a customized, highly targeted version of the newsletter to each customer, based on their wireless device, service plan and interest areas. They also adopted a rigorous testing strategy to optimize layout, content selection and subject lines.

Here are four strategies they used to guide the changes:

Strategy #1. Create template for newsletter content

The team organized monthly newsletter content according to a new template. Each newsletter featured:
o A table of contents above the fold
o Customer handset and account details
o A news item
o A monthly tip for customers’ handsets or service plans
o A customer perk, such as a free offer from Sprint or partners
o Interactive features, such as polls, sweepstakes, online chats and Q&A

Strategy #2. Use dynamic content to personalize newsletters

Working within that template, the team designated several areas that would be filled with relevant content, based on a customer’s handset and account details, location, and customer preferences.

The majority of the personalization data came from the customers’ account information. That meant the team didn’t need to ask for too much additional information on the newsletter opt-in form.

The opt-in form asked customers for their:
o ZIP code
o Email address
o Preferred language (English or Spanish)
o Carrier (Sprint, Nextel or Other)
o Personal interests, such as NFL or NASCAR news

The team then used that information, along with account details, to provide dynamic content for the following sections:

- Customer tips based on the user’s handset or carrier plan.

- Perks centered on the customer’s location or preferences, such as NFL promotions.

- Interactive or community features, such as links to online forums dedicated to the customer’s handset.

- Account details, such as:
o Image of the customer’s handset and link to a device tutorial
o Network coverage maps and updates
o Helpful links for plan upgrades and recommended accessories

The team provided standard content for all subscribers in the following sections:

- News items, such as company announcements and new product launches

- Self-service links for customer-service inquiries, such as updating PINs and finding Sprint store locations

Strategy #3. Incorporate video content

The team also wanted to include multimedia features in its latest newsletter redesign. They turned to video segments to give customers an in-depth look at important issues related to Sprint’s operations or services:

- The team looked for opportunities to create videos that matched the theme of that month’s newsletter.

For example, when the company launched a new BlackBerry with Nextel’s Direct Connect feature, they created a video that featured members of Sprint and RIM’s development team discussing the handset’s new features.

- They also used videos to convey corporate messages to customers. For example, one video featured a member of the company’s corporate real estate division discussing Sprint’s environmental sustainability practices.

At the end of 2008, they also created video of CEO Dan Hesse discussing the year’s important milestones.

- They promoted the videos with an image of the speaker in a mock video screen. However, they did not stream videos directly through the email message. Instead, they included a link that took viewers to a landing page where they could watch the video.

Strategy #4. Employ testing to optimize layout and usability

Testing was an essential component of the team’s redesign process, and continues with each month’s newsletter send.

Important tests included:

- Eye-tracking test to optimize new design and layout

The team used eye-tracking to determine the best layout for its new email template. They monitored existing customers interacting with a dynamically generated personalized email to determine layout decisions.

One of the most significant insights from the test was the decision to include a table of contents at the top of each message, which featured links to the content that would appear below the fold on viewers’ screens.

- Monthly subject-line tests

Each month, the team prepared two to four different subject lines for a new newsletter. One day before sending the newsletter, they randomly selected roughly 20% of the opt-in list to receive one of the test subject lines. The subject line that achieved the best response rate during that test was then sent to the remainder of the list.

- Monthly test of dynamic content features

Prior to each newsletter send, the team also tested its dynamic-content features to ensure subscribers received the right content. They created a profile grid that assigned dynamic-content pieces and images to a specific customer group. Then, they sent a test email to addresses assigned to those customers.

The new template and personalized content have made the newsletter one of the team’s best-performing email campaigns:

- Clickthrough rates are typically twice as high as those achieved through Sprint’s promotional email blasts.

- Dynamic content is a large contributor to the monthly results. For example, the personalized image of a subscriber’s phone (that links to that phone’s support page) tends to be one of the most clicked links each month.

- Clicks are evenly distributed throughout the newsletter’s content pieces, thanks to the table of contents and other layout decisions informed by eye-tracking tests.

Although the newsletter is positioned as a customer-loyalty tool, it is outperforming the company’s promotional email campaigns:

- The newsletter produces more than double the number of phone purchases and plan upgrades as that of promotional email campaigns.

“The fact that people are purchasing after reading these emails says a lot about our customer loyalty and the value of the services and features we’re providing,” says Messier.

Useful links related to this article

The Sprint Connection newsletter an entry in MarketingSherpa’s 2009 Email Marketing Awards. Find out who won Gold and Silver Awards on Monday, March 16, at MarketingSherpa's Email Summit '09

Creative samples from the Sprint Connection email newsletter

Acxiom Digital is Sprint’s email service provider:

Tequila provides email strategy and creative development services:

The team used Eyetools for eye tracking tests:


Improve Your Marketing

Join our thousands of weekly case study readers.

Enter your email below to receive MarketingSherpa news, updates, and promotions:

Note: Already a subscriber? Want to add a subscription?
Click Here to Manage Subscriptions