San Francisco's Convention & Visitor Bureau had a typical problem - they'd been collecting emails with permission for a while, but there was no program in place to send anything out to them.
When the list hit 30,000, the Director decided enough was enough. The Bureau's other main outreach campaigns - ads in print newspapers and visitor kit mailers - were fairly expensive. It was ridiculous to leave an email house file unused considering the relatively cheaper campaign cost.
He set a budget of roughly $20,000 per year, to include Web hosting, transmission, list management, sweeps management, and designer costs.
The goal - to create an ongoing campaign that would entice people to visit San Francisco, and/or extend their planned trip longer. The campaign had to show a measurable economic impact or it would be shut down after a year.CAMPAIGN
Research Manager David Bratton was assigned to handle the campaign including copywriting (which he'd never done before.) "I'm actually the numbers guy, I do lots of qualitative and quantitative economic impact studies," Bratton admits. "When the boss came to me and asked if I wanted this project I said, 'Oh Yes!'"
While his economic focus would help, since Bratton didn't have any creative experience whatsoever, the Bureau asked an SF-based interactive agency invent a concept and create a series of templates for the ongoing campaign, including:
a. an HTML template for the email messages that would be sent
b. a landing page concept and template
c. a secondary click page template (if there was more than one click offer on the landing page)
d. a registration form template to collect names and mailing addresses to be used for sweeps, contests and other offers.
The key was - the creative had to be knock-out fabulous. "We wanted to stick out, to be different but not radically weird." Plus, it had to involve recipients far beyond the initial click. "We had to both attract their attention and hold their attention long enough for them to make a decision to visit the city."
Last but not least, the campaign had to reflect the true soul and eclectic personality of San Francisco -- and make it appealing to a wide variety of visitor demographics. Folks who dream of touring wine country were just as important as others who dream of The Castro.
Here's what the creative team came up with: (link to samples below)
-> Creating a campaign personality -- Riley
To be truly involving, email should feel as though it comes from a single person instead of an organization. So the team invented a character that all email would be "from". They chose the name Riley because it could be male or female.
They also defined Riley's personality clearly to help with future copywriting. "Riley is your friend in the city. It's an imaginary person who leads a high-impact, high-voltage life in San Francisco. Riley has a soulful side too - just like our city does.
"Riley is playful sometimes, we wanted to make it fun. But it's not a sexual thing," notes Bratton.
To be clear about origination, every communication also carried the Bureau's logo at the very bottom.
-> Personal-feeling letter format to email
Each letter from Riley was a virtual piece of a yellow note paper - set at a slight angle and shadowed to look more real. The notes were quick to read, in extra-big font, and always signed "by hand".
Bratton says getting the voice for the letter was easy, "How hard is it to write about something you love? I'm a monster fan of the city. It's not hard to get in the mood and sound happy and excited to be writing about it."
The click link was handwritten on the image of a yellow stick-um placed on the cover of a day planner. The day planner looked fat and packed with interesting stuff.
It was obviously a mass-sent email, but felt refreshingly personal and warm.
-> Include got-to-click-now sweeps and contests
Although the main note rhapsodized about a particular San Francisco attraction that will be further detailed on the landing page, the offer line was written to get maximum clicks "click here for a chance to win".
-> The Day Planner Landing Page
Instead of a standard looks-like-a-web-site-page landing page, the emails linked to a white screen with a life-size day planner smack dab in the top middle.
You had to scroll down to see the Bureau's logo at the bottom of the screen, and there were no other standard navigation bars or Web formatting. Your sole choice was to explore the opened day planner, which clicked through to a few levels.
Although Bratton calls the links on the page "banner ads" they were not like any banner you've ever seen. Everything you could click on mimicked something you'd find in a real day planner. And it was all tucked in with only enough bits showing for you to identify it. Examples:
- Local business cards linking to that business's home page (including an eBay card linking to tour packages.)
- The top of a Visa card linking to a site explaining that Visa is an official sponsoring card for visiting the City
- A California Driver's license that linked to Avis.
- Handwritten yellow stick-ums and scrawled notes on napkins that linked to the sweeps info.
Plus, the initial landing page featured a handwritten list of five different content topics to click on - dashed off as though Riley was noting what he or she would be doing that day. Examples, "Charles M. Schultz Museum", "Got Chocolate?". A yellow stick-um to the right of the list instructed viewers clearly, "Click on an activity for more details!"
Activity clicks led to deeper and deeper content -- for example in the latest issue, clicks lead you to a 22-page PDF map of California wine country with Riley's personal suggestions and reviews.
-> Driving sweeps clickers back to educational content
The problem with relying on sweeps too much, is that visitors may zip past your other content, enter, and then bail on your site without having learned anything.
The Bureau's campaign cleverly sidestepped that problem by always offering people extra chances to win in exchange for their answering a quiz based on content in the day planner.
For example, in one campaign visitors had to leave the sweeps form, return to the main day planner, and search out and listen to an MP3 audio file of a tour guide for San Francisco talking about neat factoids.
Then, armed with the correct answer, they returned to enter the sweeps.
-> Keeping future broadcasts freshly engaging
The big problem with most ongoing email campaigns to the same list is people click once or twice, but then they get tired of your creative.
Bratton used the same templates for every campaign, but almost completely revamped the content to keep it fresh and engaging.
The process took him about a month per issue (not working full- time on the project though.) Each send was themed - the latest is on wine country. But, you'd also find a few secondary topics for people with other interests.
Bratton picked topics based on the Bureau's research of what typical visitors like to do. For example, 25% visit wine country.
Plus, he only sent every six-eight weeks, figuring that a campaign requiring so much engagement and time from a recipient would pall if it were any more frequent.
-> Make sure it's working
True to form, Bratton conducted a thorough economic impact study just after his seventh issue was sent out.
He only surveyed people who had actually clicked through to one of the issues. Although the email itself does have branding value, he didn't feel their level of engagement was enough to persuade them to visit the city.
The gross estimated economic impact of the program after just seven issues was $3,720,000 for 1,627 influenced trips with 88% staying overnight in a local hotel.
Plus, 74.1% of respondents answered "yes" to the question, "Do you think our email program has made you more likely to visit SF sometime in the future?"
- For the last campaign sent (on the wine country topic), 12.6% of total sent clicked through to the landing page. Of these 82.1% went on to sign up for the sweeps.
- An average, roughly 85% of sweeps entries take the suggested route of returning to the main day planner and digging around for a specific factoid to include with their entry to get more chances to win.
- 53.2% of survey respondents rated the value of the sweeps (donated SF-related offers) as very good, and 87.5% said the sweeps added value to the promotion itself.
- Within the day planner "clicks seem to be pretty well spread around. It's surprising how many people click to underlying Web pages," notes Bratton. "We put a hotel business card for three issues, and he got about 6,000 clicks. I thought that was extraordinary." Especially considering it was just one of many click options.
- Bratton didn't know what to expect about who was reading the letters (names were anyone who's ever signed up at the Bureau's site), so he was thrilled to learn demographics were perfect for his goals. The mean average household income was $72,073 and mean age 44.9 years. 66% were married and 61.3% were female.
Only 2.6% lived in the city, another 6.1% lived in the Bay area. 8.3% were foreign.
- 16% of recipients responded to the survey (in itself a very high response rate indicating remarkable engagement in the program.)
- 43.6% rated the campaign's visual appearance as "very good" and 38.1% rated it as "good." A tiny .5% rated it as "very poor."
- 82.2% rated the content good or very good.
One last note - Bratton was surprised to be contacted by our reporter for this Case Study. He didn't think he was doing anything all that special.
Useful links related to this story:
Creative samples and landing pages:
Y+R 2.1, the agency who developed the campaign concept and initial creative:
San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau
Case Study about a different regional visitor center's rich media email campaign:
Note: We'd like to thank MarketingSherpa reader Jillian Johnson of CookiesinHeaven who forwarded a copy of this email to us and suggested we write a story about it.
If you'd like us to write about any specific email campaigns or tactics, please let us know at AHolland@marketingsherpa.com. Hey, this is *your* newsletter after all.