December 05, 2013
Case Study

Content Marketing: E-commerce site moves beyond promo email, boosts opens with social media content

SUMMARY: With email sends typically only featuring promotional content, the marketers at needed a way to engage with customers during slower months.

Stretching out of the promotional track, they built a new monthly newsletter around blog and social media content. In this case study, see how integrating the Pinterest, Facebook and blog content into new "Flip Day" sends celebrating the first of the month allowed a brand-loyalty building conversation with subscribers.

Read on to find out how this campaign resulted in up to a 71% monthly increase in year-over-year open rates.
by Courtney Eckerle, Reporter


A highly seasonal brand, the marketing team at needed to find a way to develop messages that were interesting and relevant to their subscribers during April through July, when engagement rates tended to decline.

The team wanted to ditch their almost entirely promotional sends to bring social media and blog content to the forefront of their email marketing during these traditionally slower months.

"There are only so many 'calendar clearance' messages that our subscribers will receive before they will opt-out," said Marcia Oakes, Senior Online Marketing Manager,, adding that during the spring and summer, "we don't want our list to go cold. That would hurt us with our deliverability with the major ISPs."

A goal of this campaign was to increase social media interaction, because although is active on its blog, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter accounts, the engagement was not to the level Oakes said they wanted. To integrate social media into the email content, the marketers decided on a conversational tone that would work well leading back to the platforms and foster more engagement.

"We were looking for a way to solve all those problems, to keep our list actively engaged at all times of the year," Oakes said.


Several years previously, trademarked the phrase "Flip Day" as a way to celebrate the day when people flip their calendars to a new month.

Since doing so, Oakes said there had not been many opportunities to capitalize on the phrase, and it was decided this campaign would incorporate this previously unused asset. The creative design for the calendar grid developed in this campaign, which was a monthly send celebrating "Flip Day," needed to reinforce as the authority on calendars and dates.

A theme for the creative aspect of the send was selected to reflect the season or a special holiday, and sent out on the first day of that month.

Days on the Flip Day calendar would bring subscribers back to blog posts or social media content, as well as cross-promote other product categories by inserting the games, puzzles and books also sold by the company.

Step #1. Create a non-promotional content strategy

Breaking the cycle of promotional-only emails was a core goal of this campaign. The marketers needed to find a way to consistently communicate with customers "in a way that isn't 'come buy our stuff,'" Oakes said.

Most of the sends are extremely sales-oriented, which were only keeping the status quo, and not increasing customers opening sends during off-peak months, let alone engaging them via social media and blog.

As they embarked on this campaign, she said, it was paramount to create a communication with subscribers that wasn't necessarily asking them to buy anything, but instead, "just something that is interesting for them and keeps them engaged with us."

The marketers decided to develop a newsletter, and initially, Oakes said, "We were thinking that we would pull in articles from our blog and then write some other things to curate some content for a more traditional-style newsletter."

However, no one on the team was particularly excited about the idea of doing a traditional newsletter, she said. Then, a team member came up with the idea of giving the newsletter the look of a calendar grid.
That way, "it re-enforces our brand, and keeps us as that ultimate authority on all things calendars," Oakes said.

She added that format would also allow them to create fun content and a theme that would lend itself to the goal of building up social media and blog content to subscribers.

For instance, the first Flip Day newsletter was launched March 1, and given a spring cleaning theme, featuring cleaning tips and other content regarding springtime.

Brand Flip Day

Something marketers at had always wanted to do, but hadn't found the right venue for, was to develop branding behind a term that had been trademarked several years back called Flip Day.

Flip Day is a celebration on the first of each month, when you flip your calendar to the next month. The only real way the phrase had been used before, according to Oakes, was customer service agents, who answer the phone on the first of any month with, "Happy Flip Day! Thank you for calling How may I assist you?"

"When we were embarking on this, it seemed like a good opportunity for us to put some branding around that and finally be able to use that term," she said.

Step #2. Develop light content for newsletter

Oakes said she and her team wanted to keep the design and content "very fun and lighthearted."

However they didn't want to cross the line into something that appeared to be juvenile or cartoonish that wouldn't suit subscribers.

"We wanted it to be fun, approachable and relevant. The kind of thing that someone might tack up on their refrigerator and write on," she said, adding the team wanted the design to look like a calendar that someone had written on.

The team wanted to incorporate blog and Facebook posts into the content of the page because of the wealth of content they provided, and to bring subscribers to interact on those platforms.

"We post to our blog every single day and it's about some weird holiday, like National Pumpkin Cheesecake Day. There's a strange day for pretty much every day of the year," Oakes said.

The team wanted to build off of that, knowing there would be plenty of interesting dates in history, celebrity birthdays and quirky holidays to incorporate into the email content, and lead back to the blog.

They typically try to tie in a strange word that has something to do with the theme of that month's Flip Day. Also added in was an "Artist of the Month," featuring everything from "folk art, like Thomas Kincaid, fine art, like Vincent Van Gogh, and amazing art photography-style art calendars," Oakes said.

Step #3. Incorporate social media into posts

"Being a calendar company, we knew that we wanted to offer tips to help people stay organized. We have a board on Pinterest called 'Your Organized Life,'" Oakes said.

On the Pinterest board, followers receive content shared by, and could also request to be able to post content on the board themselves. It is one of their most popular boards, and so Oakes knew it would translate through to email subscribers.

"We wanted to build on that and be able share things that people have shared with us through 'Your Organized Life' on Pinterest and post things that are helpful to people," she said.

They wanted to be able to incorporate this into the seasonal aspect of the newsletter content by inserting relevancy to the tips each month, ensuring that they would reflect different times of the year.

An inspirational quote was placed at the bottom of each Flip Day email send that was tied into the theme of the month which was then linked back to another Pinterest board has called "Words to Live By."

"Inspirational calendars are a big segment for us, so that 'Words to Live By' board feeds back in with that product line. So that inspirational quote each month is a great tie-in there," Oakes said.

In the initial March 1 newsletter, Oakes said the spring cleaning theme was used to link back to Pinterest content. The top link led subscribers to Pinterest content on how to clean your dishwasher. The popularity encouraged the marketers to continue to grow and build on that type of content.

The marketers pay "close attention to where people seem to click the most in the message and build on that type of content, month in and month out … we use that to help drive us to some more of that kind of content," Oakes said.

According to Oakes, occasionally the newsletter theme informs Pinterest content as well.

"With our patriotic theme in July, we went and created a 'Red, White and Blue' board," she said, adding it was created so subscribers could go through and pin to themselves, as well as view the holiday themed content posted by

There is a mix of links within the sends, according to Oakes, and some link back to a specific product. For instance, Frank Sinatra’s birthday might link back to a calendar featuring Frank Sinatra or another related product. Special dates in history or holidays however, will typically link back to a blog post on the subject.

To keep track of these dates, there is a dedicated "Flip Day News" tab on the Facebook page to help drive social media subscribers to the email content, or to help subscribers keep up with Flip Day on another platform. also regularly runs social media contests, typically hosted off of Facebook but Pinterest as well, and the Swipe Day newsletter has a new place to promote the contests as well.

Step #4. Don't exhaust subscribers with sends

What this newsletter creation has changed over time is the audience and how Oakes and her team target their message. As the peak season approached and email frequency increased with it, they became concerned about list fatigue.

"We quickly figured out what day conflicts here and there. Either directly on a day we would need to send a promotional message, or that Flip Day falls too close with other promotional messages around it to where we would be over messaging," Oakes said.

They began testing toward the peak of the season, first by sending a postcard-style message that would combine two sends, give a preview of the Flip Day calendar grid on one side, and a promotional offer on the other.

"That one didn't go over really well, so what we've done instead is when we have that conflict — and right now we pretty much have it every month probably until we hit February — what we do is we refine the audience," she said.

Because has an unusual product that a customer may only buy once or twice a year, it solved list fatigue concerns by suppressing recent purchasers, removing them from promotional streams for two weeks to a month.

"Just to give them a rest, and we found that helps us to protect our list and keep them from unsubscribing," Oakes said, adding that those recent purchasers will be pulled into a separate audience and just receive the Flip Day newsletter.

In addition to separating out recent purchasers, the team has also separated out those who have shown an interest in Flip Day by opening and engaging. This was done, according to Oakes, after they began to notice that some subscribers were only interested in promotional sends.

"They were either just ignoring Flip Day altogether or were unsubscribing when they would receive it because they want a deal, they don't want content. So we were recognizing that there were kind of two groups of people within our subscriber list," Oakes said.


"It can be scary to break away from the norm," Oakes said.

The marketing team at was in a pattern where "we're building out our promotional schedules for the year and we tend to schedule our emails on the exact same day that they were the year before with the exact same promotions and content … because we're expected to answer to those year-over-year numbers."

Going into this campaign, they didn't really know what to expect, she explained.

"We knew that we loved the design and we were so excited about it that we were very nervous," Oakes said, adding the team was not sure subscribers would react positively to receiving a message from that didn't contain some kind of discount.

"It can be scary to change that up and change the dynamic because you can't predict what's going to happen. Anything that tends to mess with my projections causes me a little bit of anxiety," she said.

As she and her team have been able to fine tune the audience, she added, the metrics for the Flip Day sends have been showing an audience that is "actively engaged," and anecdotally, many customers have not only been talking about Flip Day, but specifically giving positive feedback on the effort.

The results has achieved from the Flip Day campaign include:
  • A 46% open rate increase in April 2013 from the previous year

  • A 71% open rate increase in May 2013 from the previous year

  • A 44% open rate increase in June 2013 from the previous year

An important part of judging the value of a campaign like this, she said, is to temper expectations and "adjust how I look at my metrics."

"The conversion rate on a message like this is low, which is what we expected, and that's fine … [be] comfortable with that, and understand how it will impact your total numbers. Then, look at how you need to adjust your reporting accordingly so that you don't scare all of the upper management when your numbers change," she said, adding that revenue per email sent and conversion rates are affected.

"It doesn't necessarily relate to sales right away, but over time I think absolutely, it does. If it increases that brand loyalty, then it's hard to put a price tag on that," she said.

What this campaign has taught them, she added, is to "not always be so afraid to break away from the norm. But when you do, to do it very strategically."

The strategy was in reinforcing the brand with content that enriches the customer's life as they interact with the brand.

"When we can do that, they see us as a resource. Then, they're going to stay more engaged, they're going to stay on our list and they'll see us more as something more than just that website that they go to twice a year to order calendars for themselves," Oakes said.

Marcia Oakes will be presenting "How a Seasonal Retailer Evolved from Just Sending Promo Emails to Year-Round Content Marketing" at MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2014 in Las Vegas, Feb. 17-20.

Creative Samples

  1. March Flip Day send

  2. Flip Day Facebook tab

  3. April Flip Day send

  4. May Flip Day send

  5. June Flip Day send


eBay Enterprise

Related Resources

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E-commerce: 10 case studies to help you excel in content marketing, social media and website optimization

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Social Media Marketing: An inside look at Neiman Marcus' Pinterest and blogger relations strategies

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