Simon Page, Managing Director of Aga's Web division, AgaLinks, explains, "We have a brand that particularly in the UK, and increasingly in America, is synonymous with a way of life. People who buy Agas buy a lot more than a range, they're buying into a way of life."
In 1999, Aga's marketing team began to wonder how they should take advantage of the Internet to extend that brand message. They wanted to go beyond general branding banners on other sites because, as Page says, "If you're an Aga owner you become a good ambassador for the business. It's amazing how powerful recommendation is as a tool for other people to become owners." So, Aga's goal was to grow a community online of current and potential owners, and broaden and deep owners' relationships with each other as well as the brand.
A secondary goal was make the online community self-supporting, so the Web site wasn't a drain on the company's balance sheet.CAMPAIGN
Page and his team spent 18 months carefully preparing before they launched the AgaLinks site. First of all, they didn't take their marketplace's interest in the Web for granted. Instead they conducted extensive research, both qualitative and quantitative, to make sure a Web site would be welcomed.
Page says, "We're an end-to-end marketing business. We own about 40 shops and sell through a series of contracted distributorships. We know where a lot of Aga owners live. We analyzed the database to see how they use the Internet, what they use the Internet for, and also to make sure our view of their interests was actually supported by clinical research, including focus groups."
Aga's Web design team created a look and feel that would specifically appeal to the demographic and support the brand. The home page is dominated by the color green to reflect 'England's green and pleasant land.' Photographs throughout the site resemble the quality and style of photos you'd expect in an upscale lifestyle magazine such as Gourmet.
The site includes three, very different types of content to engage visitors and encourage repeat visits:
1. Feature Articles: 70-80 fresh articles per month are added on topics relating to gourmet cookery, art & antiques, country living (from the point of view of the landed gentry), gardening, wealth management and more. Aga didn't want to hire an entire editorial staff (Page says, "We were very conscious of the fact that we're not journalists"), so they outsourced this to Eastern Counties Newspaper Group. 100% of this content is original (not syndicated from some other source.)
2. Searchable Databases: The great thing about the Web is that it's the perfect way to present searchable resources -- in fact far better than print. AgaLinks' site includes useful recipe databases, a wine guide, news databases, weather data, mortgage interest calculators, garden directories and more. Most of these are licensed pre-created content from external publishers. Aga didn't want to get involved with selecting and negotiating with countless content sources, so they turned to an expert syndication partner, e-Space Ltd, to handle it for them.
3. Interactive Features: Aga wanted to go beyond just pleasing visitors with pretty pictures and interesting content -- they wanted a site that would begin to build the community and relationships that ultimately lead to sales. So they added engaging features such as:
- monthly contests for prizes such as Range Rovers
- an online gallery where proud owners can post pet photos
- surveys on topics such as "what music do you like to play at dinner parties?"
- letters to the editor (Page notes, "These are NOT the sort of people who do a chat room.")
Agalinks is not an ecommerce site for Aga products. So, Page needed to find sponsors to help underwrite his costs. The site didn't join any advertising networks or sell space to every advertiser who wanted it -- instead every single sponsor is chosen to carefully compliment Aga's brand message of luxury and British upper class values. The site does not accept pop-ups, pop-unders, oversized banners or other intrusive ads. It's about being classy instead of in-your-face. Along with major sponsors, AgaLinks also includes a shopping mall section featuring select retailers such as well-known antique shops. These relationships are generally on a cost per click or cost per acquisition basis.
AgaLink's marketing team orchestrated a mainly offline campaign to support the site launch in February 2001, including:
- a lushly illustrated, 16-page, booklet mailed to Aga owners
- posters and literature in all Aga stores
- leaflets "popped" into every Aga cooker delivery box
- space ads in "quality" women's and home-related magazines
- posters in targeted London Underground stops, such as the exit to Harrods
True to their tradition of building a marketing database, at first AgaLinks required that visitors fill out a registration form including their name and address. However, after Page reviewed the first month's site logs, he decided to drop the required fields to just name and email address. He says, "Then the number of people registering increased - now only 15-20% of visitors don't register."
AgaLinks also experimented with the email newsletter they send to registered members. They tested frequency (monthly vs. fortnightly vs. weekly) and format (longish editor's letter vs. hotlinked headlines.) The newsletter does not include pictures because most Brits still have fairly slow dial-up connections at home. Page says, "The boredom tolerance online is much shorter. People won't sit there and wait for an email to load. You're taking up their valuable computer time."
Within six months of launch, AgaLinks had nearly 40,000 registered users. To put this number in perspective, about 300,000 of Aga-owning households are online today. Page confidently expects to reach his goal of 200,000 registered users by the end of 2002.
The site gets about 5,000 unique daily visitors representing 500,000 pageviews per month. Page adds, "A hard core of about 1,000 people visit 10-12 times per month, which is a lot of times to go visit one Web site."
Although sponsorship sales don't completely cover costs quite yet, it's worth noting that AgaLinks had paid sponsorship contracts before the site even launched. That's an extraordinary achievement considering the fact that they are not primarily a media company, and 2001 has been a down-market for online ad sales. Page explains, "We spoke to a number of lifestyle portals here in the UK and found we are probably ahead of the game. We've sold sponsorships on the strength of the brand. This is the revenge of the brand -- those people with terrestrial brands with some cachet in the marketplace are well placed to become profitable."
The cookery-related content is the most visited area of the site. Page explains, "The simple rule of thumb is the closer you are to Aga in the kitchen, the busier the site is. House and home is the next busiest. Financial is the least busy. Cut an onion in half - each channel is a layer. The further away from the center you get, the less busy you are." Contests and the pet-owners' picture gallery are particularly popular interactive features.
AgaLink's email newsletter tests revealed that most registered users prefer a fortnightly (every two weeks) newsletter. Page says, "At monthly repeat visitors are much lower, but if you go to weekly it's clearly invasive. People say, 'Can you stop sending it. You're talking to me too often.'" The longish editor's letter was not a winner. Page says, "It's much better sending bulleted points, hotlinks, than writing a sermon to them."
Page's advice to other non-media companies thinking of creating content-rich Web sites: "Be very clear about what outcome you actually want to get from your venture -- how you expect to add value to your own business. Be very sure you understand who your audience is and what they want to get out of it as well. Then you've got half a chance of having a successful business."Useful links related to this article
Eastern Counties Group