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February 22, 2017
Case Study

B2B Email Marketing: How Ferguson created valuable, personalized content through industry-specific holiday sends

SUMMARY:

It’s difficult to strike the right tone between professional and personable in B2B email marketing. When Ferguson marketers wanted to find that balance, they used it to create valuable, memorable holiday email sends.

Read how the team was able to see a 34% effective rate for a ‘Year in Review’ send as part of creating personalized, creative email marketing.

by Courtney Eckerle, Senior Managing Editor, MarketingSherpa

THE CUSTOMER

Ferguson primarily serves professional contractors, according to Mary Abrahamson, Email Marketing Manager, but many homeowners also know the company for Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Galleries.

“Since we serve mostly professional contractors, typically the homeowners we work with are ones that are paired up with a builder, designer or an architect, and that's the way that they come into our showroom,” she said.

But over the last few years, Ferguson has seen more walk-in traffic in its Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Galleries. A continued focus on the value of the showroom experience has helped the company serve those customers.

The largest wholesale distributor of plumbing in the US, as well as a top distributor in other segments like HVAC, waterworks and industrial, Abrahamson said the company has grown to almost a 14-billion-dollar company with more than 1,400 locations and 23,000 associates nationwide.

“Our core differentiators are world-class service and treating employees like family,” she said.

With its product offering, Ferguson spans a number of different customer groups, such as waterworks, plumbing, heating and cooling, facility supply, among others.

CHALLENGE

With such a wide swath of customers, speaking to those groups individually and with personalized messaging is vital.

“Our email marketing program acts as a support system to all of our different business groups in targeting almost 100% [of] existing customers and cultivating those long-term relationships,” Abrahamson said.

A good tenant of any long-term relationship is spending the holidays together, an idea Ferguson decided to integrate into its email marketing. However, on certain holidays, it can be near impossible to stand out. 

“Consumers spend a lot of money during Black Friday. Companies tend to spend a lot of their marketing time and resources around that particular holiday,” she said. “So you have to pose the question of how are you going to continue to stand out year after year?”

She and her team decided to take the opportunity to think outside of traditional holidays — while still participating in them — but focusing instead on developing holidays that might appeal exclusively to their customers.

This workaround for the holiday email send meant that instead of competing against hundreds of others, Ferguson was going to stand out by transforming a random Monday, for example, into National Bathtub Day.

“We hand pick which [holidays] make the most sense for social, which ones make sense for email, landing page, digital signage,” she said.

The difficulty, Abrahamson said, can be in balancing the spirit of an attention-grabbing email with the company’s overall brand voice.  

“Most B2C companies, they can be cheeky. They can be funny. They can send that silly email. In our space, we can have a little fun sometimes, but we definitely have to make sure that it relates directly back to their business,” she said.

CAMPAIGN

“As a team, email marketing for years now has always had these holiday-themed emails. However, they were a little more sparse before,” Abrahamson said. “We would take part in a Happy New Year or, again, Black Friday. But we really didn't take part in those month-long holidays or holidays that many people don't know about.”

In 2016, however, the team tried to plan for the year with each type of business they work with in mind. Each of the email specialists works with a particular channel’s marketing manager, she said, and the idea this year was to put together a list of what holidays would make sense and deciding if they had robust content to go alongside it.

“Getting customers to engage with your message, regardless of whether or not they convert at that moment, is important for not only your long-term email program goals, but it can help foster a favorable brand experience and extend the lifetime value of the customer as a whole,” she said.

Step #1. Create valuable, industry-affirming content

Abrahamson and her team have a monthly meeting with marketing managers, and one was dedicated to deciding what holidays channels to take part in.

“It was really just everybody throwing out ideas and basically putting up their hands to say, ‘Yes, this makes sense for my channel or this doesn't,’” she said.

It was important not to just participate in these holidays, like National Safety Month or National Water Quality Month, she said, but to be “more content-driven about it —so weighing content a little more heavily than pure play product and providing information for the customer that would be a value add.”

The quality content is what shows respect for the industry, while also having a bit of fun by focusing on the holiday.

“The WATERQUIRKS: Independence Day Edition gives the history and the background of their trade, their business. So, it's fun. It's interesting. But it's actually information that [customers] care about,” Abrahamson said.

This email, as well as a few others, encouraged people to “Forward to a Friend,” which about 10% of people clicked through on and also had a pre-populated tweet button. Another version was sent to customers who were registered online, where Ferguson would make the call-to-action a “Shop” ask.

“Not all of our different kinds of businesses are avid social media users,” she said. “But it's always nice to add this additional pre-populated tweet to spread the knowledge if they find it interesting.”

Another example of this content-rich style, which had a sharing CTA, came in a “Respect for our Industry” send to the plumbing sector, which was influenced by the holiday emails. Also, because it mentioned the first time cast iron piping became available, the team added a link to shop cast iron soil pipes.

“Even when the email itself really doesn't have a lot of call-to-actions, you still have people clicking in our [navigation.] Getting our customers good content in their inbox results in some return from that shop link up top,” she said, adding that in the WATERQUIRKS email, 14% clicked through to shop out of the navigation.

In general, the goal for these emails is customer engagement, “so things we can measure — clickthroughs, time on site,” she said, adding in self-service events, which would be ecommerce activity like paying a bill, checking a price or adding products to a favorites list, also known as My Lists.

The team is, of course, hoping for conversions on these sends, but it’s important to understand what the best goal is for each send. That affects the call-to-action in the email.

“For [sends] like Black Friday, another big conversion is online registrations. We push people to register for our ecommerce site in order for them to even see the deals,” she said.

Also, a more qualitative goal, Abrahamson said, is to “fill in those pure product play calendars with content-based emails and emails that build that loyalty, that trust, that extension of your business field. It just goes without saying, that this type of content aids in the health of our database.”

Step #2. Cross-collaborate with other teams

Abrahamson and her team have repurposed some of the same holidays they have done in the past, including Earth Day, News Year’s and Black Friday. The real change, she said, is not just all of the pre-planning, but including all teams in the process.

“Everybody is always striving for content, and it simply doesn't need to be recreated every single time, especially when you're talking about holidays; they happen every year,” she said.

Social media marketing, web content, merchandising, strategic products and the business group working in tandem on implementation, as opposed to working in a silo, also ensures that content is cohesive across different channels.

“You can't market [campaigns] as separate entities. They have to work together ensuring items you are promoting or the content you're promoting is available in all sales channels,” she said.

A good example, she said, of how this collaborative pre-planning has helped to evolve the holiday email campaigns is found in the New Year’s email.

Typically, in the past, she said, it has been a simple, “Happy New Year. Thank you for being a valued customer. Wishing you all the best.” In the years following, they’re able to repurpose that for different customer groups, only changing the branding.

“But this year, a great idea came up to have it be a letter from the CEO — a letter of thanks and gratitude,” she said. “So, we actually were able to get his words, Frank Roach's words of his thanks to our customers for the previous year, as well as his signature.”

This cross-collaboration ensures that great content is not only created for email, but once it’s sent, it doesn’t just stop with that channel.

Step #3. Foster email channel evolution

Abrahamson attended MarketingSherpa Summit 2016 (returning after presenting Ferguson’s B2B Best-in-Show winning campaign at the 2014 event) and came back to her team having been inspired by the presentation on email conversion and lifecycle messaging from Clark Cummings, Senior Manager of Member Marketing, Marriott International.

The session covered how Marriott had decided to insert relevant, value-rich content to a year-end email send. This came in the form of a “Year-in-Review” storyline that took members through their travels that year — it grew conversion rate by 9.7% year-over-year.

The team kept that idea “in our back pocket for a while,” Abrahamson said, and we believed it would apply well to PRO Plus™ Loyalty customers, a loyalty group that exists solely online.

On Jan. 5, the team created their own version of a “Year-in-Review” email that went out to this group. The email showed how many points they were awarded, how many they redeemed, and how many they donated.

“This email performed amazingly,” she said. “But aside from just giving them ‘your year with us’ stats, we also showed them top items that were redeemed this year by them and their peers to show them what the best items are out there on the redemption site, and then we gave them PRO Plus™ program highlights from the year.”

That send had a 49% open rate and a 34% effective rate, Abrahamson said.

“Under each section, we had a call-to-action,” she said, adding that because they were reminding them of their points, it made sense to funnel them into redeeming those points.

An evolution for future campaigns was inspired by a send during National Safety Month, where the team created a PDF checklist for customers to download on common safety and maintenance equipment for tradesman and their trucks.

Ideally going forward, she added, the team would want to develop content like that to exist on the website.  

“In the future, we really don't want to dead end [customers] and just have them download a checklist. We want to take them to a page with the checklist, and maybe more information, and have next steps as far as a call-to-action,” she said.

RESULTS

Moving forward, Abrahamson said she would like to focus on creating email content that is both extremely valuable and also evergreen.

“I would like to take away for 2017 some of the great content that we did this year and potentially repackage it,” she said. “One thing I think gets people in a rut is they feel like they have to create something completely new every single time.”

As noted above, holiday-centric email content like the “PRO Plus™ Year in Review” campaign performed well with Ferguson customers.

“We saw a 49% open rate and a 34% effective rate for this campaign, a great start to the 2017 holiday campaign season — which is every season, for Ferguson. While not all holiday emails perform quite this well, it is certainly a benchmark to shoot for in all future holiday sends,” she said.

For the future, her team can focus on expanding the holiday or event-themed emails with business segments that haven’t fully embraced it yet. This expansion could include weather-preparedness, a problematic and useful topic for many of Ferguson’s customers. 

“It’s a hot topic, but these are very timely, quick turnaround-type templates or content, so it involves working with web content to make sure that we have content up on the site about weather preparedness, whether it be about winter weather prep, hurricanes or similar weather-related issues,” Abrahamson said.

In that situation, an email would follow suit that had a cohesive look and branding, with links to relevant products to help customers prepare. Her team has created a few templates so far, she said, but it’s important to focus on how to proactively help a customer solve a problem, without coming across as capitalizing on that problem.

“We’re trying to think of out-of-the-box ways to expand our email content beyond product-specific promotions. We’re trying to expand our wheelhouse,” she said.

Creative Samples

  1. National Bathtub Day email
  2. National Safety Month email
  3. WATERQUIRKS email
  4. Respect for our Industry email
  5. Happy New Year 2016
  6. Happy New Year 2017
  7. Year in Review email for Pro Plus members
  8. Be Ready email

Sources

Ferguson

Related Resources

Crawl, Walk, Run: How Ferguson began customer-centric email habits to generate over $21 million in online revenue

How Ferguson Enterprises Generated Over $10 Million in Online Revenue by Enriching Its Customer Experience

B2B Email Marketing: Ferguson Rewards trade show optimization achieves over $10 million

Email Marketing: Marriott's Year in Review send helps increase revenue 86% year-over-year

How Public Speaking Can Enhance Your Career and Professional Development


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