August 15, 2013
Case Study

Email Marketing: Li-Ning's dynamic content nets 11% of clicks, 49% of email sales

SUMMARY: This case study spans the globe. Li-Ning is a multibillion-dollar sports brand company based in China that provides footwear, apparel, equipment and accessories for both professional and recreational athletes.

In order to promote the brand in the U.S. marketplace, Digital Li-Ning discovered that understanding its customers through collecting demographic, psychographic and customer interaction data would allow the company to know who its customers were.

Digital Li-Ning leveraged this data trove to develop an email campaign featuring dynamic content unique to each recipient. Read on to learn how this effort led to 49% of all email-sourced purchases.
by David Kirkpatrick, Senior Reporter


When an email marketer has data such as demographic and psychographic information on the subscriber list, it opens the opportunity to take advantage of not only targeted emails, but even placing dynamic content within individual emails.

Li-Ning, a multibillion-dollar sports brand company in China, is branded Digital Li-Ning in the United States market through a partnership with the Acquity Group.

Ray Grady, General Manager, Digital Li-Ning, and Executive Vice President, Acquity Group, said the brand faced a recognition problem.

"Li-Ning is a relatively unknown brand in the United States focused on a number of different categories — running and basketball specifically," Grady explained. "Understanding who our customer was and [what] their needs and likes were was the challenge."

The answer was to capture information about those customers, and then use that information to target the augmented list with emails populated by dynamic content.

This case study looks at how Digital Li-Ning created a largely automated dynamic content email campaign, and accounted for 49% of all sales sourced back to the email program.


The genesis of this effort was collecting the data because database records require more than a simple email address to be able to serve the dynamic content.

Step #1. Build the database

Any email marketing effort requires a database of at least email addresses. Since Digital Li-Ning was starting the U.S. business from scratch, the company needed to build that database.

"We didn't want to go out and buy emails, as that's proven to be a flawed approach in the world today," Grady said.

Instead, Li-Ning took a grassroots approach and collected addresses through:
  • Opportunities to meet one of the sponsored professional athletes

  • Promotions

  • Contests

  • Offers for limited edition footwear

All of these incentives required prospective customers to provide an email address to sign up or attend.

These incentives included offline events, such as meeting a professional athlete, and online events, such as Facebook contests.

All promotional activity required participants to provide an email address at minimum, but the goal was to acquire more detailed information in order to more highly target those people with email. The more detailed information for customer profiles was obtained through an API integration with the e-commerce platform and external data from a third-party vendor.

Once someone on the list actually made a purchase, that database record was populated with more detailed information about that person.

Organize the richer database records

For the database records that held more information than just a name and email address, each record contained a variety of fields, including demographic and psychographic information such as:
  • Gender

  • Age range

  • How the sign up for the email list occurred (product event, athlete meet and greet, etc.)

For those people who had already converted to a customer, there was even more detailed information included with the database record:
  • Previous purchases

  • Items clicked on

  • Time of day for purchases

To create the more extensive database records, three pieces of customer information were analyzed:
  1. The type of customer making the purchase

  2. The customer's previous purchasing behavior

  3. Which products were similar to the previously purchased products

Step #2. Create content for the dynamic email and design the email

Grady said content for the email sends was created with two different goals in mind. Some content was produced for what he described as "creative for creative sake" to engage the customer, and other content was produced to generate a click, and Grady said "hopefully generate an order."

The overall goal of the dynamic email content was to match that content to the buying patterns, demographic, psychographic or geolocation information for each individual.

Core creative plus dynamic content for each email

Once the content was created, each email send contained core content that did not change.

Some examples include email that highlighted Spanish national team basketball jerseys, and announcement when Li-Ning signed Miami Heat basketball player Dwayne Wade to a partnership for shoes and apparel.

Beneath the core content was a dynamic box within the email where content highlighting products specific to each recipient was displayed.

Step #3. Automate the content audit

In order to organize all of the different content pieces to be dynamically served, a content audit was performed to determine how each product’s creative looked, and what items had creative pieces that could be utilized in the email campaign, and then ensure each element of the creative pieces was consistent.

This process for Li-Ning was actually accomplished through a backtesting algorithm that evaluated each element with the creative pieces, helping to streamline the content audit process.

Before the campaign went live, there was something of a manual audit where email with dynamic content was sent internally to Li-Ning's U.S. partner to get input from actual people to make sure everyone was comfortable with the look and feel of the dynamic content email.

The ongoing process once the campaign was put into place included:
  • Ongoing data hygiene

  • Data normalization

  • Checks and balances on triggers

  • Internal audit points to ensure transparency and auditability at every step

Step #4. Set rules for dynamic content

For this campaign, gender was the starting point for dynamic content rules. Men were generally sent content focused on products geared toward males, and women's products geared toward females.

At the same time, purchase history was used to override these basic principles at times. For example, if a woman had a purchase history of buying a lot of products geared for males, possibly for their sons for example, the ongoing internal audit points would catch that information and begin serving dynamic content that aligned more closely with the actual purchase history.

Serving the dynamic content

The content was created and audited, the rules were in place and the last stage of executing this campaign was to actually serve the dynamic content.

To accomplish this, Li-Ning incorporated a simple widget into each individual email pulled data points on the recipient and highlighted products relevant to that person based on the above content rules and automated algorithm.

The widget hooked into the e-commerce platform to gather images associated with the product to be displayed, and within the email service provider, the process involved mail merge fields to dynamically populate each product recommendation.


The most telling result of this campaign is that the dynamic content garnered 11% of email clicks, but those clicks were responsible for 49% of email purchases. Essentially, dynamic content drove a very impressive conversion rate after that initial clickthrough.

14% of Digital Li-Ning's sales occurred through the dynamic email campaign.

"Good technology affords you the opportunity to be a data-driven marketer," Grady said. "There is a lot of specific information you can glean from someone, not only what they share with you, but [also] based on patterns and trends."

This approach allowed Digital Li-Ning to execute a fairly sophisticated dynamic content email campaign with very little manual effort. Once the content was created, the auditing process was mostly automated, and the actual placement of the dynamic content was handled with a small widget within each email. Even the ongoing auditing to refine what content each recipient would see was happening mostly "under the hood" as the campaign ran.

Creative Sample

  1. pre-launch email



Digital Li-Ning

Acquity Group — Manager of Li-Ning brand in the United States

SimpleRelevance — Li-Ning's dynamic email vendor

Related Resources

Email Marketing: HP uses dynamic email content to drive 300% open rate and 600% clickthrough increase

Dynamic Email Marketing: How boosted CTR 88% with offers chosen by data, not instinct

Email Marketing: Dynamic images get 5 opens per reader on a single email

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

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