January 12, 2006
Case Study

Re-Email Campaign to Prospects Who Clicked But Didn't Buy: 125 Hotel Nights Sold at $600 a Pop

SUMMARY: Does your email conversion rate drive you crazy? A prospect was interested enough to (a) opt-in, (b) open your email message and (c) clickthrough … and then they fell off the page.

Discover what the (very) exclusive Greenbrier resort tested this December to convert more recent clickers into buyers. The data will blow you away, plus the creative samples are among the most gorgeous we've ever seen. Truly actionable and yummy:

CHALLENGE The Greenbrier opened its doors as America's top resort 227 years ago, and it's still going strong.

One big change since George Washington's day though -- now the resort politely asks guests if they'd like to join their email list. Politely but persistently that is. Email opt-in forms are almost everywhere in the resort, including spa feedback forms and the back of the parking passes.

The resort's traditional ad agency has created a huge library of absolutely gorgeous images taken on site (horseback riding, falconry, spa massages, golf greens, etc.) So, it's fairly easy for the email marketing team to create scrumptious- looking campaigns (see below for link to samples).

However, the types of rich and classy people who see no problem in popping $600+ a night for a hotel room are probably too jaded to be swayed by pretty pictures. You have to do more to convince them to book a room.

Plus, you can't risk over-emailing your list. The brand reputation and customer file are too invaluable to take a chance with email that might annoy a single customer.

CAMPAIGN The email marketing team tested two segmentation tactics to get the most from The Greenbrier's opt-in list.

Segmentation #1. Favorite activity

Although the team send a general newsletter to all members of the list once a month, they look for any way to segment the file into smaller groups for more topical mailings.

Most opt-in forms ask what sort of activities each guest prefers -- with choices including spa, golfing, and family activities (i.e., kid-friendly). Plus, the team code every link in the general mailings with these same segment flags. So, if a customer clicks on a general email's link to spa activities, their name is then flagged as a spa-activity-lover in the database.

Then the team create special email campaigns just for spa lovers and pull the names of customers who self-selected by previous clicks or opt-in form check boxes.

Segmentation #2. Reconnecting with past clicks

This past holiday season, the team sent out a beautifully designed email to entice customers to visit Greenbrier for seasonal delights such as a ballet troupe performing the Nutcracker.

They even included a never-before-tested $100 discount offer in the campaign to boost response. (Some staff worried that offering a discount to the super-wealthy was a bit like giving Steve Ballmer a gift certificate for Microsoft software, but in the end the let's-just-test-it spirit prevailed.)

The first campaign dropped to the entire list at 9:22 a.m. Nov. 7. It enjoyed a typical 20% open rate with a 14.6% click rate. But, just as with every other email campaign in the world, the large portion of customers who clicked to learn more didn't actually convert on the spot to booking rooms.

Some did (proving even rich people adore a discount) but not nearly everyone.

The email team chewed their fingernails. If they sent out a reminder email about the offer, they risked annoying customers who weren't interested and had said "no" the first time by using their 'Delete' key.

Then the team figured, why not create a list segment of *only* the customers who had actively clicked on the last holiday offer but not converted? The creative was not "remindery" but rather used a combination of typically beautiful Greenbrier photography with, this time, a stronger call to action in the headline.

This follow-up campaign dropped at 4 p.m. Nov. 29. The list was fairly small -- not even 1,000 names. Wondering if it was even worth the extra effort to create a special campaign to such a small list, the team sat back to wait for results.
RESULTS Wow. The follow-up email campaign to the tiny list of past-clickers sold 125 guest room nights in just 48 hours for minimum revenues of $75,000, plus anything guests spent on shopping and extra activities at the resort.

Lesson learned -- even if you think a segment is too small to be worth sending separate creative to, test it.

Overall, The Greenbrier's 2005 segmented focused campaigns have pulled significantly higher open and click rates than the more general mailings. That's why they are planning no fewer than 60 mainly super-segmented campaigns to the house list for 2006. (Due to segmenting, the typical name won't be mailed more than 24 times.)

Here are some stats from the 2005 results data they shared with MarketingSherpa's reporters:

Typical general campaign: open 21%, click 13%; typical segmented campaign: open 46%, click 52%.

More data worth noting:

- Beautiful emails get more-than-typical pass-along, especially when multiple family members are involved in vacation decisions.

- House lists always outperform third party lists except when they are extremely segmented and pre-qualified. Although The Greenbrier's typical rented campaign gets a 4% open rate with clicks ranging from 4.5%- 11%, two extremely niche rented files generated open rates of 21.9% and 40%, respectively. However, their click patterns were lower than house mailing clicks.

- Multiple click links, even to the same exact place, work wonders. In one creative (see the Halloween campaign sample) recipients could click in loads of different places, including text links, click tabs and photographs. And they did. No one particular click link was the dominant, predictable winner. Why not look over your own email creative and see if you can add a few more clickable spots?

- B-to-B mailings to the house opt-in list of meeting planners typically got fairly decent open rates in the 19%-26% range, but abnormally low click rates at just 1.5%-5%. This is mainly because planners' emails were more informational keep-us-top-of-mind than offer-oriented.

One last (bonus) B-to-B email campaign tip: the team created a special landing page for staff and sales rep email SIGs (signatures). Instead of sending clicks to the site home page, which the team figured old opt-ins had probably seen before, the landing page featured a pulse-pounding Flash presentation of resort photos … plus on the same page a variety of most-useful informational hotlinks and contact info.

(This is a best practice -- never to force people to see a Flash presentation unless the page also includes useful static HTML content and links for immediate use.)

We don't have data on the SIG landing page yet (it's a fairly new test) but, reportedly, the resort's sales reps adore it. And, sometimes, keeping your sales reps happy is half the battle.

Useful links related to this article:

Creative samples (gorgeous - check out the Halloween one especially):

Paramore/Redd - the interactive agency who handles the Greenbrier's email and site:

Bohan - The Greenbrier's traditional agency, also responsible for gorgeous images on the site and in email:

Emma - The Greenbrier's email service provider:

The Greenbrier:

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