September 30, 2003
Case Study

HP Tests Personalized Web Landing Pages for Email and Direct Mail Campaigns -- Data & Samples

SUMMARY: We loved this campaign so much that we've been badgering the poor marketers at Hewlett Packard to let us write a Case Study since June. They caved in this week, so here you go.

HP tested this campaign to see if they could replace their fat printed catalog with an online-only version. The results were unexpectedly good. (By the way, if you're a copywriter, you may pick up some good tips from the samples.)
Every year, HP Education Services used to print and mail out a fat catalog of courses for IT pros in the US and Canada.

The catalogs were packed with details on dozens of courses, each with various electives and levels, all available at different times at 13 different locations. The courses could cost thousands, so potential students needed enough information to pick the best option, and also to get their bosses' sign-off for the expense.

As the cost of printing and mailing the catalog mounted year after year, HP marketers began to wonder if they should test email and Web alternatives.

But how can you get such a huge amount of information across in an email?

Plus, Web campaigns don't have the staying power that print catalogs do. An email campaign may last a week or two, a catalog can last for months. Any Web response would have to be incredible to make up for the longer lifetime of print.

By January 2002, Suzanne Eschel, then HP Education Services' Marketing Manager, was stick between a rock and a hard place. Her budget was reduced and due to the recession, catalog responses had been lowering for some time. She had to test something dramatically new.

Eschel had two cards in her favor - she had a database of thousands of past course takers, and she had a great online course catalog at She just had to figure out the best way to drive those customers to the site -- and get them excited about taking a course right away instead of waiting for someday.

What do people care about the most? Themselves. Eschel decided to make the campaign intensely personal. Here's how it worked:

Step #1: Send out a personalized message

This clever campaign (see samples below) went way beyond just sticking the customer's name in the creative. Messages were personalized in five ways:

o Instead of talking about HP's classes in general, the creative recommended just one single course to the recipient, carefully selected to meet their individual needs based on the courses they'd taken before.

o The course location was chosen to be the one nearest that customer's office.

o The copy focused on personal, career-related benefits and used the words "you" and "your" repeatedly.

o The customer's first name was in the headline

o The customer's first and last name were in the URL of the Web page they were directed toward. Sample (doesn't work):

Eschel wasn't sure whether old fashioned print mail or email would work the best for this creative. Luckily she didn't have to choose. HP's database only had correct emails plus permission to mail about half the names.

So, she sent the names with correct emails an HTML emailed promo and sent the others an oversized printed postcard in the regular mail. Creative and copy for both matched as much as possible to keep the test results accurate.

Aside from personalization, the creative was notable for its skimpy copy. The copy was very brief, to the point and in large easy-to-skim typeface. A complete opposite from the thick, dense catalogs of the past that had to carry the entire communications burden on their shoulders.

Step #2: Clicks reach a personalized landing page

You guessed it -- when customers typed in their personal HP Web page address, they wound up on a personalized landing page.

Again, the creative rules were followed -- the customer's name was in the headline, the offer was specifically for a single course, and the copy was brief in large typeface. In fact, no typeface was smaller than 12 pixels. Plus, the landing page did not require scrolling to view completely.

The largest and clearest response device was a big Register Now button at the lower right corner -- exactly where your mouse cursor might be sitting naturally.

However, if the customer wanted to look into alternatives to the suggested course, they could easily click on one of the navigation buttons in secondary positions at the bottom of the screen. The buttons' size and placement complemented the Register Now button instead of conflicting with it.

When the campaign launched, Eschel forecast a 1-3% response rate of people going to their personal landing page, and that then 3% of these page visitors would click through again to either register immediately or surf HP's other offerings.

Eschel's forecasts were completely wrong and she's never been happier. 16.5% of email recipients and 8.7% of print postcard recipients went to their personal landing pages. Then, an astonishing 63% of these visitors clicked yet again to either register or surf other course options at HP's main education site.

Interestingly, print postcard recipients were slightly more likely at 65% clicks, than email recipients at 61% clicks, to make it through to the next site.

Overall, of the people who clicked through to the next site, 31% converted into purchasing courses.

Since the first campaign launched in January 2002, HP has continued marketing with this tactic on an ongoing basis. Initial click-to-landing page results have gone down a bit to an average of 9.4% across media as the novelty has worn slightly. However landing page click conversions are still strong around 57%.

Interested in copying this tactic yourself? Eschel advises, "You really need to have access to good customer data. You need to be able to have a good targeted offer that's relevant to that group, and you really should have a way to track it so you can make some decisions about it afterwards."

Useful links related to this story:

Samples of HP's DM, email and landing pages:

Nimblefish Technologies - the company that made HP's integrated personalized campaigns possible:

HP Education Services

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