August 21, 2007
Case Study

How a Single Email Led to the Best Product Launch Ever - Test Results

SUMMARY: Marketers at manufacturing firms face an email dilemma because they're often launching single products with months of downtime in between. It’s not only hard to build online relationships this way, but it’s difficult to come up with a truly targeted list that finds relevancy in a one-product offer.

See how a well-known bicycle maker combined a smartly designed email and directed traffic to a microsite to achieve the biggest product launch in their three-decade history.
Until a few months ago, Casey Kohner, B-to-C Ecommerce Manager, Trek Bicycle Corp., was responsible for running the online store featuring bike-related accessories and using email to sign up repeat customers. But then his bosses decided it was time to see if email would work as a key driver in their high-end bike launches.

So, Kohner and his team sat down to put together a plan to transition from emails promoting low-to-medium-ticket apparel, shoes and other gear to bikes costing thousands of dollars. And since Trek doesn’t sell their bikes directly, the program had to drive prospects to local retail partners.

“We had done some lifestyle messaging that we thought could be applied,” Kohner says. “However, you are never sure how steep the learning curve will be until you start testing.” They wondered if email sending consumers to a microsite could translate click traffic into foot traffic for such a high-end niche product.

Kohner and his team tested email when they launched their new $580 Trek Lime line this spring, but the effort didn’t lift sales above their expectations. Still, he was confident that a similar strategy with a more targeted list would work. It needed to, because up next was a campaign for their Madone series bikes, which retails for anywhere from $2,000 up to $8,600.

Here are the five steps they took:

-> Step #1. Extract a relevant list

Knowing that avid biking aficionados like learning about emerging products, Kohner knew they could select more than just past bike purchasers from their permission-based database and still maintain relevancy. So, they extracted those who had opted in for Tour de France promotions in the past two years. This list ended up being around 100,000 names.

-> Step #2. Craft the message

For the design of the email, Kohner and his team wanted to avoid a busy look and feel (i.e., gobs of imagery), so they balanced the text around two photos. “The story needs more than pictures to be told. Also, if they don’t click through, we’ve at least provided some content that creates awareness for the Madone.”

Other differences:
- They paid more attention to placement and made sure to put an image, text and a call to action above the fold.
- Instead of “Click here” hyperlinked copy, they used “See the new Madone” toward the top of the design and in the middle section.
- Giving a strategic nod to where many of the list names originated, they used a hyperlinked photo of brand partner and Tour de France hero Lance Armstrong.
- To promote the brand name and the manufacturer’s rich tradition in the subject line, they went longer than normal: “The all-new Madone has arrived. Everything else is history.”

-> Step #3. Send traffic to a dedicated microsite

All emails were directed to a microsite that further told the story of the new bike. With a sleek and mostly black design, the microsite featured four sections:
o A New History
o Technology
o Madone Line-up
o Make History

Each of those four sections broke into smaller areas with content designed to appeal to the most-ardent bike enthusiast. For instance, people who clicked on Technology were taken to a section called “What’s Behind the Ride,” which included six subsections:
o Efficiency
o Components
o Integration
o Strength
o Performance
o Comfort

The microsite also included links to a FAQ page and a blog where consumers could sign up to receive the latest updates on deliveries, bike demos, events news and a video. In all, it contained more than 20 sections and subsections describing the new model, as well as various PDFs that contained even techier information for those who were truly interested.

-> Step #4. Encourage opt-ins on the microsite

One final piece to the microsite was including an opt-in link for consumers who found it through search engine queries. Growing their email list was secondary to the original goal, but the form was easy enough to add. Plus, the names collected would become valuable prospects for future campaigns.

They offered five ways to receive updates:
o Email
o Skype
o AOL Instant Messenger
o Twitter (your time line)
o Twitter (direct)

-> Step #5. Create buzz/ready the stores

Next, Kohner and his team kept the news of the product launch under wraps until the week before the launch. They did this to:
o Create a strong buzz among retailers and bloggers
o Keep the details on proprietary features, such as the Madone’s special frame, hush hush.

Three days before the product launch, they announced the bike at an exclusive corporate event for their top 100 national and international retailers. Then, they express-couriered marketing materials to retail partners and sent an email promotion that introduced the microsite as well as the steps they needed to follow to get the product in stock.

On the day of the product launch, they sent the consumer email message and launched the microsite.
Kohner and his team’s efforts were rewarded in dramatic fashion, as the campaign for the Madone was instrumental in achieving two words every marketer loves to hear: sold out. Indeed, their retail partners have been buzzing with sales activity all summer long.

“Everything worked,” Kohner says. “In terms of marketing execution, planning and sales, we consider it to be the overall best product launch we have done in our company’s [31-year] history. Right now, you basically cannot get the new Madone. It’s back-ordered until October. The email campaign was a key component to that success.”

For the email itself, they had a 21% open rate and 43% clickthrough rate. Also, they saw a lift of 10% to their opt-in email and RSS programs.

In addition, Kohner was more than satisfied with changes to the email design:
- 41% clicked on the top “See the Madone” link.
- 26% clicked on the lower “See the Madone” link.
- 19% clicked on the main image.
- 14% clicked on the link to the online version of the email to view it in their Web browser.

“What’s interesting here is that the call-to-action links were number one and number two in terms of clicks, which indicates that this design engaged our customers,” Kohner says. “And it tells us that a significant percentage actually took the time to read the content.”

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from Trek's product launch:

Bronto Software Inc. - email service provider who executed the campaigns on the back end:

Hanson Dodge Creative - agency who developed the microsite:

Madone microsite:

Trek Bicycles Corp.:

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