October 17, 2007
Case Study

How to Create the Best Leads for Your Eretail Partners - Newsletter & Targeting Tips

SUMMARY: Effective merchandising can be a problem for even the smartest eretailers. The puzzle gets more complicated if you don’t sell directly to customers but rely on eretail partners.

See how a leading outdoor sportswear manufacturer generates more qualified leads for their partners through a redesigned site and emails that target their customers’ lifestyles. The customized newsletters are getting 19.7% higher clickthroughs, and the average dollar value of each prospective sale is up 44.4%.
Columbia Sportswear Company’s Web site wasn’t turning traffic into enough qualified leads for their eretail partners. Site visitors and newsletter recipients simply weren’t getting enough targeted information or ample reason to click through.

“There wasn’t any sense of communicated understanding about the activities our consumers take part in,” says Daria Colner, Internet Marketing Manager. “I definitely believed that we needed to connect on a deeper level. We wanted to let people who are into hunting know that we understand their world. It had to be more than just, ‘Oh, here’s a jacket …’ Overall, we had to see if these could make us more of a resource to anyone who has a love for an activity.”

Colner and her team wondered if they could build this connection by focusing more on their customers’ psychographics -- their interests, attitudes and opinions. They wanted the Web site and emails to reflect the activities-driven nature of their products and audience.

Over the summer, Colner and her team tested an initiative to add this psychographic depth to their Web site and newsletters. Here are the four steps they took:

-> Step #1. Track leads through site

Colner had to solve one problem first: Site data only showed how much traffic they pushed to their eretail partners, not the click paths to conversions. They wanted to track more-qualified leads through the site.

Before kicking off the testing, the team formulated an equation that took the prices of the products that visitors to clicked on just before hitting the “Where to Buy” button. That served as a benchmark.

With the benchmark established, they could compare the “before” and “after” prospective dollar values of the clicks once new data started to roll in. In the test, Colner wanted to see if they could produce a boost in clicks on where to buy bigger-ticket items, such as gear and high-end shoes, while seeing fewer clicks on smaller-ticket apparel.

-> Step #2. Target customers' interests

Creating more of an emotional attachment between the brand and consumers made up the core of their test. They knew they had to find specialized groupings that captured the essence of their audience.

After examining months of site activity, Colner learned that their customers identified with six activities-based categories:
o Hunting
o Fishing
o Camping
o Family
o Snow sports
o Water sports

-> Step #3. Build specialty shops on the site

After identifying the categories, they reflected the activities on the Web site with the creation of three specialty Gear Shops: Hunting, Performance Fishing, Trail/Travel. Each shop was designed to give the viewer more detailed product information and to encourage them to continue onto their eretail partners to complete a purchase.

Here’s a synopsis of each shop:

- Performance Fishing: This shop was named more precisely because Colner knew that the majority of customers in this product niche were fly fishers. Key here was the creation of a link and separate page for a different fly fisher featured every month. The copy focused on Q&A tidbits about the fly fishers’ accomplishments and gear, including a question about their favorite piece of Columbia Sportswear apparel.

- Hunting: They used a general category name to appeal to a variety of wild game hunters, but the copy was more targeted. For instance, here is one headline for the section: “Layers Make it Easy to Swap and Shoot.”

- Trail/Travel: Colner essentially dedicated the copy in this section to hikers. But since they offer items like shoes that have a range of outdoor use, they gave it a more-general name to attract more shoppers.

In addition, each Gear Shop featured several product photos and information, such as fabric variations and different sizes. And the “Where to Buy” buttons allowed Gear Shop visitors to go to eretailers in one click.

-> Step #4. Customize the newsletter

Columbia’s enewsletter was then tweaked to focus on the same outdoor activities. Signing up people was the first priority.

Colner emailed an invitation message, “One Size Does Not Fit All,” with the following subject line: “Introducing our new custom e-newsletter.” Viewers who clicked were able to pre-select from the six options that would determine what products they would see promoted through email.

Also, Colner placed the category pre-selects next to the email sign-up slot above the fold on the left-hand side of the homepage. In the end, for example, a “water sports” subscriber received customized information and product offers, like one for the Aquatooth Shoe, at the bottom of newsletter. The top of each email featured an item offered to the entire subscriber list.
Without question, creating the activities-based categories, the three specialty shops and the reworked enewsletter has definitely driven leads the way Colner wanted. “Those customers have already done their research and have taken the extra step to getting to the product on the eretail page. To us, it’s been similar to taking someone by the hand off the street, bringing them into a store and showing them the Columbia product on the shelf.”

On the psychographic level, customers are making an emotional connection to Columbia, Colner says.

Just as important, using the referral-clicks equation established at the onset with the benchmark, Colner has seen the new features drive up the prospective dollar value of their referrals to eretailers. Specifically, the items people were browsing before hitting the “Where to Buy” button had an average of 44.4% more dollar value in terms of pricing.

The total number of clicks from the product pages across the site also has risen a healthy 7.8%. For the Gear Shops, in particular, traffic has been palpable in the few weeks they have been up. “We have gotten more hits on the fishing page alone the first month than any non-product page we’ve ever had. Because of the encouraging performances, we are adding a Sports Gear Shop in November.”

In addition, 12% of the brand’s subscriber base has signed up for the custom emails, and Colner says that number “grows significantly daily.” Clickthroughs for the personalized newsletter also are 19.7% higher among those who made the pre-selects, while the same people are opening 40.6% more of the time.

“We feel that the newsletter and Gear Shops are working hand-in-hand in terms of making our brand stronger in identifying and speaking to a particular enthusiast by activity.”

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from Columbia Sportswear Company:

White Horse - creative agency behind the initiative:

Columbia Sportswear Company

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