July 16, 2008
Case Study

How to Build a Dream List of Newsletter Prospects: 10 Steps to a 44% Open Rate

SUMMARY: Building an opt-in email list of qualified prospects can take some doing. The task becomes more difficult when you work in a hyper-competitive industry.

See how a bank wooed retiring baby boomers for a new specialty newsletter with a contest that had them create their own retirement dream worlds. The newsletter has been averaging a 44% open rate.

Retiring baby boomers are frequent targets for financial management services. The competition for managing their wealth is fierce.

Kelly Harper, Director, PCG (Private Client Group) Marketing & Client Strategy, Bank of Montreal, and her team wanted to reach out to qualified prospects in this massive market outside of the bank’s existing customer base. They decided a retirement-focused newsletter that could nurture email leads was the way to go.

But how to put together a list of the most qualified leads for the newsletter? And what type of content would appeal most to retiring baby boomers?


Harper and her team created a contest that asked baby boomers to build their own retirement dream worlds. The contest filled the bill for BMO: It provided a mailing list from the entries and information from the dream worlds that helped them better understand these prospects as they crafted content for the newsletter. Here are the steps they took:

->Step #1. Analyze existing research

Harper and her team first analyzed existing research about baby boomers and how, as a generation, they have changed everything in their lives compared to the generation before them.

Research they studied included a retirement trends study and a ‘state of the boomers’ report, parts of which are on the BMO website.

“Boomers’ outlook about how they want to spend their time in retirement is a lot different,” she says. “It’s less about slowing down … and more about what am I going to do in the next phase of my life?”

->Step #2. Create visual experience

Harper says they chose the BMO Dream World Contest because it would create a far more engaging experience than a typical survey. It gave entrants something they could really visualize, she says.

The contest had a $25,000 first prize plus a free session with a BMO investment professional. They picked the winning entry at random.

The contest consisted of boomers answering a series of questions – each one creating a new component to the virtual world. The questions:
1) Where would you like to spend your retirement? Overlooking the sea? Out in the country? Or right in the middle of the city?
2) What kind of home do you dream of living in?
3) How will you spend your days? What do you dream of doing most in retirement?

NOTE: All of BMO’s creative was in two languages – English and French (official language in Montreal and Quebec). This was true for the contest and newsletter.

->Step #3. Promote the contest

Harper and her team marketed the contest primarily with online ads that included a link to a landing page with the online entry form. The third-party media buy focused on lifestyle and financial news sites such as AOL.ca, CBC.ca, Canada.com, Cyberpresse.ca (French site), TheGlobeandMail.com (newspaper), HGTV.com, Cnet, iVillage, Weather Network, SCR.ca, Sympatico MSN, etc.

“We had a lot of success advertising on lifestyle sites vs. financial news-type sites,” Harper says. “I think because they have higher usage of females. A lot of lifestyle sites have a ‘work and money’ section. It’s a bit of a softer sell.”

In addition, the team:
-Advertised the contest on BMO’s homepage
-Advertised the contest in other BMO newsletters
-Mentioned the contest in direct mail promotions

Each ad included the link to the dream-world landing page.

->Step #4. Qualify leads

After answering the dream-world questions, entrants completed the contest-entry form by filling in their name, phone number, and email and mailing addresses.

The entry form also asked a variety of other qualifying questions, such as:
-Are you a current BMO customer?
-When do you plan to start the transition to your retirement dream?
-Have you already started living your retirement dream?
-If yes, for how long?
-How confident are you about making your retirement dream a reality?

->Step #5. Ask for opt-in

The entry form also asked contest entrants if they would like to receive news and future promotional offers from BMO and if they wanted a BMO investment professional to contact them.

->Step #6. Don’t require purchase

Harper and her team incorporated best practices from previous campaigns when they adopted a “no purchase necessary” stance to enter the contest. This was a key to its success, Harper says.

“We wanted to increase awareness that BMO Financial Group really understood the change in realities around retirement,” she says.

->Step #7. Create the database

The answers to the contest questions gave Harper and her team information for a database on the back end. It contains the entrants’ dream-world preferences, contact info, and lead-qualification answers.

Eventually, the data base will be used to segment the email list for the newsletter, titled InMotion, now in its fourth month. Contest entrants who chose travel as a prime retirement activity, for example, will be sent information about travel in their retirement years.

Here are some of the baby boomers’ retirement dreams:
-Many don’t want to stop working completely
-Traveling and starting a small business are popular retirement activities
-7% to 10% said volunteering is how they want to spend their time

->Step #8. Create relevant newsletter content

Newsletter content ideas come from the information the opt-in boomers provided in their dream-world profiles. Top retirement issues to date include new tax incentives, when to stop working, planning for travel, and how to prepare for taking care of elderly parents.

“We’re driving a lot of information that’s different from other information they get from us because it’s really about the non-financial issues around retirement,” Harper says. “What we really wanted to do was help our clients with the ‘ah-ha’ moments, tell them the stuff they didn’t think they needed to be thinking about.”

->Step #9. Include call to action in content

Each newsletter has a call to action of some sort. For example, one asks readers to fill out their “Define Your Path” workbook; it helps them start thinking about how they want to spend retirement and what investments they’ll need to maintain their lifestyle of choice. Another puts them in contact with a BMO investment professional.

Each newsletter also has a “Need assistance?” box with a 1-800 number and hours to call the BMO Investment Centre.

->Step #10. Provide links to podcasts, case studies, other info

A menu bar on the right side of the newsletter contains links to other BMO retirement information sources – podcasts, articles, case studies, facts and links to websites.


The BMO Dream World Contest got 34,000 entrants –with two-thirds opting to receive further communication, including the InMotion newsletter.

Other results:
- 44% average open rate for the InMotion newsletter – 16 to 17 percentage points higher than the industry average the BMO team measures against
- 1% average unsubscribe rate for the newsletter
- 10% of opt-in boomers agreed to a contact from a BMO investment professional

“It was right on the money we were hoping for,” says Harper.

Useful links related to this article

Creative Samples from Bank of Montreal:

Special Report Part 1: Emailing Aging Boomers vs. Seniors:

Tribal DDB


BMO Retirement Your Way website:

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