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E-mail proves its worth in a CrossMedia case study

by Nigel Hollis | January 30, 2013

Once a quarter we hold our Knowledge Management Awards for the best case studies generated across Millward Brown. As one of the judges, I get to see the best submissions and usually there is something interesting that catches my eye. This time, it was a CrossMedia case study that demonstrated the power of e-mail marketing. 

In spite of the fact that I am on several brands’ mailing lists, I can’t say that I remember many e-mails that have done much more than try to sell me something. Patagonia promotes its clothing alongside interesting news items. JetBlue simply flags its latest cheap fares. 

I do remember an e-mail from Steve Ridgeway at Virgin Atlantic, thanking me for my patience and understanding for the disruption caused by volcanic ash clouds and bad weather in 2010 (I had suffered neither and you would have thought they could figure that out). But the e-mail then continued to say:

Looking back, we also experienced some great positives; such as the launch of our new aircraft livery and the development of our latest TV advertising campaign.

Ridgeway then continued to list route changes and the addition of A330-300 aircraft to the Virgin fleet. All of which I found rather self-serving. Great for the business, but what’s in it for me? While the e-mail referred to me as a valued customer, the e-mail did not make me feel like one.

So, I have not been too impressed with the ability of companies to use e-mail for more than a direct sell, but the case study told a different story. A company was running its first major above-the-line ad campaign using TV, mobile, online display, partnerships and e-mail. The primary objective was to increase share of usage among customers and correct some misperceptions about the company’s service. 

Our research found that the 44 percent reach of the e-mail campaign was comparable to the mobile advertising, but added little additional reach to the overall campaign. However, that reach came at no cost and had a very strong impact when it came to dispelling misperceptions of the brand. Combined with TV, e-mail also proved able to shift key brand attributes and claimed usage. Overall, e-mail contributed 45 percent of the total share of campaign impact across key measures.

This case study has gone a long way to assuage my concerns over the efficacy of e-mail marketing when used appropriately and in combination with other media. E-mail was particularly appropriate in this case because of the need to reach existing users who, presumably, had signed up to receive e-mail. I doubt that e-mail sent to non-subscribers would be anywhere near as effective and certainly unwelcome to many.

So do you think e-mail is a good marketing tool for more than a sales pitch? And under what circumstances? Please share your thoughts. 


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  1. Mark N, February 04, 2013

    Hi Nigel, our brands reputation is for quality and being the UK's No.1 supplier. However, our messaging is pretty discount and voucher heavy.

    I agree channel unity it is essential, and email has the advantage of offering a personal touch.

    But using it because it is ‘low cost’ sets a dangerous precedent which could be misconstrued…

  2. Jarrod Payne, February 01, 2013
    Its an interesting outcome. I suppose as you say the primary advantage that email has is that even if it generates very little uplift, the cost is so low that its efficiency is likely to be high.

    I do wander though if i was trying to move the needle on a positive attribute rather than trying to remove negative perceptions would it have been as successful? More case studies in the future will help us to answer this, i am very keen to see how email performs in relation to mobile, online banner, online video and perhaps something like text messaging.
  3. Nigel, January 31, 2013
    Hi Mark, interesting perspective but, yes, I am sure it all depends on the specific brand and audience. Does your brand regularly offer sales? Are its target audience deal hunters? 
    And, sorry, given the results are from a proprietary study I am not at liberty to reveal the client name. 
  4. Mark N, January 31, 2013
    Ironically we see a higher unsubscribe rate from our nice content driven 'Newsletters' than we do from our 'Sale' emails...

    The answer is specific to the brand and the audience.

    Could you reveal who 'A company' is so we can subscribe and learn from this example?

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