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Lessons from the best: Analyzing HP’s e-newsletter success

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Hewlett-Packard Co. over the past five years has turned a simple e-mail newsletter into a vehicle that goes out to more than 5 million subscribers and influences more than $100 million in revenue. In addition, the newsletter, called “Technology at Work,” saves millions more by helping to defray customer service costs. While your business may not have the means or the customer base of HP, there’s plenty you can learn from its newsletter strategy, said Shar VanBoskirk, an analyst with Forrester Research, who recently published a case study about HP’s newsletter. She offered the following advice based on her analysis.

1) Focus the program on providing user value. HP’s customers need updates every time a product gets a new feature or redesign, and they want to hear about the products they are already using. That said, HP was able to reduce the number of customer service calls by providing this type of information in addition to utilities, humor and news. “HP’s program works because from the very beginning they have used it to answer user needs, not just promote products,” VanBoskirk said.

HP uses both customer-provided profiles and user behavior to shape content. A customer might not identify himself as a server user, but if he’s spending a lot of time looking at server information, he will probably appreciate additional information on the topic.

2) Test every possible element of the program. HP has implemented pervasive A/B testing on every e-mail newsletter that goes out and looks at a variety of elements during the testing—article length and order, text color, subject lines and balance of news-to-promotion ratios. “HP tests every offer, design element, piece of content, layout, every time they mail,” VanBoskirk said. “They also survey their customers quarterly to get overall feedback on which parts of the program they find most valuable.”

3) Gradually gain corporatewide support for the program. HP started small and proved the program’s value before growing it. “They kept following this pattern until they had everyone in the company buying in and clamoring to provide content for the e-mails and customer data about response to the program,” VanBoskirk said.

4)   Relentlessly innovate. Although HP could sit back and enjoy its success, Paul Horstmeier, HP’s North American eMarketing manager who founded “Technology at Work,” said there will be several innovations this year. For example, HP marketing professionals are planning client-specific newsletter versions designed to solve top clients’ problems and questions. Going forward, the company will use behavioral data to trigger automatic customer profile update requests, an important feature because most people who sign up for e-mail newsletters rarely update their profiles unless prompted.

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