Case study: How Aptera got big results with e-mail revamp

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Software and services company Aptera Inc. provides software and database development as well as Web development to its more than 180 customers. The 6-year-old company has always used e-mail marketing as part of its lead-generation process. However, until about 18 months ago those e-mails, which went out to two separate lists, were sporadic.

The company's main e-mail database, with more than 2,600 subscribers, received e-mail two or three times each year, while its Scorecard database, with more than 15,000 subscribers, received e-mail every three or four months. Results were, as could be expected, said Brooke Francesi, the company's design team leader, “really bad.” Click rates were especially dismal, she said. “Before, we'd send out more than 16,000 e-mails and maybe get only 100 opens,” Francesi said.

It was clear Aptera needed to overhaul its program so, at the beginning of 2008, the company switched ESPs, moving to ExactTarget, and redesigned its e-mail marketing from top to bottom.

The company implemented several changes. First, it put a schedule in place. Scorecard e-mails would go out once a month, while the main database would be touched quarterly. The Scorecard list morphed into an informational vehicle, with plenty of stories and links about project management and the management process. “We wanted to give people information related to our project management software,” Francesi said. “We wanted them to know we understood the industry.”

Aptera also started including offers with a strong call-to-action in e-mails sent to the Scorecard database—a 20% discount, for example, if the prospect made a purchase or signed a contract by the end of the month.

The other list became a straight marketing vehicle that contained information about Aptera as a company, she said, and featured newsy snippets such as profiles of new Aptera employees or recent customer acquisitions. Both newsletters also include “fun articles,” Francesi said. “Since it was straight news about Aptera, we didn't want to inundate people; so we also included information that would help readers.” This included free training or articles related to Aptera's business.

From a design perspective, Aptera started concentrating on creating “beautiful” e-mails. “We really renewed our focus on design,” Francesi said, “and part of that goal was creating brand awareness with our design.”

The company also included a direct link to sales reps in the body of every e-mail, so people could always ask questions or provide feedback on anything they saw.

The results have been “huge,” Francesi said. An Aptera newsletter that went out in December with a 20%-off offer resulted in a 600% increased open rate. In addition, the quarterly issues have enhnaced Web traffic by “30 to 40%,” she said.

“We're not sending out a whole lot of e-mails, but since we're providing them with content that is valuable and doesn't feel the same as information they can find elsewhere, we're gaining our readers' attention,” she said. “Just by doing something simple like providing the link and information for the sales rep, we're seeing sales jump. It's all about building slowly to build response.”

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