Red Hat tweaks, trims and tests to maximize e-newsletter impact

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Red Hat, a provider of Linux and open source technology, has an internal house list of about 800,000 names. Most came from a newsletter launched three years ago when Red Hat Linux was free software that could be downloaded by anyone. As a result, some of the names on the list are hobbyists and home users, a group that the company has moved away from with its 12-month software subscription business model.

Still, Red Hat sends out about 32 different e-mail marketing messages each month, splitting the list based on different verticals and interest-specific opt-ins. Recently, those communications hit a lag. Fewer people were opening and clicking through. The company, like most, said Brandon Blell, manager, customer marketing at Red Hat, needed to be smarter with its communications.

Working with e-mail marketing service provider CheetahMail, Red Hat started with the basics, changing subject and "from" lines to increase open rates. For example, one of its newsletters called "Government News" was particularly struggling. "We were using a subject line of `Government News, October, whatever year,' forever, and it was definitely on a downward trend in terms of open rates," Blell said. Blell started altering the subject line to make it more relevant to the contents of the newsletter. Open rates immediately stabilized and have actually gained several percentage points, she said.

Narrowing target gives boost

Tweaking who sees the company's messaging provided an even bigger boost. Another marketing message called "Tech Challenge" is set up to interest readers in migrating to Linux. The message, which goes out once each week, includes a quiz and technical information designed to challenge users. When the newsletter was first introduced, Red Hat saw open rates of 23%, but those quickly fell off, bottoming out at 18%. Blell said the company decided to send the message only to those subscribers who had opened at least one of the last four issues. While this meant the list got smaller, it paid off. The company achieved an open rate of 54% and a click-through rate that went from 2.7% to 5.6%.

"The rates are doing well, and we know we're reaching the people who are most interested-the ones who are most likely to turn into leads," Blell said.

Recently, Red Hat has moved into testing content.

Customer cycle segments

Red Hat marketers were sending out a technical newsletter called "The Customer Advisor" to those who opted in and were already customers. This year, they decided to segment that list, sending different content to people who were at different stages in the customer cycle. The results were instantly impressive. The newsletter received a 60% open rate.

"We're e-mailing them once a month and sending that e-mail based on their month of subscription," Blell said. "We tweak the content each month. What it allows us to do is get a more sophisticated idea of what customers are interested in based on the month they are in in the 12-month cycle."

It also lets Red Hat target those further along with messages that ask them to resubscribe and present offers that will help them do that. Results of this content test are still being calculated, but Blell said they are already seeing anecdotal success. 

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