SmartBrief banks success on associations

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Soon after Emma Email Marketing was launched in 2002, Annie Kinnaird, director of business development, started to run the company's ads on several association Web sites. She was less than satisfied with the results, particularly the ever-crucial click-through rates.

"When we attempted to advertise in other associations' [e-mail newsletters] we were completely unimpressed," she said.

Things started to change for Emma Email's online marketing when Kinnaird signed on in 2004 to advertise on two different vertical e-mail newsletters distributed by SmartBrief, including "IAB [Interactive Advertising Bureau] SmartBrief," which has a circulation of 14,000, and "Four A's [American Association of Advertising Agencies] SmartBrief," which has a circulation of 8,000.

Overall, SmartBrief reaches 900,000 business professionals through 33 b-to-b e-mail newsletters. About 90% of the newsletters are advertising-based.

SmartBrief, which was launched in 1999 in partnership with trade associations and professional societies, aggregates industry news gathered from hundreds of news sources as well as announcements and promotions from its partners. Aggregating and monetizing content is nothing new, of course. SmartBrief said it has developed an edge because each summary has an association's logo stamped atop the e-mail newsletter.

Brand recognition helps

"We know that a huge part of any e-mail marketing [effort] is that the recipients recognize the brand as soon as possible," Kinnaird said. "The most qualified lists are the ones affiliated with associations."

The results have shown a significant boost in Emma Email's brand recognition and a big uptick in click-through rates, although Kinnaird would not provide any specifics. "It's a challenge for marketers to get associations' member lists," she said. "But SmartBrief has already established those relationships."

Most of the newsletters, which target C-level executives, are blasted daily. Some of the more highly circulated briefs include "National Restaurant Association SmartBrief" (51,000 circ.), "USTelecom dailyLead" (43,000) and "GMA SmartBrief," from the Grocery Manufacturers Association (34,000).

The latest brief to join the mix is "CEA SmartBrief" from the Consumer Electronics Association. It was introduced with 10,000 subscribers and is one of the fastest-growing e-newsletters, according to Rick Stamberger, president-CEO of SmartBrief.

Stamberger was consulting for the Cellular Telephone Association (now the Wireless Association) in 1996 when he launched the initial version of SmartBrief. It quickly became the CTA's prime driver of online advertising and marketing.

In 1999, despite a slackening economy and the downward slide in Internet stocks, Stamberger bet that the SmartBrief concept could apply to any industry. Within 18 months of launch, the venture was turning a profit.

"We have the leadership of industry as our readers," he said. "The boards of associations are engaged from day one, and it grows from there virally. The relationship with the associations is a key differentiating aspect of what we do, as is the highly targeted nature of the audience."

Stamberger added: "I didn't know how important associations were until we launched. They're the hub of a lot research, meetings and relationships, and if you get an e-mail from the CEO of your trade association, typically you're going to open it."

Genesis of SmartBrief

SmartBrief was conceived by Greg Simon, a SmartBrief board member and former domestic policy adviser to Vice President Al Gore. "The genesis of the product is the vice president's morning briefing, and an attempt to deal with information overload," Stamberger said. "We figured if it was good enough for the vice president, it was good enough for business leaders."

Marketers agreed that SmartBrief has been able to distinguish itself through its strong relationships with associations. "If it wasn't for the newsletter going to AHIP [America's Health Insurance Plans] members, it would not be a viable vehicle," said Jana von Bramer, director of marketing at Emdeon Corp., which provides health care data analysis.

Emdeon has been advertising on AHIP for the past four years, using display ads, white papers, webinars and links. "Because it goes directly to membership, I can build up [ad] frequency as much as I want," von Bramer said. "Its reach is very targeted, and there's no waste."

She added that Emdeon will boost its ad spending on SmartBrief this year. "It's ideal for b-to-b marketing compared with buying a trade publication, which means that other [health care] providers are targeted, and the message gets watered down," she said.

Leslie Reiser, IBM senior manager of relationship and interactive marketing for small and midsize businesses, said SmartBrief differentiates itself by distributing media-agnostic information to a captive audience.

IBM has targeted the SMB market with ads on several SmartBrief verticals, including "NAW [National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors] SmartBrief," "National Restaurant Association SmartBrief" and "NRF [National Retail Federation] SmartBrief."

"People are going to SmartBriefs because they're interested in the industry, and we know that people purchase along industry lines," Reiser said, adding that SmartBrief now accounts for up to 15% of her overall marketing budget. "The content resonates with customers and, because of the associations' endorsements, causes them to take action."

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