Test email to ensure relevancy, then measure results

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Here at National Starch Food Innovation, a food ingredient manufacturer that is part of Corn Products International, we invest approximately 20% to 30% of our marketing communications dollars in trade shows. In 2009, at the height of the recession when everyone was looking at costs, our senior leaders debated whether the company should exhibit at its largest trade show, the IFT Food Expo in Anaheim, Calif. The decision was made to go, and the show was successful on many levels, including new-product introductions, sales leads and editorial coverage. Shortly after the show, those same senior managers posed these questions: “What about the 80% to 90% of our customers who didn't attend the show? How do we present the information to them?” Someone suggested a webinar, but that takes time and money, and we didn't want to spend either. I presented a plan for a microsite that, with the help of our webmaster, Cathy Merrill, we could build in a day. The microsite featured content from the expo—product announcements, links to video interviews with company experts and highlights from an award ceremony—at which National Starch won an innovation award. We would then send emails to all the contacts in our CRM systems with a link to the site. The next challenge presented by my CEO was: “What assurances do you have that you can create a compelling message that will encourage people to read the email and visit the site.” My answer was simply: “We test.” Four different subject lines and messages were crafted and tested with cells of 250 email addressees. There wasn't a clear winner based on email opens, but one message generated 50% more click-throughs than the next best. Overall, the first e-blast garnered an open rate of 16% and a click-through rate of 3.9%. Remailing the message two weeks later pushed the unique open rate to 22%. Testing subject lines has continued to be a mainstay of all our campaigns. This brief program in 2009 set the stage for all our trade show marketing over the past two years. From this modest start, we pulled out all the stops the following year. We went from a one-page microsite and two email blasts to building a multipage site with a 10-week pre-show campaign and a four-week post-show campaign. We also added Twitter and LinkedIn ads to promote the event microsite and drive traffic to our booth. Over the course of the 10-week campaign, an average of 12% of all emails were opened, and 6% of our customer database clicked through to the microsite. Of the entire database, more than 35% opened one or more emails. For the last two weeks of the campaign and during the show, we coupled our online tactics with our sales lead software. Recipients were surveyed to determine if they had immediate needs they would like addressed before or during the show. Those responses generated new leads, which were immediately trafficked to the sales organization. Every evening during the show, we used the leads system to email all booth visitors, thanking them for stopping by and reminding them of the next day's cooking demonstrations and technical presentations. By chance, our CEO received one of those emails (I guess someone scanned his badge), and he responded to me at 6 a.m. with this brief message: “This I like a lot.” Additionally, these tactics have generated more traffic to our primary website in the weeks leading up to events and improved leads at our shows. The success of our email campaigns is due, in part, to writing compelling subject lines and testing different ones with our in-house list. The other success factor was Cathy Merrill with all her webmaster skills, including constructing the site, testing and distributing all the messages, and generating the metrics. We continue to refine our tactics, evaluating how to best use LinkedIn, testing external lists for targeted segments and incorporating Corn Products' sweeteners business into our programs. We're comfortable about the quantity and quality of our messages, as engagement continues to climb and unsubscribes drop to rates as low as 0.1%. For a trade show campaign this past March, the number of unique email opens jumped to more than 50%, demonstrating the audience's involvement with our com-pany's messages. We're confident that we've improved the quantity and quality of our trade show leads through this integrated email/microsite program.
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