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eLearning Series

By: Jeff Finkelstein

August 21, 2003

If this column were your only source of e-mail marketing news, you might think all campaigns are executed flawlessly and everyone has results she wants to brag about. But we all know it isn’t that easy. Glitches are a part of daily life. This week’s case study is about a company that incorporated a major disruption — last week’s power failure that affected a large area along the East Coast — into its e-mail marketing plans, only to see its own power failure affect the campaign.

How that campaign will ultimately turn out is yet to be seen. We at ClickZ have the rare opportunity to watch it progress. Today, I’ll share with you the genesis and initial implementation of the campaign and hopefully get you thinking about some solutions. The next column will share what next steps the company took and the results. BP Solar International LLC manufactures, designs, markets, and installs a range of photovoltaic solar electric products and systems. Consumers and businesses alike use the company’s solar power solutions as an alternative or supplement to systems such as gas and electricity.

When the massive power outage occurred last week, BP Solar saw the perfect chance to contact its audience with an opportune message. Within an hour and a half of the outage, BP Solar and its partner, Customer Paradigm, an e-mail marketing and privacy consulting firm, had created a timely message. The subject line was, “Protect Against Future Blackouts With BP Solar Home Solution.”

The first bit of copy told the recipient why he was receiving the message: “When you signed up at [Web site], you indicated that you were interested in receiving e-mail about earth-friendly products. To unsubscribe, see instructions below.” Clicking the link would take the recipient right to the unsubscribe commands. The main body of the text comprised a few small, colorful graphics and a targeted message: Dear Heidi, New York encourages homeowners to go Solar with new tax credits and rebates that offer up to 60% savings. Is solar right for you? Get a personalized estimate of your costs and savings with our free online Solar Savings Estimator. Click here; Save up to 50% of the purchase price with New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s (NYSERDA) rebates. Plus, save an additional 25% of the cost of your system as a New York State Income Tax Credit.

This was followed by a couple more bullet points, a call to action in the form of a link to click for more information, the signature of a key company official, a phone number, and other contact information. BP Solar had conducted 38 campaigns before last week, so it knew the message it wanted to get across and was able to quickly create the copy. (Yes, that is amazing for such a large company!) It also knew whom it wanted to target and how. BP Solar and Customer Paradigm used Experian’s opt-in e-mail lists to identify 100,000 potential customers. Criteria included geographic location, home ownership, income, and a few other factors.

Because of the difference in tax incentives, the recipients were split into two groups: 25,000 on Long Island and 75,000 in New York City and surrounding suburbs. The test message went out, everything looked good, and the companies pulled the trigger. The goal was once power returned to the area, recipients would fire up their computers and this message would be waiting in their inboxes. It would take advantage of the customer’s mindset, and the recent events would help encourage the recipient to seek out more information from BP Solar.

It didn’t quite work that way. When tracking data started trickling in, it was apparent something was off track. There was no response from the folks in the NYC group. Given that they received the same basic message as those in the LI group, there shouldn’t have been a drastic difference. At first the LI group appeared to be on its way to better conversions than in prior campaigns. But by Monday afternoon they were lower than normal. The reason? Experian went down. The servers were down, images were broken, redirects were down, phone lines were down — the list goes on. Consumers who could see the message didn’t necessarily know where it was coming from. And apparently no one in the NYC group received the e-mail message. That’s where we are today. This situation raises a lot of questions, including how to follow up with the consumers who received the “broken” message and why the distribution to the NYC group appears to have failed.

In my next column, I’ll share some answers, BP Solar’s solution, and overall results. Heidi is a freelance writer who covers the Internet for both consumers and businesses. She’s a former editor of the E-mail Publishing Resource Center and coauthor of “Sometimes the Messenger Should Be Shot: Building a Spam-Free E-mail Marketing Program.” Her work also appears in Smart Computing, PC Novice, What’s Working Online, and Editor & Publisher.

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