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eLearning Series


September 4, 2003

When we left off, BP Solar was attempting to use a fantastic opportunity to show off its alternative to traditional energy sources. A power failure had affected a large area of the East Coast. BP Solar wanted to contact its audience with an opportune message. The company created a timely message that would be waiting in potential customers’ e-mail inboxes as soon as the lights came back on. But the campaign experienced its own power failure.

The servers at the list management company went down. E-mail recipients were faced with broken images, missing links, and other errors throughout the message. Clearly, this wasn’t the way BP Solar planned to run the campaign. Today, how BP Solar revived the campaign to achieve overall successful results. Part 1: Analyzing the Initial Mailing First, let’s look at what the initial mailing accomplished. It wasn’t nearly as successful as BP Solar expected prior to deployment. The campaign goal was to encourage recipients to visit the company Web site and fill out a form authorizing a BP Solar representative to contact them.

BP Solar hoped for higher than average conversion rates as compared to past campaigns. But conversions were down — significantly. Not good. Plus, BP Solar wasn’t able to track how many customers saw the message before Experian’s servers crashed. There was some good news. Initial click-through reports were roughly double the average CTR of BP Solar’s 38 previous campaigns. In other words, the first day (before Experian’s servers went down) saw about twice as many recipients click to the Web site as usual.

BP Solar was also able to track call center activity and discovered some interesting results. Call volume was about three times higher than on an average day. Sounds good, until you realize during a typical campaign, call center volume is often up about four or five times the average. The volume was significant, but clearly not as successful as it could have been.

Part 2: Redeployment If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again… BP Solar sent a second message to the same 100,000 recipients on the Wednesday following the blackout (five days later). It was quite similar to the original message, with bullet points listing solar energy tax rebates and credits, a call to action, contact information, and more. At the beginning of the message, new text was inserted: An earlier message we sent to you had images and links that didn’t work. When you signed up at X website, you indicated that you were interested in receiving e-mail about earth-friendly products.”

Results? Recipients visited the Web site. But compared to past campaigns, conversions were down about 50 percent. There are a number of possible causes at work. The message was still timely but had a number of factors working against it. Many recipients had seen part of the message before, which may have led to a perception of spam. When the power finally did return, people may have had so many other messages waiting BP Solar’s was lost in the crush. In addition, worms and viruses overwhelmed businesses that week. Many corporate mail servers were crippled or offline altogether.

It wasn’t all bad news. BP Solar notes its “oops” campaign results were acceptable as the campaign didn’t cost the company anything additional. BP Solar still has money in its e-mail marketing budget. It directed those funds to another campaign. Part 3: Starting Over Still believing it could take advantage of the blackout, the company rented another list from a slightly more expensive vendor. The list was approximately the same size and had the same demographics as the one used in the previous campaign. BP Solar sent the same mailing to this new list the following week, on a Friday morning. (In case you were wondering, BP Solar consumers respond better over the weekend than during other times.)

This time, results were closer to expectations. The CTR was double the average, and the conversion rate was up about 30 percent over past campaigns. There are plenty of lessons here. The main one is mistakes happen. You can try to respond to timely market conditions, but sometimes things are outside your control. Don’t sweat them. Use what you’ve learned in your next campaign, and turn a mistake into an opportunity.

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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