At first blush, rewards statement design should be a no-brainer. By definition, a marketer is communicating with its most engaged customers. To paraphrase an old saying, any communication is good communication as long as the customer's name is spelled right. Right?
Marriott International found differently when it reconfigured its Rewards e-newsletter. The new design highlights features members are interested in, strips down verbosity, offers a cleaner look and adds personalized rewards to its communication.
As a result, this group of engaged recipients has become even more so, with revenue per e-mail initially jumping by 25%. Since the new design has rolled out, monthly per-message revenue has consistently been 10%-25% higher, according to Kristen Barletta, Marriott International's email marketing director.
The newsletter's former design was "rather wordy and long," Barletta says. "We wanted something concise, with an airy feel."
When Marriott gave agency Epsilon its marching orders, part of its instructions were to cut down the amount of text in each e-mail. The new design relies on several tactics to achieve this. For instance, the company decided to cut the number of words each message contained: For recipients who want more information, "we let the landing page [once they click through] tell the story," says Barletta.
Reducing the amount of information presented may seem counterintuitive, and Marriott did not make the decision to do so lightly. "It is something we had to defend," Barletta says. "We learned through customer research that less is more. We put samples together and showed [focus panels] two versions of the same content, one in the old format and one in the new. This primary research revealed that [version] is what they wanted."
The makeover is geared toward a modular structure, which allows Marriott to tailor information presented to each recipient based on their customer profiles. Features are chosen based on a recipient's behavior as a customer as well as Web site surfer.
In at least one case, Marriott replaced text with a graphic. For instance where previously it had used a block of words to describe participants' account standing, it now relies on a "Your Account" box which includes an image. The new box also allows Marriott to include milestone messaging, such as congratulatory notes on achieving a new level of membership or an anniversary notation.
The most significant new personalization element is a highly targeted set of offers which appear in the newsletter's left-hand column. Marriott no longer shoehorns recipients into a few large buckets of offers based on membership levels. Instead, it customizes offers based on past activity, likely next destinations, demonstrated brand affinities and offers based on where a recipient lives.
The level of customization Epsilon was able to incorporate into the redesign reflects Marriott's commitment to knowing its customers. "The amount of research Marriott does is extraordinary," says Brian Cha, an account director at Epsilon. "Its data architecture is topnotch."
Marriott did keep some elements from its old design. Both focus group research as well as observed click-through behavior revealed that members enjoy knowing about new, or newly renovated, properties, and the newsletter showcases these in its lower-left-hand corner.
The newsletter's redesign reflects both a labor of love and a labor of patience. "It took 14 months [starting in 2009] from beginning to end to do it right," says Barletta. In advising marketers who would follow in Marriott's footsteps, she offers "Keep your goals for that communication in mind. Keep closely aligned with [the Web site team] regarding where people are clicking and going. And look at analysis closely: When you bring a new design [to management], you can always say 'our customers told us this.'"