Unless you’re a florist, photographer, caterer or interior designer, you probably don’t think much about prop columns.
Sure, you’ve probably admired them in banquet halls or in photographs and maybe you have a few in the house holding plants or a phone. But for more imaginative uses, those in the event planning and decorating business turn to the e-newsletter, Prop, Décor & Display Ideas.
Prop, Décor & Display Ideas is a quarterly e-zine supporting the decorative product line of Meese Orbitron Dunne/American Rotational Molding (ARM). The HTML or text e-newsletter imparts information for industry insiders on display ideas and what’s new and available in the accessory field. Powered by Constant Contact, circulation has grown to more than 3,000 in about two years with subscribers added monthly via advertising or other marketing efforts.
“We wanted to show people how to use our products to build their businesses,” says Paul Entin, president of EPR marketing, the company’s marketing firm. “And we wanted an efficient, inexpensive way to stay in touch with customers over the long term without requiring sales people to be on the phone following up to help close a sale.”
E-newsletters were the answer for ARM’s target audience since those customers included mainly small businesses, photographers and caterers, frequently on a job site and difficult to reach via traditional methods. And with a consistent open rate close to 50 percent, it seems Entin has found the proper vehicle. He notes that site traffic typically doubles for three consecutive days each time an issue is published, followed by a significant number of orders received.
Additionally, e-mail questions trickle in from customers in advance of an order. “Our newsletter is one component in the larger marketing communication program that has had a significant impact on sales which have hit a record this year,” he said. Lessons Learned
Although he doesn’t track click throughs or conversion rates, Entin has analyzed data from Constant Contact, the newsletter’s host. “A seven- or eight-month analysis of our subscriber database showed that a significant number of the people who subscribed to the e-newsletter became new customers within a recent time period,” he says. In addition, some people save and revisit the e-newsletters for extend periods of time.
From studying and analyzing the online tracking data Entin has made a conscious effort to be a little more direct in the sales message, rather than being solely informational. “I see how many people are opening and reopening the mail and I can see from analyzing Web site tracking how many people flock back there. Sales reports show that it has a major impact on sales. Two years ago I firmly focused the content on information, and now I’m much more comfortable with a little more promotion. People aren’t being put off by it and it’s helping to improve sales.”
To promote subscriber interaction, freebees are offered in the newsletter. Subscribers are offered a free catalog, “Innovations in Display,” which showcases props, décor and display products as well as the opportunity to “get free advertising.”
Readers are also urged to submit photos of how they use the company products. In turn, their photos are posted in the company online Photo Gallery with the subscriber’s name and a link to the subscriber’s Web site. Photo Gallery is a critical component to the company Web site since there was no archive of lavish photography to show prospective customers, Entin says.
“Through interacting with our subscribers, we’ve been able to establish relationships with some of the customers on a more personal level,” he adds. “We’ve gotten closer to the customer which has been very helpful to us from a market research and product development perspective.”
Entin cites the primary benefit of the newsletter as the ability to generate sales on an ongoing basis from customers who might otherwise have remained “on the fence.” “Our e-mail newsletter helps close sales with prospects who otherwise might not have any follow up contact beyond their initial interest. We know how important it is to maintain customers and prospects over the long term for generating repeat sales and the email newsletter allows us to do that in a way that doesn’t overburden our sales team,” he adds.
Readers are invited to subscribe on the company home page. Additionally, each time a news article is published an increase in traffic to the site yields a spike in subscribers. One of Entin’s biggest challenges has been a double-edged sword. “We didn’t anticipate the pace of subscriber base growth,” he said. “It increased so quickly that it triggered an increase in our host fees. We had not expected that to happen until ’06 so we had to juggle the budget to accommodate that.”
One future plan is segmentation. When individuals subscribe, they’re asked to check off one or more occupations in which ARM products are typically used. This will allow them to be tagged in the database based on their occupation. At this point it makes sense to just send one newsletter, Entin says. But as the subscriber base grows, there are plans to segment the categories.
Future plans also include a hard-copy newsletter. Is it overkill? “Not if it’s done properly,” he said. “It’s just another tool and another way to capture attention, and provide new information to customers.”