As Subscriptions Soar, WWF Tests Customized E-Mails

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In less than a year, the WWF has grown its franchise weekly e-mail newsletter, WWF Full Body Press, from 300,000 subscriptions to just over 1 million. At the same time, it has launched two additional newsletters, the weekly ShopZone and the monthly People's Newsletter.


As its broadcast e-mail newsletter campaign has soared, the WWF has begun tests on the next phase of its marketing strategy -- customized e-mails to targeted segments of its database promoting special offers and regional events.


The business unit that manages WWF.com and its newsletters, the WWF Entertainment New Media Network, is working with Exactis.com to implement the e-mail outsourcing firm's TargetMessaging program, which enables companies to create and manage large-scale, one-to-one e-mail campaigns.


"It's going to allow us to do more targeted e-mails based on user profiles and information that [subscribers] provide for us," explained Lee Barstow, vice president of business development at the WWFE's new media group. "We can use this to provide specific information based on superstar and product preferences and really find out what's relevant to fans."


More specifically, Barstow sees this as an opportunity to do two things: deliver customized e-mails to subscribers when there is a sale on merchandise related to their favorite wrestlers and to give members an early notification when a live wrestling event is coming to their town. This second feature, which for example would alert Michigan newsletter subscribers when its popular Monday Night Raw contest is scheduled for Detroit, is seen as a valuable perk to loyal fans.


"More often than not we're running into sellout situations [with Monday Night Raw] and we want to give premium service to our subscribers and notify them of upcoming events," Barstow said.


Monday Night Raw, has become one of the WWF's premiere franchises, drawing some of highest weekly ratings on cable TV, competing aggressively against ABC institution Monday Night Football and spinning off its own magazine.


Barstow said that while he expects to begin sending targeted e-mails by July, WWFE has not determined how frequently it wants to deliver them. "We have no set schedules," he noted. "But we're not going to go out and blast 50 e-mails per day. We'll test their response in letting us know whether they like it or not." One thing is for sure, however, the WWF, Stamford, CT, will have a large list of e-mail names to sample.


Taken together, The Full Body Press (1.1 million subscribers), The ShopZone (325,000) and The People's Newsletter (110,000) reach some 1.5 million subscribers. WWF.com captures demographic information at registration but insists that all members opt in to receive the newsletter and promotional messages. Barstow said the company is very protective of its database and does not resell or re-purpose the list outside of the WWF properties.


As it starts to implement the TargetMessaging program, the WWFE will utilize its database to create mass, personalized e-mails. Exactis, however, will handle the actual delivery of those messages. The Denver-based firm has managed the delivery of The Full Body Press since July 1999, and the two other newsletters since their launch. Barstow credits a portion of the growth of those vehicles to the use of an outsourcing provider.


"It's allowed us to focus on acquisition versus worrying about the technical aspects of building, sending and distributing high volumes of e-mails," he explained. Prior to contracting Exactis, WFFE struggled to handle delivery, bounce backs and unsubscribes -- not an area of expertise -- all by itself.


Customer acquisition, on the other hand, is a WWF core competency. The organization has a powerful offline ability to market the Web site and e-mail newsletters in its TV vehicles, self-published magazines and theme restaurants. Online, the WWFE promotes itself via ad placements on search engines and media networks. In July 1999, WWF.com recorded 1.8 million unique visitors. Today, it claims it receives 4.4 million unique visitors per month.


"WWF has always used cross-medium marketing to their advantage," said Greg Schneider, vice president of marketing at Exactis. "They advertise their Web site on their printed materials and during their TV shows, which helps drive sign-ups for the e-mail newsletters. They also have a great brand name that most people, whether they are wrestling fans or not, recognize right away."


The e-mail newsletters are not purely about branding, however. Each delivery of the ShopZone, WWFE's weekly newsletter promoting WWF apparel and merchandise, is carefully measured for its ability to drive people to the online store, Barstow said. When The ShopZone is delivered, WWFE knows when it goes out and whom it goes to and can observe the level of transactions on the site. It also tracks the number of newsletter click-throughs, which average about 12 percent or 300 subscribers.


"We know that it's a good traffic-driver for us and there is a direct correlation between clicks and sales but what we don't have yet is the closed loop in terms of who's clicking and who is buying," Barstow explained. "We have the pieces but haven't put them together yet."


The new TargetMessaging platform being developed by Exactis will help by providing WWFE with extensive data tracking, and reporting, including ROI measurement and statistical analyses.
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