*Nissan Puts E-Mail Marketing on Fast Track vs. Direct Mail

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Nissan North America will begin testing e-mail marketing and direct mail side-by-side this week, with the ultimate goal of making e-mail its primary communications channel with customers.

"There's a paradigm shift from direct marketing to where [the bulk of customer contact] may be through Internet and interactive-based communications." said Ted Ross, manager of owner loyalty and CRM at Nissan North America, Gardena, CA.

Others in the industry also have observed this change. Terry Sullivan, director of communications, corporate sales and marketing at General Motors, Detroit, said more car companies are communicating through e-mail.

The key driver behind the switch is money. "Glossy brochures vs. picking up information over the Web - the Web will save a ton of money," said Sullivan.

Ross agrees. "It's certainly more interactive and less expensive," he said.

It is for these reasons that Nissan hopes its new e-mail campaign will generate enthusiasm among potential buyers of the 2001 QX4 sports utility from Nissan's Infiniti division and the 2001 Sentra.

The company will send e-mails to 175,000 prospective QX4 customers and 25,000 potential Sentra customers. The lists consist of current owners' e-mail addresses, consumers who requested more information at Nissan-usa.com, names generated from past promotions and 75,000 addresses purchased from opt-in e-mail list provider DirectNet.

The e-mail message will offer links to the Nissan Web sites (it is currently considering using microsites) where consumers can register for more information about the new models, which will be available within the next 60 to 90 days.

Once consumers register at the site, leads will be sent to local retailers. The promotion will also accrue information about consumers interested in exclusive dealer events. Ross expects a 25-percent to 30-percent response rate from the effort.

The company will use E.piphany, San Mateo, CA, to profile registrants.

"We've used e-mail for a year and a half, but we never 'databased' the information. This is the first time we'll do post-campaign analysis and profiling to help do a better job of targeting customers and offer creation down the road," said Ross.

On the direct mail side of the test, a mailing to promote the QX4 will go out Feb. 1 to 140,000 current owners of sports utility vehicles. The company is using a different list from its e-mail efforts, although there may be some overlap, according to Ross.

The goal of the DM drop is to drive people to the site as well. It will carry much of the same copy as the e-mail message.

Nissan will compare the campaigns in March. It will step up its e-mail efforts if it generates an equal or better response to the direct mail campaign. "We'll compare side-by-side to see which is working better. Making the shift without knowing if we can maintain the response we gained from the traditional medium would be leap of faith. We will gauge the results in early March."

GM, for one, doesn't appear to be shying away from direct mail. It is mailing what Sullivan would only quantify as "millions" of discount coupons. Past and current GM car owners as well as "hand raisers" that are interested in its new models will receive the mailing.

The coupon offers those who buy a new GM car, $500 or extended maintenance or service agreements. The first drop was Jan. 4. Drops will continue until the end of February.

The company also launched what it labeled "a loyalty driven e-mail campaign" that will reach "millions" on Jan. 14. Further details were not available at press time.

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