DM News' Essential Guide to E-Mail Marketing: Hobby Lobby Gets Lesson In Deliverability

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While growing from a tiny picture frame manufacturer in the early 1970s to an arts-and-crafts retail giant with 362 stores in 28 states, Hobby Lobby developed a large following and a massive customer list. These signs of corporate prosperity were welcome, but not without challenges, particularly with e-mail deliverability.

Hobby Lobby discovered that compiling an impressive e-mail list and using it effectively are two very different things. Until 2004, the $1.5 billion retailer used its own bulk e-mail server to deliver weekly specials and coupons for the parent corporation and its six affiliated companies, which sell products ranging from hobby merchandise and home furnishings to educational products and religious literature.

Coordinating and managing these campaigns proved to be a time-consuming chore, one made more frustrating when messages failed to reach their intended recipients. Disheartened by an inability to make it past the Internet service provider gatekeepers, Hobby Lobby looked for help with message deliverability. After one vendor failed, Hobby Lobby undertook an exhaustive, industry-wide review before settling on VerticalResponse.

Initially, Hobby Lobby retained VerticalResponse on an extended trial basis, but the company was won over by four factors: a deliverability rate exceeding 98 percent in test campaigns; an on-demand, no-contract pricing model; the option of buying e-mail credits in bulk; and the ability to control campaigns launched by various affiliate companies from a single administrative account.

Company executives described their previous bulk e-mail campaign systems as less useful and less efficient, though the lack of sophisticated internal tracking metrics made it difficult to determine how much fat needed trimmed. The consolidation and improved deliverability have slashed the amount of time Hobby Lobby devotes to e-mail marketing while boosting results.

Now, the company's campaigns use a basic, text-only format - simple, yet effective. A recent mailing promoting the company's weekly specials was sent to 187,139 discrete e-mail addresses and opened by 84,554 recipients - a robust 45 percent rate - while a mere 643, or 0.34 percent, of the messages bounced. In the days when Hobby Lobby handled its e-mailing internally, it often experienced double-digit failure rates.

The turn in the company's fortunes has reinforced its belief in e-mail as an important vehicle for updating consumers on product information and store openings, cross-marketing among the company's affiliates and luring shoppers to its retail outlets.

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