E-Mail Prospecting Takes Wing For Bird Enthusiast Retailer

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Wild Birds Unlimited is flying high after the completion of its first e-mail prospecting campaign using ConsumerNet, a Web-based prospecting tool from database marketing firm Datagence.


With 300 stores nationwide, Wild Birds Unlimited is a specialty franchise catering to backyard bird-feeding hobbyists. Merchandise includes birdseed, feeders, birdbaths, binoculars and bird-watching books and magazines.


Though the company does prospecting through cooperative mailing programs such as ADVO and Money Mailer, it has focused its marketing on retaining its best customers.


"We have been concentrating for years on marketing to our best customers and we will keep on doing that, but it's not going to bring anybody new through the door," said Marty Bird, director of communications for Wild Birds Unlimited Inc., Carmel, IN. "We have had a monthly e-mail newsletter for a while but that's preaching to the choir."


Like many marketers, Wild Birds Unlimited was unsure whether e-mail acquisition was the way to go. As a niche marketer, the company didn't know where to find sufficiently targeted e-mail lists.


That is where Datagence and ConsumerNet came into the picture. Datagence opened in November 2001.


"We started off with the intention of building the largest, most comprehensive and highest-quality e-mail and postal database that we could with all the demographic and lifestyle enhancements," said Paul C. Chachko, CEO of Datagence, Red Bank, NJ.


The database consists of 80 million consumers and 62 million households, with e-mail and postal addresses for all names. The names come from Datagence's nearly 350 partners across the business spectrum including retail, newsgroups, game sites and sports sites.


"From an acquisition standpoint, 100 percent of the data is not only opted in but it's opted in twice a year," Chachko said. "We're not overly concerned with the source but we are overly concerned with the permission to receive third-party offers."


After building the database, Datagence began considering ways to provide clients with access to names for e-mail campaigns and launched the Web-based ConsumerNet in June 2003. Through ConsumerNet, users have 24-hour access to e-mail prospecting.


The underlying technology for the ConsumerNet.com Web-based application is provided by ExactTarget, Indianapolis.


Much like Wild Birds Unlimited itself, Datagence sees ConsumerNet as a niche product.


"The product is great for localization," Chachko said. "It is perfect for franchises to drive traffic to specific locations."


That was a big part of why Wild Birds Unlimited decided to try ConsumerNet and e-mail prospecting, along with the ability to target by demographics as well. However, another factor was the permission.


"I kind of shied away from e-mail until ConsumerNet came along," Bird said. "They assured me that these people had opted in for marketing messages."


According to Bird, the retailer's typical customer is female with an annual income exceeding $60,000 and a college education who owns a home, reads newspapers and is involved in the community. Using those guidelines, Wild Birds Unlimited created an e-mail campaign to test for its two local Indiana locations in Indianapolis and Fishers.


The e-mail campaign was broken into five blasts of 20,000 each, totaling 100,000 e-mails at $50/M. Bird said the cost was comparable to what the company had paid to do other types of marketing such as co-op programs.


"Customer acquisition is expensive but we need to constantly bring new customers in," he said.


The first e-mail went out Aug. 21 with others following Aug. 28, Sept. 4, Sept. 11 and Sept. 25. Each e-mail had one or more coupon offers for things such as two pounds of birdseed and discounted pricing on other products. The coupons expired 10 days after each e-mail was sent, with the final offer expiring Oct. 5.


As of Sept. 24, Bird said that 99 customers came in based on the first four e-mails and spent almost $2,000 for an average sale of $20.


As customers enter the retail locations, the store staffs try to get them to join the Wild Birds Unlimited mailing list. Though he didn't know yet how many of the 99 new customers gave their personal information, Bird said that customers usually sign up and that Wild Birds Unlimited does not share customer data with third parties.


Since marketing is done on a local level by individual franchisees, Wild Birds Unlimited cannot mandate the use of ConsumerNet or e-mail prospecting in general across its stores. Still, if corporate is happy with the results from these tests, it would recommend this method of prospecting its franchise owners, Bird said.


To date, Bird thinks the results are promising.


"I am pleased with the response," he said. "Since this was truly an experiment for Wild Birds Unlimited, I'm excited that we were able to achieve the results we did. Measuring the return on the investment takes some time."


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