E-Mail Upgrade Lets Away.com's Newsletter Soar

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An upgraded e-mail newsletter and database marketing program launched this year by adventure travel company Away.com is taking off with improved click-through results.


Away.com's database includes 1.4 million people who have signed up to be members of the site. Six days a week, most of them receive the Your Daily Escape newsletter sent by Away.com. Seventy-eight percent of these members are college-educated, 45 percent have a household income of at least $75,000, and 62 percent have taken an international trip in the past year.


The newsletter is designed to convert site members into profitable customers. It enables recipients to view destination facts and photos, to learn more about unusual activities and trips and to book trips based on this information. Readers also can click on embedded links to buy merchandise and books.


Away.com, Washington, had used an inhouse e-mail marketing system to send the newsletters but last year decided to outsource the function because it lacked sophisticated reporting functions. Thus, the company could not do things such as eliminate bad addresses and identify nonopeners.


The company chose Xchange, Boston, and its Xchange eMessaging solution, which lets companies engage in personalized interactions with their customers. Companies begin the dialogue by sending timely, well-targeted offers to customers who have chosen to receive the communications. Customers complete the loop by e-mailing their replies, often instantly.


The system reduces the number of e-mails Away.com sends without affecting the open rate. For example, instead of sending e-mails six days a week to a subscriber who opens them infrequently, Away.com can send that person two per week.


"Testing and adjusting the system like this gets us to an optimum use of our list," said David Littleton, senior vice president of Away.com. "It saves money, it improves open rates and ultimately, probably most importantly, it optimizes the customer experience."


Dwight Sholes, director of marketing for travel services at Away.com, said the system increased open rates for Your Daily Escape by 25 percent overall. The company did not have specific response rates because most of the services are not sold in real time; customers must contact a call center to buy something.


The system improves return on investment by eliminating bad addresses and identifying nonopeners, "ultimately impacting our bottom line 10 [percent] to 15 percent in reduced costs," Sholes said.


The e-mail system needed to be updated because "it was taking us 18 hours a day to send out our newsletters," he said. "They were going out at something like 30,000 messages an hour." Moreover, employees had to upload content from a database to send the newsletters, and if an error occurred, the entire process would have to be repeated.


The new system lets Away.com send 200,000 messages in an hour, Sholes said.


"The system also allows us to see our finished content exactly how it will look before it is in the distributed e-mail, so if there's a typo or error, we can go back and fix it right there," he said.


Away.com also chose the solution to better track, measure and analyze its e-mail marketing efforts. In the future, it will use the system to get a segment and profile of classes of users, with the goals of identifying and targeting high-activity users.


"We want to separate out user behavior by deciles and design personalized campaigns depending on the way people use their e-mail," said Scott Finer, customer relationship management consultant for Away.com.


"The Web generates a torrent of behavior. If you can segment that type of behavior -- their behavior with Your Daily Escape; their behavior with the site -- it's a powerful addition to the typical types of traditional information you have on customer behavior. You begin to develop a global picture of what customers' needs and desires are, and that allows you to serve them better with personalization and marketing campaigns designed specifically for segment profiles."


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