Volkswagen drives email open rates

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Volkswagen wanted to improve on its standard email pitch as part of an integrated campaign to spur consumers to take test drives. “There was nothing to reach prospects at the right time,” says Jo Powell, planning director on VW at advertising agency Proximity London. “We wanted to recreate the test drive experience.”

Proximity helped the automaker develop emails as part of a three-stage contact program that followed car shoppers from the first mention of interest in a new car through their final purchase, according to Powell.  

Proximity began the process by segmenting VW's prospect database based on their current and past car ownership and which models they had inquired about while shopping. The agency plotted a nine-month journey from when the prospective customer starts looking at cars through test-drive and final purchase. The first wave of emails was sent in March.

The agency created 18 email designs pegged to the various models, each using a different style to evoke the image of each car. For example, the email touting the VW Beetle was brightly-colored and fun, while the one for the high-end Phaeton model was more sober and sophisticated.

The emails were intentionally designed to be too large to fit on a computer screen, which meant the reader had to scroll across to read them and follow a line of type that revealed the shape of the car. The text was designed to tell a story related to the test drive experience and speak to the model's features, such as the Phaeton's on-board computer and GPS.  Although the email was static, the act of scrolling along the message engaged the reader in it, says Joseph Pirrie, senior account director at Proximity.

“What we found is that automotive email was the same these days and we wanted to stand out in the email and avoid the delete button,” he says. “We wanted to do something that was engaging visually and tactically.”

The emails allowed for click-through to set up a test drive, and were also followed by a conversion email with offers and other practical information.

Volkswagen refused to disclose proprietary information about conversion rates from email to purchase, but the early results show strong consumer response to the first wave of mailings. E-mails had an open rate of 31%, well above the industry's average of 22%, according to Proximity. Additionally, click-through rates of 40% were more than double the 17% average for the industry. The campaign is ongoing and Proximity anticipates extending it to other areas of the business in 2012, such as brand advocacy, said Powell.

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