E-mail plays key role in Web site's CRM success

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Retaining readers is a key factor in achieving long-term success for any newspaper's Web site. And, for Boston.com, the online site of The Boston Globe, building customer relationships through e-mail has become one of the best ways to keep readership up.


The news publisher, which boasts more than 4.1 million monthly unique visitors and more than 170 million monthly page views, has been using New York City-based Datran Media's e-mail services for its CRM efforts since 2005. The company says that as Boston.com undergoes a revamp to its Web site, e-mail will become an even more important tool to drive traffic back to the new site.


“Providing our customers with daily, on-time news is something they can rely on,” says Chris Murdough, director of audience management and analytics at Boston.com. “It is all about getting people to the Boston.com site to consume more content. We see it as a customer engagement tool and as something that retains customers.”




Engaging with the brand


While search marketing may be the ticket to acquiring new customers as they look for products on the Web, marketers seeking to build relationships with their customers turn to e-mail for customer relationship management efforts, because as an interactive tool consumers use daily, e-mail creates an easy way to engage with a brand. As opposed to acquisition e-mails, which tend to be more promotional, CRM e-mails usually include informative content — something a news site such as Boston.com can easily provide.


Boston.com readers can sign up to receive e-mail via an online registration form and include
personalized information to tailor messaging. Its registered member base is currently more than 2 million,
with 20% subscribed to at least one e-mail newsletter. A series of e-mails encourages customers to engage with the brand, including a daily news e-mail, a daily business update, breaking news alerts and the @bat Insider, containing Red Sox stories and stats.


CRM e-mail isn't just about sending newsletters. Marketers  can
also build a relationship by sending exclusive offers that benefit the subscriber. Boston.com also sends e-mails with advertising messages from partners including “Boston Traveler,” which features travel deals; “TicketWatch,” with offers on local concerts, events, museums and theater; “Boston Shops,” with promotions from retailers listed as reader favorites;
“Movie Mail,” about new releases and “SkiMail,” with information on ski conditions.


Advertisers can bid for placement alongside newsletter content. Dave Hendricks, VP of market strategy at Datran, says these advertisements are targeted to the content or customer profile.


“You are not managing the retention well if the ads are not contextual,” he explains, adding that relevant e-mail deals give customers a satisfying experience.




A bid for relevance


According to Murdough, the target customer is an educated 25-44 year-old that makes more than $100,000 a year. While relevant advertising is easy to tie to sports and movie e-mails, more general e-mails are populated with ads that would appeal to this demographic — including financial institutions, local retailers or educational services.


To track its e-mail programs, Boston.com looks at deliverability, opens and click-through rates, subsequent page views to the site, and new e-mail subscriber registrations. The company does A/B testing with its e-mails and then sends the more popular styles to customers. In July 2007, it executed a large e-mail campaign called “On the dot,” which was delivered to more than 1.5 million members. The goal was to stimulate awareness of new products and features and drive subscribers back to Boston.com.


Before the campaign began, the publisher tested three different e-mail calls to action and varied subject lines. Once it launched, Boston.com found a 22% open rate and almost four page views per click, and nearly 1,000 people signed up to receive a new e-mail newsletter.


These results are a solid reason to keep e-mail at the forefront of its marketing efforts. The publisher plans to continue to grow its e-mail list and to offer more e-mail product choices.


Murdough says that offering news and relevant advertising in inboxes is key to building customer satisfaction and long term relationships. “We have the foundation in place to build a mature program,” he adds.



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