National Geographic Expands Newsletters, Outsources E-Mail Marketing

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NationalGeographic.com, the Web site of the National Geographic Society, began outsourcing its e-mail newsletter distributing and much of its e-mail marketing to Topica Inc. last month in an effort to expand its newsletter offerings and consolidate its databases.


The society, which claims to have one of the world's largest consumer direct mail databases with more than 40 million names, wants to better differentiate its newsletter offerings and more precisely target its Web site visitors with content specific to their tastes.


To that end, NationalGeographic.com recently launched "Inside National Geographic," a biweekly publication featuring breaking news and downloads of photographs; and "Maps," a monthly publication featuring a map of the month that can be downloaded. The society also plans to start seven other monthly newsletters this month, including "Photography," featuring stories about National Geographic photographers and photography tips; "Adventure," offering seasonal tips and travel gear reviews and "Travel," offering travel tips and planning tools.


"It's important for us to differentiate our e-mail newsletters to better meet the needs of our Web site visitors," said Mitchell Praver, president of NationalGeographic.com. "We also wanted to be able to let our audience opt-in to only those newsletters they were interested in."


Before signing Topica to handle its newsletter marketing, Praver said, two newsletters were produced inhouse, but they weren't highly customized or precisely targeted. He also said the society was looking for an e-mail marketing provider that could handle the reporting end and help it tailor its offerings for advertisers.


"We had a homegrown solution," noted Brendan Hart, director of marketing for NationalGeographic.com. "But the industry has become really complicated. For instance, we had issues with getting our e-mail through to subscribers on certain portals."


In addition to its newsletters, NationalGeographic.com runs online sweepstakes to promote its magazines, books and newsletter offerings. The society recently concluded two sweepstakes to promote its "Photography" and "Hot Deals" newsletters. Anyone who signed up for "Photography" was eligible to win a Nikon Coolpix 775 digital camera and a Samsonite Worldproof camera bag. Anyone signing up for the society's offers-only "Hot Deals" e-mail was eligible to win a $500 shopping spree in the NationalGeographic.com online store.


The society uses sweepstakes for acquisition and retention, Hart said.


"These promotions are essential to migrate audiences between affinities and to stimulate the registration impulse of new visitors to our site by creating tangible incentives," he said. "By selecting incentives that are on our audience's hot list, we're breaking down the barriers to acquisition."


Hart also said that the society's audience welcomes its promotions.


"'Hot Deals' is our offers-only newsletter, where there is no content, highlighting our best product and subscription offers," he said. "Extensive research of our e-database indicated the necessity to meet consumers' expectations in a two-channel approach for product sales/marketing -- contextually from within the content newsletters and directly through offer e-mails."


Praver said NationalGeographic.com is in discussions with all of the National Geographic Society's magazines to develop highly targeted newsletter programs to promote its content and society merchandise. The society now offers about 1,500 items in its online store, including books, videos, CD-ROMs, clothing, jewelry, maps and globes.


He also said the society will roll out new newsletters as content is added to the NationalGeographic.com site. In fact, the society is developing a newsletter to coincide with its new Animals and Nature section. The section features articles, news and photos dealing with nature and conservation issues.


"As our magazines and Web site grow, we'll put out several more newsletters," Praver said. "It allows the magazines and our other channels to create two-way communication with their audience that is difficult to accomplish with broadcasting e-mails."


Anna Zornosa, president/CEO of Topica, said that NationalGeographic.com is relying on Topica not only for click-through and other e-mail reporting, but for customer service and list management as well.


"They're looking to consolidate their e-mail databases," she said. "They're also thinking about doing membership renewals and billing electronically."


Topica has seen this trend with many of its publishing clients, Zornosa said.


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