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Golf Channel Tees Up a New Email Strategy

In marketing there are no Mulligans, only learnings. Golf Channel learned how to balance email quality with subscriber quantity and use other channels to caddie email’s success when it introduced new email initiatives to grow its subscriber base.

Pivoting the program

For the past few years Golf Channel has focused on broadening people’s perception of the brand from a television network to a full 360-degree experience. Along with its telecasts, the golf entertainment and services brand connects fans to the sport via GolfChannel.com, its apps, its consumer review site, Golf Advisor, its online tee-time booking service, GolfNow, and its brick-and-mortar lessons through its Golf Channel Academy.

“Golf is such a social sport,” says Carolina Castaneda, Golf Channel’s digital marketing director, “and we wanted to make sure that if we were going to tell the world that we were going to connect them to golf, then we needed to be where the golfers are.”

Email plays a major role in Golf Channel’s omnichannel experience. The company has several email offerings, including its daily newsletter, which provides news, scores, and playing tips; its fantasy game newsletter, which offers insight into choosing fantasy golfers; its marketing alerts, which notify subscribers of Golf Channel’s telecasts and how to stream them; and partner emails, which allow consumers to receive promotions from other golf brands.

But the company was stuck in a bunker. GolfChannel.com’s consumption was rising, and the company’s emails were generating average open and click-through rates of 40 and 60%, respectively; still, its subscriber database remained flat.

“We know that more people are interacting with us digitally,” Castaneda says. “What can we do to convert these people who are coming to our site?”

To chip away at the problem, Golf Channel called on its email service provider, PostUp, in mid-2014 to help devise a strategy that would allow the golf company to grow its database by 10% by the end of that year.

Aiming for simplicity

Instead of swinging aimlessly, Golf Channel focused on making it easier for fans to find its email offerings and sign up. This included making adjustments to GolfChannel.com, such as moving the newsletter sign-up call-to-action above the navigation tabs at the top of the website and simplifying its registration page.  

Before making updates to the registration page, Golf Channel required new subscribers to fill out a 13-field form. “Obviously, that’s a lot of commitment for somebody to give us that much information,” Castaneda says. Now, consumers just enter their email address, select which emails they’d like to receive, and then verify that they’re eligible to receive Golf Channel’s emails and want to do so. Once consumers receive an email confirming their subscription, they can officially enroll with a single click of a button featured in the email. Subscribers will then start receiving emails at the next send time.

In addition to making it easier for consumers to enroll in the program, Golf Channel wanted to make it simpler for subscribers to manage their preferences. So, it implemented a preference center. Through the preference center, subscribers can seamlessly opt in and out of different newsletters.

Driving into social

But Golf Channel’s marketers didn’t think that was enough. They decided to look beyond the inbox and acquire subscribers through social, specifically Facebook page registrations.

“Our Facebook page is pretty robust,” Castaneda says. “We’re nearing 500,000 fans. So, we knew that would be an easy way to integrate.”

By clicking on the “golf e-newsletter” tab at the top of Golf Channel’s Facebook page, consumers can access a form, which asks them for their name, email address, and ZIP Code. Not only can fans indicate which email lists they’d like to subscribe to, but they can even select which days they want to receive the newsletters. For instance, they can opt to receive Monday’s newsletter, which provides scores and analysis, but refrain from signing up for Friday’s newsletter, which provides golf tips, scores, and a weekend preview.

Golf Channel also used social media to promote its email program through social marketing campaigns and Twitter lead-generation cardswhich Castaneda says it didn’t do in the past.

Finding the multichannel sweet spot

Along with promoting the email newsletters on social, Golf Channel encouraged users to sign up for them by implementing lightbox registration forms—an overlay on GolfChannel.com that pushes specific content to its site visitors. The company’s marketers also promoted newsletter sign-ups during tournament telecasts and through talent social activations, such as having pro golfers endorse the program through Twitter. Of course, Golf Channel uses email to direct subscribers back to these channels, too. 

Taking an omnichannel approach to marketing, Castaneda says, allows Golf Channel’s marketers to be conscious of its fans’ journeys. “We’re not static individuals…. We recognize that we’re very complex individuals and our journey and our experience with brands is not one-dimensional,” Castaneda says.

Swinging forward

Although it took some time to putt these initiatives along, Golf Channel’s email program is now way above par. By the end of 2014, Golf Channel had increased the size of its subscriber base by 11%—surpassing its marketers’ original goal of 10%. By the end of 2015 the company had grown its database by 32%—all while maintaining its high open and click-through rates.

Castaneda attributes her ability to maintain quality while gaining quantity to her team’s knack for reaching the right people and paying attention to the right data. She points out that her team closely tracks what type of email content consumers click on and then overlays that information with search and social activity.

“We make data actionable,” she says. “It’s not just numbers, right? Numbers can be overwhelming if you just look at [them]. But if you start actually looking at the bigger picture and seeing how it all connects, it all goes back to being conscious of the customer journey and making sure that you’re giving [subscribers] the content that they want in the medium that they want it.”

Still, Golf Channel’s marketers could tighten their grip on data even more. Although Golf Channel’s newsletter subscriber lists aren’t further segmented, Castaneda says that the company does leverage real-time marketing widgets to provide subscribers with up-to-date email content. For the 2015 Presidents Cup in South Korea, for instance, the company dynamically updated the weather, leader board, and scores featured in its emails so fans would receive the most relevant information the second they opened their emails. 

Castaneda notes that she’d also like to use geographic and preference data to provide Golf Advisor visitors with the most relevant consumer reviews. “That’s something that’s on deck for this year,” she says.

As for other future initiatives, Castaneda says that she plans to continue to grow Golf Channel’s subscriber database. And for marketers looking to do the same, she encourages them to simplify their processes, make their email offerings accessible, “fish where the fish are,” and leverage data by putting it into action.

As she puts it, “Don’t let numbers and data just collect dust on your desk.” That advice will surely help other marketers sink a hole-in-one.

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