Building In-House E-Mail List

Footwear maker and retailer Rockport Company LLC, a Reebok International Ltd. division, will devote its Internet marketing efforts this year largely to building an in-house e-mail list of opt-in consumers.

The gradual shift from purchased lists comes four months after the Marlboro, MA, company relaunched the site and debuted two e-mail campaigns.

“We want to start building on the lists that we're generating in our database so that we don't have to pay for names anymore,” said Jeff Mancini, director of Internet strategy at Rockport agency Surge Interactive, New York.

Like many traditional marketers seeking to boost e-commerce prospects but hobbled by thin in-house databases, Rockport has to pay for every name bought off outside lists and for each outbound e-mail sent to those consumers.

There are several issues swirling around rented e-mail addresses. Not all names may be qualified. Unlike direct mail lists, many e-mail databases lack a record of purchasing behavior or propensity to buy. And blind lists often yield lower conversion rates.

“In terms of marketing dollars, you get less of a response than you would with customers who have either purchased the product or have come to the site and registered, so they've kind of got a foot in the door,” Mancini said.

“So when you spend your marketing dollars, you want to be talking to people that are halfway to making a purchase or have already made a purchase, versus complete strangers that really don't understand.”

This logic is guiding Rockport's decision.

“We're trying to build a tool so that we can continually speak to the customer, bucket them into categories that we can target — Are they more loyal customers? Are they brand new customers? — and to really manage all of the campaigns,” Mancini said.

Rockport has already taken steps in that direction.

A sweepstakes for an African safari after's November relaunch garnered a 6 percent click-through from 200,000 names gathered from in-house and purchased lists. The effort finally yielded between 3,000 and 4,000 opt-in registrants.

Earlier this month, sent e-mails to another 250,000 consumers for a sweepstakes in which the top prize is a spa vacation for two in Sedona, AZ.

Rented names were part of this latest drop. But so were 10,000 consumers carried over from the Rockport store on Yahoo launched about a year and a half ago, and another 10,000 that have signed up since's relaunch.

Mancini expects the response to be higher this time. The sweepstakes is plugged on the homepage and on text and graphic links on banners and newsletters. All link to the registration page.

“I think we can get close to 8,000 to 10,000 names or registrants,” Mancini said. “We'll follow up with potentially a discount coupon, which is part of the new commerce efforts toward a first purchase by a customer.”

The focus on e-commerce is part of Reebok's attempt this year to aggressively push Rockport. This includes new product introductions, increased spending on Rockport's lifestyle ad campaign, and more storefronts in addition to the 10 currently standing.

Overall sales at Rockport last year dipped 2.9 percent to $422.4 million, though fourth-quarter revenue in the period was up 5.2 percent to $108.4 million. E-commerce sales were not disclosed.

“We see our e-commerce initiative being a complement to our bricks-and-mortar strategy in that it fills a gap in our distribution strategy for the online consumer,” said Russ Gallant, Internet manager at Rockport Interactive. “At its most basic level, our online store is seen as our 11th concept store.”

For now, building a reliable list of online consumers is critical for Rockport. The marketer is working with New York firm Primary Knowledge Inc. to track the performance of random lists versus the in-house list as separate campaigns and see the difference in conversion rates.

Primary Knowledge's services to Rockport cover data warehousing, data mining and analysis, and e-mail management.

Peter Adams, CEO of Primary Knowledge, said the goal is to help Rockport optimize the key metrics that drive the company's e-commerce model — cost of customer acquisition, browser-to-buyer conversion and repeat purchase rates, and lowering overall customer defection.

“In today's environment, it's next to impossible to have an e-business and not have customer measurement and analysis,” Adams said. “It's like driving a car and not having a dashboard.”

Although Rockport will continue to buy lists this year, the goal is to finally wean itself off such dependence through continued database-building efforts like e-mail drops and sweepstakes.

“I think if we have 50,000 names this year, it will be great,” Mancini

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