One of the strongest advantages of e-mail is its ability to segment. DMNews discovers how the NFL uses e-mail to reach millions of devoted fans.
For a quarterback, getting the football to reach the targeted receiver’s hands is the key to winning the game. For the National Football League, reaching the right target — a variety of enthusiastic fans — is also essential for marketing success. So, as football fans gear up for the new season, the NFL has made better e-mail segmentation a top priority.
“E-mail is strong because of its ability to target,” says Tim Maloney, director of NFL direct marketing. “Our fan base is tech-savvy and it’s about getting the right product to the right people at the right time, which e-mail does very well.”
But the NFL fan database includes about 20 million names and, obviously, not all of these football aficionados are alike. For instance, loyalties are spread among the league’s 32 different teams.
So, the NFL segments e-mail recipients based on their personal profiles, including favorite team, demographic and location. An average NFL e-mail, for example, is only sent to about 340,000 people, despite the huge number of fans in the database. This type of segmentation makes the information more relevant and helps avoid over-sending, which can lead to an increase in unsubscribes.
New segmentation strategies
While the league has segmented by favorite team for some time, this year, it has honed in on new ways to break up its e-mail list. One way is to send e-mails in conjunction with specific events.
For example, an e-mail was sent to football fans in the New York area to promote the America’s Game series, an event at which highlights from last year’s Super Bowl were screened. The e-mail was segmented by location to make it relevant to area recipients.
“The NFL is really trying to tie in a [fan’s] favorite team and location to an event to make it relevant to the recipient,” explains Matt Hart, account director at e-Dialog, an e-mail service provider that works with the NFL to send e-mails for various programs year-round. These include NFL.com newsletters, Fantasy Football e-mails, NFLshop.com e-mails and co-branded partner e-mails.
The NFL also segments its lists with its welcome messages. Recently, the league began to send introductory e-mails branded with the NFL’s loyalty credit card, Extra Points, to fans that opted in to a database of consumers who shop at NFLshop.com. Once a month, new subscribers receive a welcome e-mail and an offer to sign up to for the credit card.
Fans can use their Extra Points card to earn loyalty points that can be exchanged for football-related products and experiences, including autographed memorabilia, sideline passes, golf games with players and Super Bowl tickets.
But, even with those tantalizing options, credit cards can be a tough sell in today’s market, Maloney says. “People don’t look at an ad in a magazine to sign up for a credit card, but with e-mail, a recipient can click back to a site to learn more about the benefits of a loyalty card program,” he explains.
In July, the NFL sent out an e-mail promoting the Extra Points card in advance of the upcoming new season. This e-mail saw a 24% higher open rate than the average open rate of an Extra Points e-mail. “We only targeted people who have previously shopped online and segmented by favorite team, which is why it went so well,” Maloney says.
Another segmented e-mail was also sent in July, targeted towards people who had visited NFLshop.com, but who have never used their Extra Points cards to shop at the online store. This e-mail, which was meant to build interest in team merchandise for the upcoming season, offered football fans a chance to save 20% on products if they used their Extra Points credit card. It was sent to 395,000 people and saw an 18% to 20% open rate.
“It was more than just an e-mail,” says Maloney. “It was an invitation to buy products from their favorite teams and to save money.”
As the season continues, the NFL will test different campaigns through the season. “One of the benefits of e-mail is its speed to market,” Hart says. “A marketer can look at the response rates and analytics from a campaign within a day.” And, e-mail programs can always be mildly tweaked based on how customers respond. This can help make e-mail more relevant and make content more dynamic.
“If you send a Dallas Cowboys fan an offer for a Redskins product, they are not going to respond,” says Maloney. “Our fans are passionate about football and by sending targeted e-mail, we can really connect with that passion.”