E-mail adoption trend on the rise

Resort management conglom Intrawest, and its sales and marketing division Playground Real Estate, have always relied on direct mail. It's been the major component for nearly all of its resort sales and marketing campaigns. That is, until recently.

Resort management conglom Intrawest, and its sales and marketing division Playground Real Estate, have always relied on direct mail. It’s been the major component for nearly all of its resort sales and marketing campaigns. That is, until recently.

‘Over the last two years, we – like everyone else – have seen our response rates drop significantly. We started looking at alternatives and exploring ways to continue to use a direct approach through other mediums,’ says Carla Bury, VP of marketing for Vancouver-based Playground. Today, it’s employing virtual contests, viral campaigns and e-mail alerts – either standalone or to back up direct mail – for 10 of its 14 North American resort properties.

‘Initially when we approached it we thought it was all about marketing, but for us, it’s also become the measure between our marketing efforts and our sales results,’ she says, adding that the campaigns, created in partnership with Toronto-based interactive agency N5R.com, have had a phenomenal response. And that’s never been more important, given the current geo-political and economic climate.

In fact, Playground – after having been forced to delay a direct mail campaign Sept. 11 – had the misfortune of dropping a direct mail piece in the U.S. in the midst of the first anthrax scare.

‘It’s interesting because it’s affected us but not to the extent that you might think. The direct mail response was obviously very low – no doubt because of the timing – but [things] would have been much worse if we hadn’t had a digital component (e-mail campaign) to back it up,’ says Bury.

Playground has been fortunate in some respects, she adds, that it was still in the planning stages this fall and was able to react to and alter many campaigns.

‘We’ve had the opportunity to react – obviously we were always headed in the direction of far more e-mail and digital campaigns, but now even more so because of what’s happened,’ she contends. ‘Companies that weren’t necessarily considering e-mail or had a very small e-mail component are now suddenly altering their strategies slightly to ensure they have a much larger digital and e-mail component to it – to at least back up the traditional.’

Playground’s ill-fated campaign was an expensive wake-up call, says Roman Bodnarchuk, president of Toronto-based N5R.com. ‘Snail mail has always been extremely expensive and very slow, and you can’t track it. All of a sudden, it’s become slower and response rates, which were at historic lows, have dropped further. This has been a long-term trend, but this fall really brought it to the forefront,’ he says.

Clients who had been talking about Internet initiatives and e-mail for years – like Playground – are now realizing that e-mail is cheaper, faster and nets 10 times the response rate of regular mail. They are finally re-assessing their direct mail budgets and moving money into e-mail, he says. Bodnarchuk should know. N5R.com has been a direct recipient of that re-allocation. Since Sept. 11, his interactive marketing business has doubled. And even though it’s a short-term shift, he believes it will have long-term impact.

According to a Direct Marketing Association study entitled ‘Direct Marketing and The Anthrax Challenge,’ while there are legitimate reasons for concern, to date the impact of the current anthrax scare on member business practices and revenue has been negligible. Marginal adjustments are, however, likely, says the DMA, including utilizing things like ‘clear and identifiable’ return addresses and markings, and postcards. Many marketers have also turned to color-printed or transparent envelopes, for example, and in the U.S., Hallmark will reportedly begin printing postcards for Christmas.

Polyair of Toronto is marketing its new eCom Mailer, a secure, tamper-resistant bubble mailer, and Illinois-based Solar Communications revealed its own tamper-resistant packaging product in October – an ‘over wrap mailer’ whereby pieces are packaged in a clear poly and heat sealed at over 250 degrees, creating a secure bag.

Finally, the DMA report says it’s probable that marketers will employ other forms of direct marketing such as e-mail – if not on its own then in conjunction with a letter drop as a way of notifying consumers that mail will be coming.

Yuhani Eistrat, president of Toronto-based VBDI, says he does not believe the circumstances this fall – specifically – have contributed to an increase in the use of e-mail. ‘Arguably, interactive proposals that were on the table may have got more attention. But people were already looking for effective ways to integrate the online component,’ he says. ‘We’ve been continuing our business and consumer mailings – there’s been no drop in direct.’

‘This might be a quiet impetus – or a catalyst – for moving people to think about e-marketing sooner than they would have, agrees Hugh Furneaux, president of Toronto-based Ariad Communications. ‘We haven’t noticed it directly, but frankly it’s hard to isolate that as a cause when [e-mail] was beginning to grow so rapidly anyway.’

Despite unfavorable conditions in the U.S. economy, DMA numbers reveal that sales revenue to U.S. direct and interactive marketers is forecasted to exceed $1.86 trillion by the end of 2001 – a 9% increase over 2000 sales. A later study contended that U.S. marketers found e-mails, in particular, (including sales alerts and special event announcements) to be one of the most effective ways to reach customers and Web site visitors over the past year.

Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research estimates companies will spend $1.1 billion on e-mail marketing services this year, up from $400 million in 2000. (Comparatively, banner ads, buttons, sponsorships and display marketing sales will drop by 18% netting only $6 billion this year – down from $7.6 billion in 2000.)

Viral campaigning and contests, and targeted e-mail marketing have definitely been on the way up all year, but also since Sept. 11 – as consumer retrenchment causes clients to mine current customers and look for more compelling ways to attract new ones, says Rob Sandler, general manager of Grey Interactive.

‘Our clients are generally going direct, whether it’s traditional or electronic. But we have seen a real increase in that side of our business [e-mail] in the last few months. We’re seeing a real increase in response rates as well – we’re getting better at the art,’ he says. ‘I do hope it’s e-marketing’s opportunity to shine.’