E-mail marketing begins to flourish in La Belle Province

It may have once lagged behind the rest of Canada in terms of Internet adoption and usage, but La Belle Province is catching up, and fast.

It may have once lagged behind the rest of Canada in terms of Internet adoption and usage, but La Belle Province is catching up, and fast.

A one-time dearth of French sites and online services has been restored by the likes of Web sites La Toiles de Quebec, InfinIT and Le Petit Monde, as well as the French versions of popular Canadian portals including Sympatico, Yahoo and MSN. More than 60% of Quebec adults are now online according to industry studies conducted by market researchers Ipsos Reid and NFO CFGroup, says Jean-Philippe Gauthier, GM of the French language Sympatico.ca.

‘Quebec was behind two or three years ago. But if you look at today, we are almost at par with the rest of Canada in terms of Internet at home/at work usage, for men and women,’ he says.

With CRM now such a big part of everyone’s business strategy, retention efforts have become more important through more frequent, more personalized and more segmented communications. And what better way to connect and maintain such a relationship than through e-mail, say experts.

‘E-mail is the logical next step in one-to-one marketing,’ says Roger Dubois, director of strategy, Montreal-based Palm Publicité Marketing Interactive Services. ‘Building a good Web site is the beginning – a place where people can subscribe to receive special offers. But that’s not enough to have a big database. You have to go stronger into contests and promotions and viral and referral marketing.’

Volkswagen, Avon, L’Oreal and La Senza are among the Quebec-based companies that have aggressively begun to use e-mail as a major communications vehicle. Sympatico.ca, for its part, has an opt-in e-mail database of 700,000 French Canadians – adults aged 25-49, most with families. The monthly newsletters, which feature text-based ads in addition to relevant content, achieve a 10-20% average click-through rate, says Gauthier. In fact, he adds, ad placements for this summer’s newsletters are maxed out.

‘[Ads] were always sold on a last minute basis. Now, we’ve booked two newsletters per month for May and June, because I was already sold out,’ he says, adding that for companies who don’t have their own e-mail databases, leveraging an existing site’s relationships can be an effective option.

Nathalie Lachance, VP of strategic planning at Montreal-based Blitz Direct, Cossette’s direct arm, currently works with about 10% of clients on e-mail – and is trying to increase that further. In Quebec, however, she says, there are not nearly the same number of opt-in lists to rent as, say, Ontario. And of those who do make Quebec lists available, few, if any, allow you to merge/purge with your house file, or with any other list, to avoid duplication, she says.

Bianca Barbucci, president of AMDRC, and VP, client services at Montreal-based FCB Direct Canada, says the list market is affected by the language distinction. ‘Even though you may be talking about national lists, whenever you apply the language factor, you segment and limit the size of the market to a much greater extent,’ she says.

That’s why more companies in Quebec have set up ambitious goals to build their own lists. ‘A lot of clients are trying to migrate their house files on the Web – they are asking their customers to provide their e-mail addresses along with permission to contact. It’s less expensive and they can do it more frequently,’ says Lachance.

L’Oreal Canada, for one, has been building its in-house list, says Bruno Bouchon, VP of technology for L’Oreal’s Montreal-based interactive shop Tokom, by enticing users to the Web site via offline advertising. ‘The people who see the ads and end up coming to the site are genuinely interested.’

That same reasoning applies to viral marketing, which has also gained in popularity as a database-building tool because of the refer factor. ‘It automatically becomes less spammy and more personal.’

Contests have also been a popular way to build databases. Palm’s Dubois says Quebecois are more responsive to online advertising and promotions, with response rates in Quebec averaging two to three times higher than the rest of Canada.

But strict regulations in Quebec curtail advertising to children, while rules governing promotions and sweepstakes – on or offline – are often so different that contests launched elsewhere in Canada bypass the Quebec market.

That hasn’t stopped Sympatico.ca from experiencing amazing results in a contest to meet Bryan Adams in Scotland. The integrated campaign, which drove people to the Web site to register, amassed 20,000 subscribers. In fact, Gauthier says contests have been the most successful way of acquiring e-mails thus far (for this particular contest, the unsubscribe rate was only .5%).

‘Quebec, or French-speaking people, love to play. And because they love to play, they tend to give their personal information freely – and by that I mean their postal code, age and gender,’ he says.

However, Barbucci has a warning for marketers hurrying to build an e-mail marketing strategy: Tread carefully, because French Canadians need to be wooed, especially when it comes to developing a one-to-one relationship, she says.

‘So far, Quebecois have used the Web much more from a consultation and interaction standpoint, not from a transactional standpoint. Quebec is recognized as having much more of a face-to-face drive when it comes to personal contact – they much prefer to deal with a bank teller than a machine, for example,’ she says. She cites a recent AMDRC loyalty conference that uncovered that Quebecois like to be courted and talked to, and that a deep relationship, regardless of the channel used, must be nurtured to sustain the loyalty.