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Nov 04, 2005
How To

How Intrawest Resorts Get 2-3 Times Higher Response Rates to House List Emailings

SUMMARY: Arrgh! How do you run a highly effective email program when you've got to corral marketers and customer service reps at 14 ski and summer resorts in two countries? Discover how Intrawest's Email Marketing Director Randy Cuff has achieved the near impossible. Plus, how many of his team's automated relational campaigns get two-to-three times average response rates. Yes, includes lots of samples to inspire your email design.
This year Intrawest will send about 40 million email campaigns and newsletters to consumers who've joined the house list for any of the company's 14 Canadian and American resorts.

"With all the different tentacles of the company, we're a complex beast," says Randy Cuff.

As Director of CRM and Email Marketing, it's Cuff's job to help marketers at each location manage their lists and get better campaign results. He's sort of like an in-house email agency.

This week, he gave MarketingSherpa's editors a behind-the-scenes tour of Intrawest's email operations, including insights into what's working and creative samples.

How Intrawest grows its email database

"When I started here a couple of years ago, one of the mandates was to help build the email database", says Cuff. He uses the term "database", instead of "list" very purposefully. Why?

Because "we would not bring into our datamart an email address by itself without a birth year or zip code. Our datamart is based on the individual customer. Without certain pieces you're not a person, you're just an email address."

That said, Cuff doesn't make the common database-lover's mistake of requiring loads of additional info per name. "When I started, one of our resorts asked for 18 fields of personal information just to get you to sign up for a newsletter! We came up with a standard data collection minimums. We must know your age to meet legal requirements, and so we're not marketing a resort hotel room to a 10-year-old, coupled with general geography and your name."

That means most Intrawest opt-in forms don't ask for street address, phone numbers or other extraneous information that might deter opt-ins from form-weary consumers.

One of the first things Cuff did in his new job was to examine Web logs to see where traffic was landing on the sites. Surprise, surprise, in this age of search engine optimization and deeplinking, the majority of consumers didn't enter through the official home pages where most sites had their email newsletter sign-up offer.

So, Cuff asked his company webmasters to change templates so the email opt-in link was included -- above the fold -- on every single possible page of every site, instead of being isolated on the Home. Plus, he lobbied hard for an actual form field for email name *instead of a hotlink*. Visitors are more likely to begin the process of entering their name right there if they didn't have to click someplace else.

After submitting their email, visitors are sent to a Page 2 that asks for those bits of extra information the datamart requires. And then the thank-you page after that reminds them to whitelist the brand in their email box. (Link to samples below.)

"We saw about a tenfold increase in sign-ups after making those changes," says Cuff.

"Cross-selling" subscriptions: the Customer Access Program

When Cuff first inherited the datamart, he didn't know how clean the information in it was, especially for older records. So he sent a "Please confirm your information" email out to all names.

The email was personalized with the recipient's first name, last name, email and zip code. (Link to sample below.) To make changes, recipients simply clicked through to a landing page with prepopulated form fields. Plus, Cuff added opt-in cross-offers for emails from other Intrawest properties.

Results were so good that his team has now built in the campaign as a regular automated message that goes to every new subscriber within 30 days of their opt-in. "Open rates are two times our average, and we gain subscription units," he notes.

In fact, one in three landing page visitors wind up asking to be added to the email list for an additional Intrawest resort.

Because of phishing concerns, a handful of recipients have contacted Intrawest asking if the email is legitimate. "It hasn't hurt our response rate, but it does reflect raised awareness over identity theft."

Managing unsubscribes: averting a potential nightmare

Although Intrawest Web sites are the number one source of new names, consumers can also join the list when calling in to make reservations or while visiting the actual resorts.

"We have 40 different contact centers and reservation centers. We work to train them on best practices in getting consent, but we're saddled with the fact that this business is so seasonal. Reps may be hired for only four to five months so consistency is sometimes a challenge."

Cuff's personal obsession is making it as easy to get off any -- and all -- Intrawest lists as it is to get on them. In real time.

"We make it look easy," he says, "but behind the scenes it isn't an easy process. We put a notification device out there for all the resort operations to use when someone wants on or off a list. Then we have access to update the datamart, and the datamart feeds the campaign databases." A customer can tell a desk clerk at one of the resorts they want off the email list and, in under 48 hours, their name will be suppressed from all future mailings.

For the few databases the datamart doesn't power yet -- such as a real estate sales rep's personal contact lists -- Cuff's team set up an automated system to send unsubscribe notes for them to manage on their own.

"I sit on the company privacy committee, and I'm really happy to say I can count on one hand the numbers of complaints we've had about 'I've asked not to be contacted and you're still contacting me.' We may not be perfect, but if you tell us you don't want something, we'll make it easy for you to get off the list."

Most effective campaigns: timing, testing, targeting and creative

First thing every fall (right after the summer season ends but before ski season gets underway) Cuff's team conduct a formal email audit reviewing campaign results, tactics, and creative from marketers in every Intrawest division as well as best tactics they've seen outsiders using.

Then as well as visiting many of the resorts in person, Cuff holds virtual meetings with marketers to share the best ideas, including design pointers from the top performing email newsletters. (Link to samples below.)

Past years' lessons have included the importance of segmenting the email database by zip code and sending three different sales alerts to customers based on location.

- Sales alerts for locals who can get to the resort in under an hour.

- Alerts for in-state fans who may need a bit more planning time.

- Offers for out-of-state customers who'll need even more scheduling time.

Test results Cuff's happiest about currently include the automated pre- and post-trip emails. These emails are triggered by the date a consumer is due for their vacation at an Intrawest resort.

The team tested sending two pre-trip waves: one 40 days out and one five days out from trip date. Results taught them it was best to send only one pre-trip mailing (in addition to regular transactional receipts) about 10 days prior to a customer's arrival. The campaign has a three-pronged goal:

o Reduce customer service by preemptively offering frequently requested info such as maps and childcare info.

o Increase customer satisfaction and brand perception with a warm-fuzzy.

o Cross-sell services such a lift tickets and lessons with direct offers to "buy it now so you don't have to stand in line when you arrive."

Results: open rates are two and a half times Intrawest average, and clickthroughs are four-five times the average. After the trip, the system sends another automated email, with a special offer to return. The open rate for this campaign is also two and a half times the average, and clicks are three-four times the Intrawest average.

Lesson learned: Even if you have a great email newsletter program, special offer campaigns triggered by actual purchase activities can get tremendous results.

Useful links related to this article

Lots of creative samples from Intrawest email opt-in forms and campaigns:

Responsys -- the email services provider Intrawest relies on


See Also:

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