find us on facebook! Building Brand With Email

September 28, 2000

Imagine you're a relatively new e-business. You've got confidence in your business model (after all, you create your own products and control your distribution channel), but you're entering a market dominated by one major player, a company that has a five-year head start over you online. Where do you focus your energy and your marketing dollars?

For gardening retailer and resource, the answer lay in developing a database of loyal individuals first.

" didn't want to, at launch, throw $10 million against building a brand," says Laura Berland, cofounder of ORB Inc., the interactive marketing company charged with helping the gardening company grow its database. "We said, 'Put your arms around the community, and the sales will follow.'"

So earlier this year, launched a three-part campaign designed to grow its database of consumer email addresses. Although the company is tightlipped about the actual numbers of customer accounts acquired – "very substantial" is all they would give me – the click-through and transaction rates and growth percentages they were willing to disclose indicate this is an approach worth a second (and maybe even a third) look.

The campaign was broken into three phases, and Phase I subscribed to the popular you-gotta-give-something-away-to-get-something-back theory. Give away free seeds, the hypothesis went, and consumers will want to belong to the community. In March the company sought out relevant online sites, and through a combination of online banners, buttons, and insertions into opt-in email newsletters, including sites and newsletters such as,,, and Cox Interactive Media, prospects were attracted by the offer of a free pack of wildflower seeds in exchange for registering at the site.

The results were well above average. Not only did the banner ads yield a near 18 percent "transaction" rate (in this case transaction meaning the percentage of individuals who, after clicking on the banner, opted to fill out the registration form and join the email list), but the email ads yielded a near 26 percent transaction rate. In addition, had anticipated gathering a certain number of names in three months, and it met its quota within two weeks.

Next came Phase II, which focused on testing the sales receptivity of the list that had just built. During the summer months, the company implemented a follow-up campaign, affectionately dubbed "Plant Now," that offered between 20 and 50 percent off regular prices. This yielded a 9.55 percent click-through rate, and although the company did not have hard transaction rates to share, Berland did note that the transaction rate was improved by 43 percent over its previous rates for banners and emails.

Phase III, the most aggressive aspect of the campaign, followed shortly thereafter, and returned to the goal of building the email database. Earlier this month, again reached out to numerous nonlist members, again via banners and opt-in email insertions, through a promotional "Trip to Holland sweepstakes." Berland says and ORB were a bit dubious about running a sweepstakes – as more and more sweepstakes and free trips are offered online, she speculates consumers are becoming bored with them – but in this case, the offer worked.

In a two-and-a-half-month period, primarily due to the sweepstakes offer, the database increased to nearly four times its previous size. Berland attributes this not only to an attractive offer, but to the fact that the company was able to learn from its previous campaign and better target its audience. cast a wider net – sites like Yahoo! and MSN were included this time – but the company also did as much sorting and targeting as possible in some areas they had reached in Phase I, such as with the MyPoints® and Publishers Clearing House lists.

Now that the company has met its goals of building a hefty consumer database, it plans to strengthen and deepen its database. Just how that will happen remains to be seen. What is clear is that is off to a good start.

Heidi Anderson,


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