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Making rich media e-mail work

Like its high-end furniture lines, Drexel's marketing strategy was classic, relying heavily on advertising in home-furnishings magazines, dealer ads--until they decided to launch a spiffy electronic brochure.

High-end home-furnishings manufacturer Drexel Heritage wanted to add a little polish to its marketing.

Like its furniture lines, Drexel's marketing strategy was classic, relying heavily on advertising in home-furnishings magazines, dealer ads and, as of about three years ago, a Web site.

While visitors were coming to the site, the company was at a loss for how to drive them offline to its independently owned stores. "We were hoping to build the brand, but do it in a way that wasn't about e-commerce," says Will Sharp, senior vice president of sales and distribution. "At the price point we're at, a consumer can be completely fulfilled in our stores, but he can go in armed with information from the Web site."

To best capture the emotion of the brand visually, says Sharp, Drexel decided to send a spiffy electronic brochure, complete with video, to those Web-savvy site visitors who had signed the online guest book and agreed to receive future e-communications.

"We wanted more than just an institutional email. This was like responding back with a personalized TV commercial that would be there whenever they wanted to view it," Sharp says. The emails weren't customized in any way other than name and there aren't any plans to do so.

Working with California-based MindArrow Systems, Drexel created its "eBrochure," a highly compressed, rich media that recipients download through an email link. Drexel's e- brochure was personalized with each recipient's name and included a link to a printable coupon for 10 percent off any item in a Drexel Heritage store. It also included a 30- second video panning rooms and giving "a good look at the feel of the brand," buttons with links to DrexelHeritage.com, and a store-locator option.

The company mailed 22,000 "eBrochures" in October 2000 to those who opted in for Drexel Heritage email by signing a guest book on the Web site in the previous eight months. Twenty-one percent opened the email. Mailings to an additional 2,000 names collected in the four weeks before each subsequent drop date yielded 26 to 27 percent returns.

"We didn't have a good sense of what to expect, but if we reached the low double digits, we assumed that would be good -- and significantly better than normal (direct) mail campaigns with a 1 to 2 percent response rate," Sharp says.

According to a recent Jupiter Communications report on email marketing, attention-grabbing tactics work, with rich-media emails delivering higher response rates -- 10 to 40 percent -- than plain text or HTML messages. And since Drexel's "eBrochure" wasn't streaming video, the recipients' Web browsers or their connection speeds didn't affect its quality.

Sixty to 70 percent of recipients clicked through to locate their nearest dealer, and more than half passed along the "eBrochure" to others. Although Sharp can't track precisely how many coupons were redeemed, one recipient brought hers to a store in Atlanta early the next business day, prompting a call from the amazed but pleased store owner.

In the following few days coupons were redeemed in other cities around the country. And just knowing recipients were going to pay a visit kept the company "faithfully" updating its site, an unintended benefit.

Not willing to recline on its laurels, Drexel plans to send additional "eBrochures" as part of upcoming new product launches.

"We're an almost 100-year-old brand of middle- and upper-income home furnishings, and we've used classic marketing tools. We're not going to abandon those things," says Sharp. "But now we're exploring ways to utilize the technology."

Like many other manufacturers wrestling with channel and e-commerce issues, Drexel is learning that competing on product was de rigueur in the 20th century, but competing on information will lead to success in the 21st.