Miles Kimball's Doreen Carstens Discusses the '12 Days of Christmas' E-mail Campaign
For Oshkosh, Wis.-based catalog retailer Miles Kimball, a partridge in a pear tree turned out to be a bird in the hand. The purveyor of specialty goods—everything from "smidgen measuring spoons" to ensembles for those ubiquitous front yard cement geese—went out on a limb this holiday season and inundated its e-mail subscribers with a dozen sale messages in as many days.
Customers who viewed their inboxes on Dec. 18, for instance, saw the subject line "On the Seventh Day of Christmas ... The More You Buy, the More You Save!" After prospects opened the e-mail, they saw an offer message featuring "swimmer geese," then "six geese a-laying" sporting Santa outfits and so on, through to the partridge in a pear tree Christmas ornament. Miles Kimball added to the list each day, resulting in an impressively long 12th e-mail.
The "12 Days of Christmas" campaign caused customers to flock to the Web checkout, says Doreen Carstens, Miles Kimball's vice president of brand management. She reports that the holiday campaign resulted in revenue flowing in just swimmingly, even as many retailers still were struggling to stay above water.
Target Marketing: What spurred the campaign, and who were you hoping to reach?
Doreen Carstens: Our original thought was that, as it approached closer to the actual Christmas holiday, we wanted to do something that was not as traditional as our customer would expect from us. In the past, we [sent] a lot of e-mails where it was an immediate call to action ... But we felt, as we approached closer to Christmas, we wanted to do something extra special. And as the team was brainstorming, someone mentioned, "Hey, what about the 12 Days of Christmas?" And we could make it really unique because we could tie it into our product, which is something that I felt was very compelling.
TM: From a concept and a results standpoint, how did this campaign differ from previous campaigns?
DC: From a concept standpoint, because of how we formatted the creative, the days built upon one another. So, for instance, on the first day of Christmas they received a very, I would call it, short e-mail where we just spoke about the offer for that day, and it was a postcard style. In subsequent mailings, the e-mail has gotten longer and longer because we have included the image from the previous e-mail. ... So by the time our customer receives the last day, the 12th day, they are going to see a very extended e-mail, which isn't something that we normally do. ... From a results standpoint, I would have to say that due to the strong subject lines that we had, we did see an increased open rate, which was terrific to see because one would expect that perhaps closer to the time of Christmas open rates might diminish a little bit. But we saw the reverse of that. And then, as a result of those open rates, we saw it follow all the way through. So clickthroughs were up and the orders that we saw were terrific, and we're very, very pleased with the results.
TM: What were the official campaign results?
DC: For the two-week duration that we mailed out the 12 Days of Christmas e-mail campaign, we did beat last year's performance online, and we beat budget this year ... Throughout that campaign, we did have a 12 percent open rate when the whole series was concluded. ... [The] ad-to-sales ratio is right in line with where we had it budgeted, and our bounce rates were much lower than [they] have been, historically.
TM: That's unusual this year, isn't it?
DC: The Kimball customer[s are] ... very up-front with us as to what types of product they want, what types of offers they appreciate. So because of their willingness to share, both when they write me letters or when they send me e-mails or just in their purchase history, it does make it a little bit easier to target to them and to provide them the types of products and offers they will respond to.
TM: How do you plan to use the information you collected from this campaign?
DC: We did do some segmentation within the 12 Days of Christmas to our buyer file, and then we also did some subject line testing. So the results of those two testing formats will be driving what we do next fiscal year. And we'll be able to roll with those learnings in January.
TM: So will this campaign's results enable you to have an accurate seasonal, holiday list and contact strategy for next year?
DC: Truly, what we've been able to do this holiday season is understand, from a buyer segmentation standpoint, the frequency in which our customers are buying and the types of subject lines that are catching their interest. So that is key for us to know because when you have a million names, the same message perhaps isn't going to be as interesting to everybody. So now, we're able to get a little more sophisticated and complex with the offers that we put in front of our customers. And with our e-mail provider and the analytics tool that we have, we can pull some wonderful programs together for next year and really make our e-mails targeted to our customers so that we're not wasting an impression when we e-mail to them.