Email marketing – a case study

Email promotions

The evolution of an email marketing campaign

CASE STUDY: An email contact campaign is one of the best ways to communicate with customers. In the age of adblockers, email is the last best remaining vestige of opt-in marketing. It is important to understand the customer and develop an exchange – it’s an opportunity to develop your profile, develop leads and generate sales.

Below, I have outlined the evolution of an email marketing programe I conducted for Wheelworx, a Sporting Goods retailer selling high-end sports bicycles.  The e-mail addresses were originally collected at the POS and entered into an email management system in a manual process.  The list had approximately 10,000 subscribers, with a profile overwhelmingly of educated males aged 25-45.

The insights combined into the campaign originate from the sales team and from the digital marketing analysis. To summarise the content strategy that emerged from the process:

  1. Human stories play well (athlete’s blogs).
  2. Community posts are popular (competitions, events).
  3. If you really want to get someone’s attention in this luxury bike store space – wheel out the sexy bikes!

1. Before the wheels started turning

The email system we inherited was hand-coded in a HTML4 template as a single column layout with a banner and hero image. For commercial reasons, high end sports bikes couldn’t be sold over the internet so initially the emphasis was on promotion, not e-commerce. The general goal was to prompt the customer to stop by the suburban retail bike store to meet with the highly trained sales staff.

Old Wheelworx Email

2. Early Content Improvements

The initial strategy was to increase the level of content, promote the brand, provide additional formats and layouts, integrate with other digital channels and to develop community engagement. The offers in this screen capture concentrate on a seasonal category (mountain bikes). Community engagement included athlete’s blogs and easy-to-enter competitions for small prizes, aimed at the enthusiast. The content process began by creating pages on the blog/e-commerce store highlighting the offer, which we could then track when subscribers clicked on a link in the  email.

Email campaign in legacy template
Content boost in non-responsive template (legacy email)

3.  Early mobile friendly email

The various sources of raw data (GA, email management console) presented a challenge which could be boiled down into one word: mobile. The next innovation was to make the email responsive. Because of our relationship to the legacy email provider, the email was still hand coded and manually tested in a labour-intensive process. The best available solution to the challenge of creating responsive emails was Zurb Foundation (Ink). This allowed column stacking and responsive images, improving the range of devices the email could be successfully displayed on. It was still “hand coded” though which became a negative constraint as the scope of our merchandising activities began to widen.

Zurb based, hand coded, responsive
Hero content in responsive email template

4. Introduction of the GUI

We developed the business case for migrating the email system to a GUI platform. Following an evaluation process, we opted for Mailchimp which we concluded was a good fit for the small-medium business model. It was imperative to manage the platform migration so that the list remained compliant with data protection laws and so that no unwanted emails were triggered in error during the upgrade.

At around this time, we began to experience an upsurge in KPIs with opens and click-throughs higher than the industry average. We also experimented with the use of creative content (EG memes) to engage the target market. Social media cross-over was facilitated with icons instead of buttons for a better user experience.

See early GUI email enhancements
Early GUI email enhancements

5. Community relevance and e-commerce

It was important for the store to have a presence around the local Dublin marathon to re-inforce the brand’s affilliation with mass-participation endurance events. The motivational content featured a hook to an e-commerce promotion for bike accessories.  By now, the layout was more versatile and could adjust to meet the demands of the content strategy better.

motivational, community, ecommerce
Motivational content with an e-commerce hook

5. E-commerce and Instagram integration

On related fronts, as well as upgrading the back-end of the e-commerce store to make it responsive and more secure, we branched out into the use of Instagram for social media promotional purposes. This had multiple benefits because we were able to use the images and videos on the range of digital channels as well as grow a new audience. Each of the photos in the “storefront email” below is linked to a product page, as are the captions, in a push for the Christmas gifts market. This email showcased the range of accessories available in-store and helped the e-commerce business to gain traction, which contributed revenue.

Christmas Promo accessories
Christmas promo for accessories with Instagrams

6. The Sidebar of Success

In this email, the brand is prominent, the lead benefit is the first story, the images have been edited to create a contemporary look and the sidebar is put to use creating community engagement. At this point we were developing a YouTube channel to promote in-store training programmes, a unique and successful sales tactic that built on community engagement.

Promote shopping and engagement
Promote e-shopping and engagement

7. The Big Wheel – a focused offer

As our understanding of the consumer improved over time, the marketing process culminated in the ultimate “sexy bike” offer – a generous discount on the best road bike in the range. To avoid diluting this valuable customer proposition, we ran with a singular emphasis on the core message aimed at the brand-conscious subscriber. We also developed targeted content such as related YouTube playlists and specific Instagram videos to showcase the model. This offer was particularly successful for the business and was over-subscribed.

Emonda single focus campaign
Deal of the week discount


The main learnings from the email marketing programme were:

  1. Adapt the marketing platform to the changing consumer. It is a challenge but provides better engagement.
  2. The customers are very sophisticated shoppers. Understand them and address them on an insightful level for better returns.
  3. Leverage Community – people love the human stories behind the brand and to share experiences.
  4. Each element in the digital marketing strategy has a role to play but by far the most valuable customer was an engaged email subscriber.
  5. Close co-operation between the sales and marketing teams develops revenue opportunities.