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Loyalty must be earned over time. So perhaps it's not surprising that Men's Wearhouse ( took a multiyear approach to testing how to move from a pure promotional email stream to a loyalty-building newsletter program.

That discipline and stick-to-itiveness is admirable on its face, but even more so because so few retailers do it.

Men's Wearhouse sells suits. To men. Yes, it also sells casual clothing, and shirts and ties, and some of its customers are female, but the core business is great-fitting, affordable men's suits. Its sweet spot is the "makeover," as a customer overhauls his entire wardrobe.

The buying pattern is an intense onetime buy, with a few infrequent follow-ups, rather than the typical retail stream of smaller purchases made frequently over time.

Yet, in 2007, the company was sending 12-24 promotions via email to every subscriber. The vast majority of those promotions fell on deaf ears, because many subscribers weren't interested in receiving that many promotions. Subscriber fatigue was real. While many retailers selling to women can find a core group of shopaholics who love to receive five or more messages a week, Men's Wearhouse doesn't enjoy that opportunity.

The marketing team knew it had to deliver more value over email to engage customers and keep the channel open, yet there was also fear that any change to the program would depress sales and Web-site traffic.

Knowing that content is a powerful driver of loyalty and engagement (and sales), the team considered a monthly newsletter. Brand loyalty and Web-site visits have a direct correlation to purchases, so any content that would resonate with subscribers, encourage Web visits, or just help keep Men's Wearhouse top of mind would be a good use of the channel.

Sounds good, right? But even though a newsletter strategy is clearly founded on strong marketing principles, how do you really know if it's going to work?

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Stephanie Miller is vice-president of market development for Return Path, Inc. ( Reach her via Twitter (@StephanieSAM) or