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Case Study: How Icebreaker Drove Holiday Sales With Email

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Company: Icebreaker
Contact: Steve Gehlen, General Manager, Global eCommerce, Icebreaker
Location: Portland, Ore.
Industry: Apparel and Fashion
Annual revenue: Confidential
Number of employees: 200

Quick Read

New Zealand-based clothing brand Icebreaker partnered with its email-marketing agency, eROI, to successfully execute an 11-part email-marketing campaign promoting Iebreaker and ultimately driving 2009 holiday sales.

The campaign's goal was to encourage consumers to purchase Icebreaker clothing as holiday gifts for their friends and family. The primary market for the campaign was Icebreaker's US list of more than 25,000 subscribers, who are active outdoor-sports enthusiasts familiar with the Icebreaker brand.

Each email carried a test or a segmentation element, or both, that resulted in the final campaign series. In the end, the campaign included 11 unique emails, each weaving in a distinctive gift-giving angle; it drastically improved Icebreaker's 2009 holiday online sales levels year over year.


Challenge

Because of the giant flux of emails that consumers receive during the holiday season, Icebreaker knew it was necessary to stand out with excellent creative and a strong strategy. Part of that strategy was to increase send frequency from once every few months to an aggressive 2-3 emails per week.

Campaign

Email 1: Give Green

Because Icebreaker is a sustainability-focused company, "Give Green" was considered a good entry theme for the campaign.

This initial, "Give Green" email introduced subscribers to the idea that Icebreaker products would make a great gift for the 2009 holiday season, and it set expectations for the frequency of emails over the upcoming weeks.

There were two list segments and one resend for this email.

Email 2: It's Hot

This email focused on showcasing Icebreaker's Top 10 selling items.

The goal of the email was to further "sell" customers on the Icebreaker brand but also to provide easy options for choosing the perfect gift for that special someone. The lower right-hand section of the email was used to entice readers and prepare them for the upcoming Black Friday sale.

There were two list segments and two resends for this email.

Emails 3 and 4: Black Friday

Similar to most retail companies, Icebreaker wanted to stand out on Black Friday and push hard to reach its initial holiday-season sales goals.

The first version of the email was sent the day before Black Friday, announcing that the offer would be available the next day. The second version was sent on Black Friday, reminding recipients to take advantage of the promotion.

To play off of the Black Friday theme, the emails centered on a "30% off All Black Items" promotion. However, because not all customers would be interested in black items, an additional promotion of "15% off Any Colored Item" was also showcased.

There was one list segment for both emails.

Email 5: Gift Guide

The goal of the email was to direct users to the "Gift Guide" landing page, highlighting items that would be perfect for anyone with any type of interest.

A challenge confronting this portion of the campaign was the reaction to the Black Friday sales that had occurred the week before. The Black Friday sales goal had been surpassed, by more than threefold; as a result, many items had already sold out and only items that were left in inventory could be showcased in the fifth email.

As a result, the email depicted a wide variety of clothing items, appealing to a wide range of users.

There were four list segments for this email.

Email 6: GT Promo

At this stage of the campaign, the user had been given enough time to understand Icebreaker as a brand. Rather than using the top portion of the email to showcase Icebreaker in general, the creative and messaging introduced a specific product collection.

The lower sections of the email highlighted specific products within the collection, all of which Icebreaker had an overstock of at the time.

This email was the first of the campaign on which A/B testing was used. There were two list segments for this email, each receiving a different offer. One segment received a promotion code for a free beanie, and the other segment received a promotion code for 20% off their purchase.

The goal of the test was to determine whether, with this audience, one type of offer was a stronger sales driver than the other. Testing showed that the free beanie offer drove higher sales than the 20% discount.

Email 7: Bodyfit Promo

Similar to the previous send, this email highlighted a specific collection—Bodyfit. Products within this collection include various weights of active base layers, perfect for the outdoor enthusiast. Accordingly, a skier was used as the main hero image.

The free-beanie offer was extended to all recipients of this email. A/B testing was used again, this time to determine whether a particular type of review would influence sales.

There were two list segments for this email. One segment received creative that highlighted a consumer review, while the other received creative that highlighted a magazine review. Testing showed that the consumer review drove higher sales than the magazine review.

Email 8: Travel/Superfine Promo

This email was the last of the campaign to highlight a specific collection. The collection used was travel and lightweight wear. The bottom section of the email was again used to highlight specific products for which Icebreaker had a large quantity of stock. A/B testing was performed on this email as well.

Similar to the GT Promo, offer type was tested, but the discount was increased to 25% and the free offer was for socks. There were two list segments for this email, each receiving a separate offer. Testing showed that the increased discount offer outperformed the free-product offer in driving sales.

Email 9: Starter Kit

This email targeted recipients who had only one week left to get a gift for that special someone. Rather than choosing just one item, Icebreaker assembled gender-specific kits, each containing three items, to showcase the range of Icebreaker product offerings.

Both kits, with details about what was included in each, were depicted in the creative. The main image linked recipients to the "Starter Kit" landing page, allowing them to choose appropriate sizes. The success of this bundle promotion helped formulate plans for additional bundle offers during 2010.

There was one list segment and one resend for this email.

Email 10: Last Minute

The goal of this email was to remind recipients that there were only five days left before Christmas and that the deadline to order and have items shipped in time was drawing near.

Specifically, Icebreaker wanted to communicate the different shipping options available to customers. As it was still important to signify that Icebreaker items made great gifts, the two lower sections of the email linked out to landing pages with items costing less than $50 and $100, respectively.

There was one list segment for this email.

Email 11: Boxing Day

The theme of this final email was a bit of a stretch for the American audience, since the term "Boxing Day" is not well-known in the States.

However, because Icebreaker is a New Zealand-based brand, it was decided to share the day with the American audience. Boxing Day follows the Christmas holiday and was portrayed in this email as a day for recipients to purchase the items for themselves that they did not receive as gifts.

The image used depicted that idea, showing a box with shredded paper and no gift inside. The bottom two sections of the email highlighted specific products, enticing the user to shop for that missing item.

There was one list segment and one resend for this email.

Results

The campaign had massive residual brand impact, successfully creating positive US awareness for Icebreaker, according to the company. Moreover, sales exceeded all expectations.

Black Friday sales were triple the goal and, as a whole, the campaign influenced more than a 32% increase in total holiday sales over 2008 holiday sales. Of that increase, 58% were direct sales from the campaign. Overall, the campaign proved to be a major success for Icebreaker.

Lessons Learned

  • Run a variety of offer tests. If, for example, you test a discount vs. a giveaway and the giveaway performs best, don't assume that any giveaway will always out-perform any discount. Alter the discount and test again; you may be surprised at the result.
  • You can safely increase email frequency. First, make sure you communicate and set expectations for the change. Second, make sure the increase offers additional value to your recipients (e.g., new or additional offers or information).

    Try the increase as part of a specific campaign, and play close attention to your recipients' reaction. You'll likely find that you can easily increase your standard frequency without negative effects.

Related Links

Dylan T Boyd is VP of sales and strategy at eROI (www.eROI.com). Reach him via dylan@eroi.com and 503-221-6200.


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  • by Jose Ramos Tue Mar 30, 2010 via web

    I love this example which demonstrates really effectively how a well-thought-out approach to engaging a target can have great success even if contact frequency is high. The developers of this campaign went to great lengths to think through the contact sequence and ensure messaging was building on itself throughout the campaign. It is pretty clear that the combination of relevance, messaging and offers did not compromise their list and really drove a longer-term conversation with the audience that had a nice pop on sales. Well done!

  • by Georgiana Dearing Mon Nov 15, 2010 via web

    I've seen this example before, and used it as guide for developing campaigns for my clients. It's an excellent execution, exemplifying the way a email list should be used. Also love setting expectations up front: "we'll be contacting you again this season..."

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