Commentary

ESPN Looked For Winner With Email Test

ESPN’s “top chef,” er, CRM and fan marketing executive Carolyn Ude presented some learnings from an email program the network tested last spring to promote a March Madness game.

Two key insights: placing a person’s name in an email subject line increases open rates (by 20% in this case). And sending fewer emails appears to be more effective than a heavier load.

The test centered on the “Tournament Challenge” on ESPN.com, where fans log-in to offer their predictions and fill out brackets for the NCAA hoops event.

ESPN uses “Tournament Challenge” less as a revenue driver and more as a way of “driving engagement,” Ude said.

Goals were to build participation and prevent people from losing interest as the tournament continued.

To participate, people have to sign up at ESPN.com â€" and receive a user name and password â€" so it’s an opportunity for ESPN to build its email database.

Ude said registered fans are seven to eight times more valuable to ESPN.com than “regular fans.”

With the test, Ude said ESPN found that when “we personalize and put the person’s first name” in an email message, engagement increased. The open rate was 20% higher than normal -- “so that’s something we’re toying with.”

While “Tournament Challenge” may not boost revenues, it does have a halo effect for ESPN. Some emails look to drive people to NCAA-related video on ESPN.com, where video ads draw high prices (CPMs).

ESPN also experimented by sending a sub-group of 50,000 fans three emails, while the rest received two.

Ude said people that received two messages had “higher engagement” than those getting three.

“We may have actually seen a negative impact by sending too many emails, so that’s something we will look at in the future,” she said.

Separately, on customer lifecyle management, Ude said ESPN is investing heavily to “enable dynamic content and reporting,” and will do more tests around that.

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