Do You Like the Sound of 30,000% ROI?

When Live Nation put email marketing at the center of its cross-channel strategy, good things happened.

Matt Annerino, EVP Marketing of U.S. Concerts for the entertainment company, told the story last week at the MediaPost Email Insider Summit, which had an overarching theme emphasizing email as a strategy to cross-channel success.

Live Nation sends out a “ton” of email — 1.5 billion emails a year, in fact, and Annerino decided to focus on using the channel to take advantage of unexploited ways to make money at its 42 owned-and-operated venues around the country. 

Using a full lifecycle strategy, messages were devised and customized based on what Live Nation knows about its customers. This includes who’s going to an event, where they’re sitting, what upgrades they’ve ordered, and how much they’re spending.

The ancillary products it had to sell included seat upgrades, VIP parking, enhanced food and beverage options — including a Guy Fieri barbeque — a new app, and more. It looked at its email as a fan journey — educating the audience and leading post-purchase to ways to enhance the overall show experience with a new series of data-driven messages 



It helped that a new chief revenue officer came on board, who centralized what had been a process controlled at the local level by 42 different site operators. 

The year 2016 “was really about finding small pockets of opportunity that could scale,” Annerino says.

Executing the strategy meant rolling up sleeves with a reduced workforce and no automations in place. Temps were brought in to help. There were no baselines, no cadence, and no messaging to fall back on. Everything was started from scratch.

Things got granular, targeted and personalized. Seat locations were broken into four different buckets and each email address received a message appropriate to its ticket type. Upgrade messages went to those with lawn seats, but not those who had already bought the product. On its ticketing agent, Ticketmaster, Live Nation realized the work would be very labor intensive.

“We talk about personalization and lifecycle marketing,” Annerino says, “but sometimes we just have to get in there, dig in … and send the emails out.”

Messaging was broken out by date. A couple weeks out was all about seat upgrades and VIP experiences. One week out talked about food and beverage choices so people don’t make reservations ahead of time at other restaurants. Then, leading up to the date, came messages about parking, getting ready, information about the app, traffic and weather forecasts.

Because of the centralization the new CRO put in place, it became possible to connect the dots between departments to unlock some of the revenue potential.

Some things that worked well were ultra lounges, testing variable pricing with unsold box seats and offering things such as a $5 discount on seat upgrades. While this doesn’t sound like a lot of money, it carried a lot of perceived value.

Live Nation created an email digest with every available product and, as the work progressed, built up a spreadsheet to create automated emails with every single product available. The open rates on some of them were three and four times greater than what they get on a typical email.

A total of 700 campaigns (11 million emails) were run manually. “In the context of our 1.5 billion emails, it’s not that big, but when you look at the revenue driven, it was three times our average,” he says.

A VIP Parking message was the best-performing email, with a 7% average conversion.

Overall, the “very, very profitable” work carried a 30,000% ROI — including the cost to hire the temps and the cost of goods sold.

Annerino cautioned it’s necessary to have some faith to come out of the “email cocoon” and be comfortable not tracking everything. Food and beverage offers, craft beer and wine, and the Grab and Go station could not be directly attributed to specific email messages.

For the coming year, he’s building in automation and a segmentation plan.

“This is very profitable. If we can get it down to close to zero cost, it’s a profit machine,” he adds. “If we don’t get [automation] off the ground, we’ll bring the temps back in.”

Among the learnings:

  1. Small things that can scale are very valuable.
  2. Big change can happen in the margins. There are things sitting in every business that can be exploited.
  3. If you can shift the perception that email is not just direct response, but also influence, you can leverage those influence metrics to demonstrate success.
  4. It’s okay to live in the gray and not be able to track everything. You lose a lot of visibility going from email to onsite experience.

“Email is the hub for multi-channel success,” Annerino concludes. “You need an email to get a Facebook account, to get an iTunes account. Email is the core. We need to think of ourselves not as email marketers, but as multi-channel marketers and at the core of that multi-channel strategy.” 

CORRECTION: An example that ran in an earlier version of this column has been cut because the pricing was hypothetical.

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