Last weekend I noticed a small flurry of online wine club signups, as well as a surge in online orders. We hadn't sent out a recent email (we do that at the very end of the month). We hadn't gotten any particularly noteworthy press. It wasn't until it lasted for a few days that I realized we had sent out our summer 2012 newsletter and it had started to hit mailboxes late last week.
We have always thought of the principal value of our newsletter being marketing, education, and engagement with our consumer and wholesale customers. Sure, we include an order form in it, but we don't ever get a lot of them back. And we really don't push sales. I think of the newsletter in the same way that I think of our work with social media: we're maintaining mind-share, personalizing our business, and educating: doing whatever we can to bring people inside our world, at least for a little while. We figure that sales will come organically as a result of this marketing. But when I went back and looked at the impact of our last newsletter, I realized we'd been underselling the direct sales impact of our print newsletter.
We sent our first newsletter of the year out in early February. For the next two weeks, we nearly doubled the online club signups and orders that we had been averaging (from .22 VINdependents, .37 VINsiders, and 1.91 orders daily to .73 VINdependents, .60 VINsiders, and 4.4 orders). By my rough calculations, that newsletter directly added sales of around $30,000 in just those two weeks, based on the average long-term revenue a new club member brings in and the actual extra sales from the additional orders we received. The impact with this newsletter if anything has been more dramatic. It's a busier time of year, and our online averages have gone from .30 VINdependents, .55 VINsiders, and 2.05 orders per day to 1.00 VINdependents, 1.71 VINsiders, and 5.71 orders per day. In just a week, the added value to us has been something like $40,000. All this is beyond the intangible marketing, member retention, event promotion and wholesale trade benefits we've come to expect.
Print newsletters are not without costs. To send ours out to the roughly 18,000 people for whom we have addresses, it costs us something like $15000 in printing, handling and postage costs. Would an email, which costs us very little, have the same impact? Not exactly. We do send emails out as a regular part of our marketing program: every month to our VINsiders, every couple of months to our VINdependents, and a couple of times a year to our entire mailing list. But I have the sense that the cohorts that each medium reaches don't overlap 100%. Of course, there are some mailing list members for whom we only have a physical address and no email, or vice versa. But even within the group that has both, there are people who will ignore an email (or have it caught by a spam filter) but will read the newsletter (and the opposite). Two areas where print dramatically outperforms email for us are with the trade (who are apparently so bombarded with messages from the hundreds or thousands of suppliers they work with that they ignore all or most) and in spurring wine club signups (since you are typically emailing existing club members).
For me, all this suggests that we're making the right choice to continue to maintain a balance of communication between email and print. And that even though the print newsletters are relatively costly, the sales and wine club signups they drive -- without us trying to drive sales -- more than pay for their expenses. So the marketing benefits, and all the benefits that we get with elements of the wholesale trade, are gravy.