A Different Kind of Email Blast – A Case Study

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Email blasts are always a bit of a marketing mountain; how to keep them fresh, interesting, relevant, and appropriate for one’s clientele? Some companies do it quite well.

For the last two years, I’ve worked with Hudson Wine Merchants, in Hudson, NY. HWM is currently lacking a full website, making do with a splash page limited to basic information and a newsletter signup form. Although the site is under development, the newsletter has served as a good substitute, generating attention and conversation, as well as sales. Over the past several months, a few other newsletters in the food & wine industry have started to take inspiration from the Hudson Wine e-blasts, including Rubiner’s Cheesemongers in Great Barrington.

Now for some stats: Over the last season (Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day Weekend), they sent 8 emails to their general list (around 2,100 subscribers), and saw a  render rate averaging 35-40%. This does not count simple notification emails, such as holiday hours, parking information, or event schedules.

There are a number of reasons HWM’s emails are so well received, and it’s only partially due to the actual product reviews. Here is a not-so-brief analysis of some of their strategies, with recent emails as examples:

 

Pelicula Viticultura 7-22-13

Michael Albin and his staff have developed a unique strategy over the last several years: Rather than one large article, as is frequently found in newsletters from larger stores such as Moore Bros., Hudson Wine Merchants creates multiple short articles liberally seeded with images, frequently set to a non-liquor theme. Some newsletters are loosely arranged around a specific topic, such as July’s Pelicula Vitcultura. Others are based on something like a winemaking concept (see HWM au Naturel below), or are a simple review of new or restocked products. The write-ups on specific items are brief, giving a quick rundown of history, relevant processes, and a few words on taste and structure (this is at odds with the write-ups for their Wine & Spirits Clubs & wine tasting booklets, which tend towards densely packed paragraphs filled with info). In one newsletter, the products can span the globe, and run the price gamut from the very affordable to “only in my dreams.” This tapestry of mini-articles allows a reader to skim through and cherry-pick which pieces to read. The photos act as highlights, drawing attention in the same way as a well-designed label. In that sense, the newsletter is laid out the same way as the store – photos and labels carefully organized to resemble artistic semi-chaos. The label images also provide another advantage: visitors to the store easily recognize the bottles mentioned.

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Events & Articles 8-12-13

In addition to the product notes, the newsletters include information about local events, holidays, delivery info, and other minutiae of Hudson Valley life. There’s always something to discuss, whether an in-store tasting, local gallery opening, literary reading, or a tidbit of news about the wine or liquor world. The mailing on the right from August 12th mentions both an event in the Catskills and a news article about post-Hurricane-Sandy wine storage. Often, the established Friday Night Tasting Series is mentioned, with photos of the event in question, and reviews of products offered for tasting. Articles linked in the newsletter are usually along the lines of professional challenges, winemaker profiles, or events and accolades. Some draw from the personal lives of the staff & owners; one article featured products “chosen” by the staff pets, and accomplishments in music, writing and other artistry by staff or customers are occasionally noted. This helps build the sense of community, especially since simply showing up to an event can garner a mention!

 

Steve & Pierre at 8-18-13 event

Two events are noted, here, and used as bookends for the products; The photo at the top was taken at a recent party, where customers and employees (and dogs) mingled. Since Hudson is a rather small community, the line between customer and friend tends to be thin, and frequently non-existent. That familiarity is demonstrated not only in articles about events, but in the comfortable, almost conversational writing used throughout the blasts. These are newsletters designed for the layperson as much as the devotee collector. The event at the bottom is a rather unique one to be associated with a liquor store. It is due to the involvement of Michael’s wife and business partner – Marianne Courville, an artist and curator. She has set up a gallery space on the third floor of their building, used frequently for events such as tastings, readings, and lectures.

Two other consistently recognizable aspects of the newsletters; the use of very old, quirky photos or illustrations, and the liberal use of links to provide more information about the topic at hand. The authors would rather shorten an article and link to a piece written by another expert, rather than fill the space with unneeded exposition. This creates an advantage of keeping articles on the short and manageable side, while directing readers to newly-discovered websites or experts. The photos are almost a form of punctuation, used to convey a tone for the email. Their quirkiness is memorable, and the consistent style provides a form of branding for the store. They’re very much a reflection of the store itself, which is decorated with original prints from the owners’ personal collection.

What is remarkable about this newsletter isn’t just the format, but the way in which it developed. It wasn’t the product of marketing experts, but rather a result of natural evolution. With food and wine becoming such a huge focus in modern life, ideas for articles or newsletter themes frequently generate themselves. Add in a love of quirky pop culture and an appreciation for modern vintage design, and a recognizable style quickly develops organically.

The unusual styling of HWM’s email blasts is a huge draw for customers, generating sales, while creating branding and discussion. They’re definitely one to watch, especially as the store expands its stock and focus, staying at the forefront of the modern liquor business.

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