Winning the Email Hero Award for Most Innovative, this week we’re featuring SPCA International!
Who says 13 is an unlucky number? The SPCA International’s Operation Baghdad Pup campaign shows us that great storytelling is an innovative approach to a marketing channel that typically just asks people to buy things. But by creating an emotional connection with their email subject matter, SPCA International not only blew away fundraising goals, they also found 13 forever homes for their Baghdad pups.
To understand what went into this award-winning campaign, we interviewed Stephanie Scott, Director of Marketing & Communications at SPCA International.
What were the goals of this particular campaign?
We needed to engage SPCA International’s email subscribers in the effort to rescue 13 dogs and cats from the Middle East for deployed US service members. We were aiming to raise the funds that were needed to rescue all 13 animals and reunite them with their service members in the US after their deployments.
Did you face any key challenges along the way?
For starters, SPCA International is a small team with only six full-time staff and an international reach. Our email marketing team consists of only three people communicating our message to over 350,000 email subscribers and animal lovers. We rely on our email revenue stream to raise over $1.3 million annually for our mission of improving the safety and well-being of animals worldwide. It is a critical income stream for SPCA International and the animals and rescue teams that count on us.
In May 2017, we switched email marketing systems and let go of our Return Path services in an effort to control costs. We spent 16 painful months without Return Path Certification. We slowly saw our IP address reputation deteriorate and our open rates drop. At one point, we saw an open rate as low as three percent! We knew it wasn’t our subject lines or brand health. Our team has a history of meeting and beating our online revenue expectations, but during this time without Return Path Certification our results were significantly suppressed and we were struggling to meet revenue goals. We found ourselves asking “why?” month after month. When we analyzed our results over time, we could see the marked decrease in revenue began as soon as we dropped our Certification. At that point, we moved quickly to implement Return Path best practices and move through the Certification process again.
By the time we ran this email campaign, we were certified again–thank goodness! Our key challenge with this subject was to engage our supporters in a new way and not just get them excited about one animal but of all 13 animals that needed help.
What were your campaign results? We raised the funds we needed and more. Our open rate was strong at 14.32 percent vs. 9.68 percent open rate we received in February on a shared IP address (a 48 percent improvement). Our click rates saw a 94 percent increase (1.44 percent vs. 0.74 percent in February while still on our shared IP address and before we were a Return Path Certified.
How did you achieve these results?
As soon as we were certified again it was like a balloon lifting our results; everything got easier, open rates increased and stabilized and we have had four of our best email revenue months in the history of the organization. To us, it is a night and day difference. Now we aren’t over analyzing the data as we struggle to explain poor results, but rather we are freed to get more creative and innovative in our messaging because Return Path’s Certification has given us a green light to the inbox. Return Path’s service allows us to focus on content, storytelling and relationship building with our subscribers rather than the nuts and bolts of IP address scores and sender reputation snags.
In regard to innovating with our messaging for this appeal, typically non-profits use email to raise funds for a specific cause, program or case. Our testing has demonstrated that our donors like to connect with one animal’s story. In this situation, SPCA International was experiencing a backlog in our Operation Baghdad Pups: Worldwide program with 13 animals awaiting rescue. We decided to bring our urgent need for funding and the backlog problem directly to our donors by showing them all 13 animals waiting for help. This allowed them to choose to donate to one or two or to support them all. As the donations rolled in, we marked the animal’s photos as “funded” and sent out a new email stating that X number had been funded and Y number remained in need of more help. This ratchet up the urgency and compelled those who were holding back to jump in. Our Return Path Certification helped us increase deliverability and open rates and increase revenue. Today, all these animals are living happy lives in US with the military service members who befriended them while on deployment in the Middle East. It is truly a happy ending—13 happy endings to be exact!
If you’d like to personally help animals via SPCAI, you can find their donation page here.
Find out the stories behind each of the award-winning email programs in the Email Hero Awards Lookbook.