Thursday, June 29, 2006

Before & After Story -- Email Redesign Increases Loyalty Plan

Aeroplan, Canada's enormous consumer loyalty club, is a coalition of more than 100 travel, retail and financial services brands.

Millions of Canadians are already members -- and 50,000-60,000 new members join each month. But hardly any of them clicked through on Aeroplan's member emails.

Discover how Aeroplan's email design team ripped their welcome messages and monthly newsletters apart, and then put them back together again for increased results:

Every month in hotel lobbies, travel agencies and hundreds of retail locations across Canada, thousands of consumers sign up to join the Aeroplan loyalty club.

In the past, the club had mailed out new member packets, including a member card and four-page benefits brochure. The goal was to maximize "activation" converting new sign-ups as into members who used their club benefits actively.

Unfortunately, only about 40% of new sign-ups ever activated their memberships. And, on average, they took about 14 months to do so. Plus, the cost of the new member packets was rising.

Naturally, the marketing team wondered if they could save money and speed activation time by switching to email. The printed packets with cards would then only be sent to retail sign-ups who proved they were truly interested by jumping through the additional hoop of confirming their registration online.

Great idea, but Aeroplan's other email campaigns such as monthly newsletters and e-statements suffered from lackluster open and clickthrough rates.

"Our objective was to increase member activation by 10 percentage points for 2005 -- all the while growing our member base," says Marketing VP Paul Gilbert. How could the team possibly meet that aggressive goal with a communication channel that wasn't working all that well for them to begin with?


First, the team reviewed their current email templates to try to figure out what was wrong with them. Originally designed by a direct (postal) mail firm, the creative (link to samples below) looked absolutely lovely ... when you printed it out.

But, viewing the email on-screen was another matter. Typeface was small, copy was long, paragraphs were dense (a typical e-statement letter started with a nine-line-long paragraph) and clickthrough weren't glaringly obvious, especially above the fold.

Critical -- the team decided to keep all brand creative elements in place. The goal was not to change the look of the email so much as it was to make the email far, far easier to skim over and clickthrough. So, although changes to copy and layout were radical, to recipients the changes felt subtle. (Idea -- click on our Creative Samples link below and print out before-and-after copies to see for yourself.)

Also, they decided against launching a redesign all at once. Instead, the team ran A/B tests for three months to portions of the list to make sure the redesign worked better than the control prior to rolling it out.

In the end, five of the biggest design changes were:

- Slightly bigger typeface.

- Shorter copy. Long letters were replaced with a series of headlined topics with summaries and hotlinks.

- More click links above the fold.

- More HTML graphics to click on.

- Commanding click link wording, i.e. "Start planning your rewards now.”

After determining which email templates and design rules worked best, the team launched two revamps:

Revamp #1. Welcome emails

In the past, new members received a single welcome email explaining their printed packet was in the mail. However, now the welcome email had to carry a far heavier load of convincing new sign-ups to register online in order qualify to get their printed packet.

So, the team expanded the single email to a series of five emails sent every week for five weeks. To encourage fast activation, the first message featured a virtual member card that was personalized with the recipient's name. Recipients were asked to print the email and cut their card out for use until their new plastic card arrived. "Start accumulating miles today."

The benefits copy in the following four messages was carefully adapted from the four pages of original direct mail brochure. Why not just send everything at once? Well, too much content can depress email results. Plus, multiple touches equals better conversion rates.

Revamp #2. Monthly newsletters & statements

Aeroplan had been sending out two monthly emails to members -- a transactional statement message plus a member newsletter. Research data indicates most consumers don't mind getting marketing information such as offers in transactional emails. Plus, personalized transactional emails typically get a far higher open rate than more generic marketing newsletters.

So the team decided to use the power of e-statements to improve newsletter reading. They combined the two emails into a single monthly send that included both elements.

Since the new email Welcome series launched in September 2005, Aeroplan hit their target of raising activations by 10 percentage points. So, relying almost solely on email rather than printed member packets as an initial conversion tool worked gangbusters.

Unique clickthroughs on the first email in the new welcome series were 63.9% higher than the original welcome email had had. Plus, some new members clicked more than once -- the non-unique click rate leapt by 95.6%.

The virtual card was very popular -- 20% of recipients clicked on it.

The following weekly emails also helped boost responses. The average new member used their club membership for the first time 25% more quickly than they had in the past.

Clickthroughs also increased for the revised monthly member e-statement/newsletter combo. 20% more recipients clicked to Aeroplan's Web site and 19.7% more recipients clicked on links to coalition member's Web sites to view members-only promotions.

Last but not least, Gilbert is very happy with the corresponding lift in online member registrations driven by email. “The profiles are critical to our whole strategy. The profile gives us geographical data and allows us to link member activity to what is going on with the Web site. Once they fill out a profile, they move from a generic home page to a personalized page. This is very important because it’s the first step in a long-term strategy to personalize all member touch points.”

Useful links related to this article:
Creative samples from Aeroplan’s email activation and estatement series

Thindata, the Canadian agency that developed the new welcome email and activation sequence

SurfAid Analytics, which provided tagging technology to track and measure behavior


Wednesday, June 28, 2006


I had the pleasure of attending the even with my Dad as our father days gift. Our host was Scotch expert Evan Thomson Cattanach guided us through a sensory journey to some of Scotland’s most esteemed whisky houses in this nosing of the following exceptional, age-designated, cask strength Single Malts:

Banff 21 Years Old Highland Single Malt
Rosebank 22 Years Old Lowland Single Malt
Port Ellen 25 Years Old Islay Single Malt
Caol Ila 25 Years Old Islay Single Malt
Talisker 25 Years Old Highland Single Malt
Inchgower 27 Years Old Highland Single Malt

Here are a few things I learned about Scotch.
1. You don't stick your nose in the glass like you do with wine. You place the glass under your nose and gently swirl the Scotch around the glass to allow the fragrence to disapate.
2. Mix only a cap full of water to a dram of Scotch ex. water bottle cap.
3. Store bottles in a dark place.
4. All Scotch contains the same four fundamental components. What's makes each Scotch unique is the local water they use and the size of the still.
5. There's no such thing as a "double" malt

Friday, June 16, 2006

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Ticket-shyster-Is A Monopoly Good?

You know what else bothers me is Ticketmaster.

Take the latest Radiohead show at the Hummingbird Centre on Wednesday June 7 and Thursday June 8. The tickets went on sale via ticketmaster at 10am a few Saturday's ago. My wife and I had two laptops setup for the different days on the page where you purchased the tickets from Ticketmatster. We were on the site from 9:30am. At 10am we clicked to purchase tickets, the site said that tickets were no available for either date. This really pissed me off since I had been waiting to see them again. The next annoyance was that I went to eBay to look for tickets and they were available for $500 per ticket. It seems like many people just bought tickets to profit from them on eBay.

What about their real fans? Let's look an example of a band who RESPECTS their fans, WILCO. If you registered on the Wilco site for their newsletter, you were allowed to purchase advance tickets 24 hours before they went on sale at Ticket-shyster. As a result, we have third row seats to see arguably one of the best live performance bands out their today.

Therefore, there's more to the problem then bands touring too much. In fact, I think they could do more shows. The key is to remove the non-fans and scalpers who are out just to make a buck. The true, loyal fans are being screwed.

PS. I think tickets prices are outrageous. I can't remember the last band I paid over $100 to see. I don't even think Radiohead tickets were over $100.

However, if you want an old-school live music experience look for bands playing at the Mod Club. The club holds about 500-700 people max. Many great bands have played there such as The Streets, Wilco, and Josh Rouse. Forget seeing the Rolling Stones at ACC for $150. You will have a much better time seeing a lesser known or up-and-coming band at The Mod Club.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Watching the 2006 World Cup on your PC

World Cup live on your PC in 5 easy steps

For those of you stuck at the office without a TV, you can watch all the games and check the upcoming schedule, too. If you have technical problems with TVU, see the gHacks forum discussion. Don't email me with questions; I won't be able to answer you because of my schedule.


Download the TVU player. It's tricky to find the link and get past their anti-robot system that makes you wait and then type stuff, but hang in there. It'll take about 2 minutes. Note the file is named "tuv" but the player is named TVU.


If your PC doesn't know what to do with an RAR file, install WinRAR and use it to unpack the RAR archive file tuv.rar.


Install and launch the TVU player.


TVU has a channel selector on its left-hand side. Double click (and wait patiently) to watch a channel. ESPN2, ABC, CCTV-1 and CCTV-5 carry most of the games among them. Sometimes only one network carries a game; sometimes its on three as is the Saudi Arabia v Tunisia match I'm watching as I type. I find I like the Chinese-language commentators because I can ignore the words and listen to the sound of the crowd and the emotion in the announcer's voice.


Get the schedule. Once you've got TVU working, go to and endure the complicated signup process that subjects you to noisy Flash ads and requires you to submit a first post ("USA! USA!") to prove you're a human before you can read the real forums.

Below is the URL for this week's schedule. Times are in BST, British Summer Time, which is GMT+1. In the US, subtract 5 hours for Eastern and 8 for Pacific time.

USA v Italy is Saturday at 3pm EDT, on ABC only.


Don't email me! gHacks has a running thread on TVU problems. The most common problem is "Player cannot be initialized," which seems to be caused by the video being blocked by an office network firewall or proxy. They're still looking for a workaround last time I checked.

MAC USERS You can supposedly run TVU on Virtual PC, but I haven't tried it. Macworld is trolling for a better way.

Bar/Restaurant Picks: Foundation Room, Toronto

The Foundation Room opened recently offering Front Street residents a unique tapas experience a la Morrocan style.

Previously a part of C'est What, the Foundation Room is in the former live music space, it's now designed like a Morrocan souk. Dimly lit by beautiful glass Morrocan latterns, we lounge on wine velvet couches with oversized stuffed pillows browsing a tantilizing tapas menu priced between $5-$13 per item. Morroccan ambient music plays in the background. The knee high tables are populated by 30 something condo hipsters from the surrounding St.Lawrence Market area.

We order the Hand thrown squash dumplings in a sage cream sauce and Kashkaval cheese;Organic leaves and seedlings;toasted pine nuts, pomegranate seeds,shallot vinegrette; and the Lamb Rack with pomegranate pistachio crust,mint and apricot glaze.

The food is excellent. The Rack of Lamb is succulent, juicy, and tasty. The serving includes three large chops. The salad dressing lightly soaks the leaves delivering a citrus tinge that impresses us. The dumplings remind me of gnocchi. The flavour is delicious light, and creamy.We are impressed.

Food and drinks costs $60 that includes two glasses of wine and three bottles of beer.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The drive that's not on Get Going

Rose and I wanted to get out of town on Saturday. We only had the afternoon so we didn't want to go to far away. It was gorgeous out, sunny and windy making it around fifteen degrees.

We decided to go to the Kawartha's to look for cottages. Trying to find anything in Muskoka is out of range right now. But if we could find anything under 200K even it’s a fixer upper that's fine.

We wanted to investigate places like Balsam Lake, Sturgeon, and Buckhorn. We drove out of town on 404 or DVP north to Newmarket. Turning off on Davis drive and turning right driving east we are trying to hook up with 48 north. Highway 48 is a really great drive. We used to take it all the time as an alternative to going on Highway 11 to cottage country. It's a mellow drive, something throw the Easy Rider soundtrack on for, because it’s a one-lane highway. I like the scenic way rather than the super highway.

We connect up with Highway 12 and a short dogleg takes us onto Highway 48 into cottage country. The road winds through forest and bogs. We don't see any lakes for a while. Then we enter Kirkfield. It looks like a very inviting little village. There's a B&B called the Kirkfield Inn with a restaurant. I love towns like this. I think we were grooving to Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde at this point. We could see a river wind through town. The buildings were old. Red brick and country stores. I imagine owing a cottage in the area and taking friends to the Kirkland Inn pub. I am regular. The best of all worlds. A watering whole that rivals anything in the city and a short car ride to the cottage. We like to go on Friday night to celebrate the coming of the weekend.

We are starting to get hungry. I think we imagined going to Bobcaygeon (like the hip song) for lunch. But we couldn't wait. Coboconk was our stop. There was a pub, slips my mind right now. It seems like Ceasers is the big drink. Families up from the city and locals slug back mason jars of the drinks. I'm torn I don't whether to order a Caesar or a beer. I settle for a beer. Rose and I have burgers. The sun soaks us as we enjoy the meal. Wolf eating his grill cheese sandwich.

Done with lunch we continue to look for cottages. Rose suggests getting off the highway and trying Balsam Lake Drive. We haven't seen any lakes yet so we figured this would take us to one.

Snaking along a tiny paved road we come up on the lake. There's some hardware bought for sale signs for some waterfront lots. We stop and take down the numbers. Balsam Lake is part of the Trent-Severn canal system. That means there are lots of boats going through the channel at high speeds but the upside is there’s an inter-connected lake system leading to Lake Ontario and Georgian Bay for boating. Balsam Lake is a big lake too not much smaller than Couchiching. We left a message for the agent. When she called us back we found out the lots were 300K each for 159ft of waterfront and 300ft deep. Not in our price range. It’s a nice area though.

We stopped for ice cream in Fenlon Falls. Kawartha Dairy ice cream is legendary. The road continues east towards Bobcaygeon. It hugs the side of Sturgeon Lake for most of the drive. It gets confusing driving though Bobcaygeon. I’m suddenly on a back street nowhere near the highway. Then a highway appears in front of me but not the one I was on. Not long before I am heading the right direction again on 36.

We turn south at Buckhorn and drive along the lock system. The river seems narrow. There are many dams and locks channel the water. Then we pass Trent University. It seems way out of town. Nice looking campus.

The drive back to Toronto is along a super highway. The speed limit is 110 Km. We are back at our house in an hour.

It’s a great 4-5 hour tour if you want to take an adventure on a Saturday afternoon.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Talking to Myself

Blogs really have democratized the web.

I remember back in the 1990's if I wanted to post something I would have to convince friends with web programming expertise to help me. Sometimes I had to pay for it.

Today blog’s are so common everyone seems to have one. There’s no cost to start one and it’s based on your available time. The irony is that everyone thinks they have a destination where friends and netizens visit daily. This most likely isn’t the case but we convince ourselves anyway.

Since it’s your own soapbox to stand on, you can say just about anything. I don’t even know who’s reading my blog. I have no idea why you would read my blog.

In the past few weeks, I’ve attended marketing conferences where the presenters have promised their presentation in exchange for visiting their blogs. Most of their blogs are focused on industry specific discussions.

When I started my blog, I started writing marketing focused articles. A friend posted a comment stating that I was excessively serious and should talking about things near and dear to me. I took her advice and I’ve been writing completely subjective information ever since, relevant only to me.

I think the moral of the story is not to take yourself too seriously. Nevertheless, many people do, based on reading their blogs. Just because blogs are, a free venue for expressing your opinions doesn’t make it interesting or factual. The tone of many blogs is to be an authority on particular subject. It seems a little like posing to me. The information is usually pedestrian, borrowed, and commonplace across most industry journals.

Just because you posted it on your blog doesn’t mean that you discovered it. It’s probably posted on a hundred more blogs.

Just have fun nobody’s listening anyway. They’re all too busy writing their own blogs.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Da Vinci Code leads to Canada

Part 1

In 1999, I was tree planting in Burns Lake, in northern BC. A friend of mine bought a book called HOLY BLOOD,HOLY GRAIL from the Seven Eleven. It proclaimed to be a New York Times Best seller and highly controversial. It was the first time I had heard of the grail myth tied to something real.

I never forgot the cover and searched for it over the coming years. However, the book seemed to disappear. I heard that the RC church blacklisted the book (to be confirmed). Did this cause enough backlash to get it pulled by the publisher?

In 1993, it resurfaced. I bought it and read with interest. This began my Grail Quest.

HOLY BLOOD AND HOLY GRAIL recounts a discovery of secret documents by a parishioner named Berenger Sauniere in the tiny French village named Rennes-le-chateau. These documents apparently unveiled the following mystery.

-Is it possible that Christ did not die on the cross?
-Is it possible that Jesus was married, a father, and this bloodline still exists?
-Is it possible that parchments found in the South of France a century ago reveal one of the best-kept secrets in the Christendom?
-Is it possible that these parchments contain the very heart of the mystery of the Holy Grail?

The book does a great job providing historical perspective on this mystery. Many points are conjecture and lack real evidence. However, the story is cohesive enough to be believable.

Stay Tuned for how this relates to Canada...

Note of Interest:
On April 7, 2006 the copyright-infringement claim by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, who said Brown's blockbuster plagiarized their 1982 book, "Holy Blood, Holy Grail was rejected by a British judge. They claimed that U.S. author Dan Brown stole the ideas of two historians to produce his hugely popular novel, "The Da Vinci Code.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Two degrees from terrorist plot

I awoke this morning to a headline in the New York Times that read,"17 HELD IN PLOT TO BOMB SITES IN ONTARIO."

Wait a minute, the New York Times. I would expect this story to come from the US or UK but Canada. Before I let you read it, it says that one of their targets was the Toronto Star building. The ThinData office was located on the 12th floor of the Toronto Star building until March 27th, 2006.

Published: June 4, 2006

OTTAWA, June 3 — Seventeen Canadian residents were arrested and charged with plotting to attack targets in southern Ontario with crude but powerful fertilizer bombs, the Canadian authorities said Saturday.
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Steve Russell/Toronto Star, via Associated Press

A police officer stood guard in Pickering, Ontario, on Friday.
The New York Times

The police announced the arrests yesterday in Toronto.

The arrests represented one of the largest counterterrorism sweeps in North America since the attacks of September 2001. American officials said that the plot did not involve any targets in the United States, but added that the full dimension of the plan for attacks was unknown.

At a news conference in Toronto, police and intelligence officials said they had been monitoring the group for some time and moved in to make the arrests on Friday after the group arranged to take delivery of three tons of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that can be made into an explosive when combined with fuel oil.

"It was their intent to use it for a terrorist attack," said Mike McDonell, a Royal Canadian Mounted Police assistant commissioner. He said that by comparison the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people, was carried out "with only one ton of ammonium nitrate."

The 17 men were mainly of South Asian descent and most were in their teens or early 20's. One of the men was 30 years old and the oldest was 43 years old, police officials said. None of them had any known affiliation with Al Qaeda.

"They represent the broad strata of our society," Mr. McDonell said. "Some are students, some are employed, some are unemployed."

The Canadian police declined to identify specific targets, though they did dismiss reports in the news media that Toronto's subway system was on the list. The Toronto Star, citing an unidentified source, said the group had a list that included the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa as well as the Toronto branch office of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. At the news conference, officials emphasized that the targets were all in Canada.

In the United States, the arrests reignited fears among American counterterrorism officials about the porous northern border even as the Bush administration and lawmakers have focused attention in recent weeks about hardening the southern border in an effort to stanch the flow of illegal immigrants. Since the arrest of Ahmed Ressam in December 1999 as he tried to smuggle explosive chemicals into Washington State in a plot to strike targets that included the Los Angeles international airport, authorities have expressed fears that extremists could use Canada as a platform to make attacks inside the United States.

The arrests came at the end of a week of furious debate over federal spending for domestic security, with officials in cities like New York and Washington bitterly criticizing Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security, for not allocating more money to cities thought likely to remain high on the terrorist target list for Al Qaeda and other extremist groups.

The men accused in Canada operated what the police called training camps for its members. At their news conference, the police displayed at least one pistol, electronics components, military fatigues, army-style boots and two-way radios they said were used at the camps, although they would not disclose their locations.

The Toronto Star reported that in 2004 the intelligence agency began monitoring Internet exchanges, some of which were encrypted. According to the newspaper, the training in camps took place north of Toronto. Members of the group, according to that account, often visited a popular Canadian chain of doughnut shops to wash up following their training sessions.

Counterterrorism officials said that interviews with suspects would provide greater clarity about the nature of the plot, but they said that the men had taken a significant step, moving beyond the planning stage, toward acquiring a large quantity of potentially explosive fertilizer.

It was not clear whether the group ever had possession of the chemicals, or whether authorities may have had a role in arranging for the shipment or transporting the material.

A police spokeswoman, Cpl. Michele Paradis, asked whether the group had actually had the three tons of chemicals in their possession, and if the police had "seized" it, replied: "That's difficult to answer. They made arrangements to have it delivered and they took delivery."

American officials said that White House officials and counterterrorism agencies had been briefed on the case, and of the coming arrests, in recent days.

Russ Knocke, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said, "We are coordinating very closely with our Canadian counterparts." He said Mr. Chertoff spoke early Saturday with Stockwell Day, the Canadian minister of public safety, but added, "We have not made any adjustment to our security posture along the northern border."

Ian Austen reported from Ottawa for this article, and David Johnston from Washington. Chris Mason contributed reporting from Ontario and Robert Pear from Washington.