Daniel Beulah

Email Marketing: How the Kentucky Derby engages customers with relevant email

June 30th, 2015

The Kentucky Derby is a once a year event worth hundreds of millions of dollars. It has been held annually on the first Saturday of May at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky since 1875.

It’s a race like no other, filled with traditions like the sweet taste of a mint julep dancing over the ice of a frozen silver cup, women in lavish hats ringed in a halo of soft glowing pearls and the victorious aroma of 554 red roses dripping across the backs of the winners.

Even with its long traditions, it takes a lot of effort and hard work to give the Kentucky Derby’s spectators exactly what they come to expect year after year as those expectations change through time.

To find out how the Kentucky Derby consistently makes this high level event continually more successful, Courtney Eckerle, Manager of Editorial Content, MarketingSherpa, sat down with Kate Ellis, Marketing Analyst, and Jeff Koleba, Vice President of Marketing and Programming, both of the Kentucky Derby, at the MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2015 Media Center to discuss how the Kentucky Derby keeps its customers engaged all year long for an annual event.


What are your struggles in keeping customers consistently engaged for a once a year event?

It’s a challenge, Jeff said, because of the “immediate peak of relevance at one time of the year. Finding or creating a content plan that gives our guests a reason to care and how we are going to pace that out through the year is one of the biggest challenges.”

In order to create a content plan, the first thing a marketer should do is learn why someone engages with their brand. The Kentucky Derby started by asking their guests questions on what they were interested in and discovered a great interest set around how horses get into the Kentucky Derby. The team then created a whole new set of content around that journey. They also found that people were very interested in the horses themselves, so they highlighted the horses in a separate set of content, profiling their pedigree and official race history.

“By planning it out and accepting that that relevance is going to grow as we get closer [to the event] … is one of the challenges we have to manage,” Jeff said.


Why is relevancy becoming such an important part of email marketing?

“We are hit with so many messages today. Not only email but everywhere around us. You have to find that reason that someone will interact with you,” Kate said.

The world has changed the demands on people’s time. Traditional marketing is thinking about the economic choices people make about their money but, now, Jeff explained, it’s important to have the same consideration for the choices people make with their time.

“Relevancy is what drives your choice to invest your time [with a brand] as opposed to another [competitor] or just not at all because you have something more interesting to do with your time,” Jeff said.


Why is it important for marketers to consistently test their assumptions specifically about their customer?

The assumption among marketers is that we know everything about what customers want to hear.

Marketers can get trapped in a self-confirmation bias where “it becomes harder to imagine another consumer group or step out of your own set of beliefs and the consumers you do relate to start thinking about a different person’s reactions,” Jeff said.

This can happen especially when we become so engaged with our own product that “it gives us blinders to what else is going on or what else customers might want to know or see about us,” Kate explained.

This self-confirmation bias can be eliminated by using impartial data and customer interest surveys to develop relevant content.


What is the most valuable asset to an email marketer?

The ability to learn from their customers. Constantly challenge yourself by asking:

• What is the customer thinking?
• What do they want to think about?
• Why [do] they want to?
• Is this relevant or important to my customer?

Remember, the relationship you have with your consumer is critical. It’s critical to take care of and maintain that relationship. Without the investment into relevancy, a brand doesn’t have meaning.


You might also like

Email Marketing: The Kentucky Derby’s customer-centric newsletter reduces opt-out rate 64% [From MarketingSherpa]

Kentucky Derby [Official Website]

Why Implementing Relevancy into Email Programs Can’t Wait [More from the MarketingSherpa blog]

Categories: Consumer Marketing, Marketing Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

  1. July 1st, 2015 at 15:44 | #1

    Cool stuff. I wouldn’t have thought of the Kentucky Derby using e-mail. Of course, I am also not really a horse racing kinda guy. Still, good to see them implementing and being able to use e-mail for that once-a-year event.

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