Killing Time: How an Immersive Game Brand, Hunt A Killer, Used Quizzes and Segmentation to Grow 547% More Email Revenue | Coronavirus Series

The coronavirus pandemic brought two things for much of the world: anxiety and lots of free time. 

Many took to new hobbies like bread-making or cycling and some opted to relieve stress and kill time through games. For game and entertainment companies like Hunt A Killer, coronavirus signaled the beginning of a massive uptick in new customers who were looking for ways to fill time while observing self-quarantines and shelter in place orders.

Hunt A Killer is a murder mystery subscription box brand that gives customers the chance to crack a fictional crime case. Each subscription is a season made of six monthly boxes or “episodes” with every episode building off the last. 

When the coronavirus struck, Hunt A Killer saw their sales grow 36 percent from the same time last year. Their sales this March, April, and May were nearly equivalent to a typical holiday season. 

What’s more is they grew their revenue attributed to email marketing 547 percent from the same period last year, 53 percent from the previous quarter, and they saw a 58 percent increase in conversion from email flows. 

Shelter-in-place orders were a catalyst for this mid-year spike, but Hunt A Killer was well-positioned to convert bored consumers with several smart segmentation-based strategies.

I spoke with Jeff Bartlett, director of lifecycle marketing, and Mary Callaghan, email marketing manager, at Hunt A Killer to hear what awareness, conversion, and repeat purchase tactics helped them achieve incredible growth during a time when customer empathy was paramount.

Get inspired by their creativity and customer obsession and learn what strategies you can employ for a wildly successful Black Friday Cyber Monday and beyond.

 

Leslie Wong: Tell us about Hunt A Killer and what it’s been like there since the coronavirus? 

Jeff Bartlett: We sell an immersive story in the form of a subscription box. It’s a murder mystery that you solve across six episodes and those episodes come in the mail once a month. 

With regard to coronavirus, mid-March through mid-May when much of the country was sheltering in place, we saw a pretty dramatic increase in sales almost akin to what we would expect in quarter four simply because it’s a game you can play inside. It’s something you can do when you’re stuck at home with your family, roommates, or your significant other. 

Prior to the coronavirus, we saw a lot of people who were in our database that hadn’t taken the plunge yet. When the coronavirus hit, they basically said, “Okay, I’m stuck at home for 30 days. I should check out this Hunt a Killer thing.” 

 

Leslie: Your sales were nearly that of Black Friday Cyber Monday. How did your team deal with that unexpected spike operationally? 

Jeff: It was pretty challenging to manage it from an inventory perspective. 

We essentially had an extra holiday season in April. Luckily, we had the inventory on hand and staff who could continue shipping safely from our warehouse. 

We certainly didn’t want to profit off a pandemic, but we were glad to have given people something to do and a way to connect with people in their homes during a period of time when they needed it.

"We certainly didn’t want to profit off a pandemic, but we were glad to have given people something to do and a way to connect with people in their homes during a period of time when they needed it."

Jeff Bartlett, director of lifecycle marketing, Hunt a Killer

Leslie: You had a large database of consumers in your funnel already and shelter-in-place orders became the catalyst for many to finally give Hunt a Killer a try. With such a unique and inventive product, one might think it’d be challenging to find the consumers who are interested in such an activity. Pre-coronavirus, how did Hunt A Killer achieve top-of-funnel awareness with the right audiences?  

Jeff: When defining who would be a good fit, the question is, “Who would like to play an immersive subscription game told in a non-standard format?” which is not an easy question to answer in those terms. I think, like most other companies in 2020 to a large extent, Facebook helps us find those people through advertising using lookalike audiences. 

We’ve also seen success with influencer marketing. We tend to sponsor cool content from YouTube influencers and podcasters of like-minded individuals. From a mission perspective, our mission is to tell great stories. So we look for great storytellers and get behind them through sponsorship. 

We’ve also launched a referral program that has helped us find more people who would be interested because they’re being referred to us by our existing customers and that’s been impactful, too. 

 

Leslie: Let’s talk about conversion. What tactics have moved the needle for you? 

Mary Callaghan: Our custom survey that’s powered by Typeform has been a really strong conversion tool for us. Once someone has taken the “application” quiz and doesn’t purchase right away, they’re automatically put into an email flow that then triggers a series of personalized messages based on what the person is telling us. 

One of the most important questions we ask is, “how do you intend to play?” We want to understand if this is for a date night or a family game night and if they’re playing alone or with friends. 

We’re able to then use that survey data in Klaviyo and create segments. From there, we can provide people with the right imagery and messaging. 

Jeff: We realized that the people who were buying Hunt A Killer as a date night idea were outperforming our other cohorts. That concept is one of our biggest opportunities for segmentation.

"We're able to then use that survey data in Klaviyo and create segments. From there, we can provide people with the right imagery and messaging. "

Mary Callaghan, email marketing manager, Hunt a Killer

Leslie: That application series flow is quite impressive. In March, 27 percent of your monthly revenue was attributed to messages sent from Klaviyo and 22 percent of that came from this one flow. Give us a sense of its secret sauce:

Jeff: Our post-quiz email flow really addresses sales objections. Some people haven’t bought yet because they don’t feel like they’ve learned enough about the game by the time they finish the quiz and get to checkout, so the first email explains more about the game, what it’s like to play and what comes inside the box. 

The second objection would be price, so we send an email with a discount. The third sales objection would be the subscription. At that point, instead of marketing a subscription, we offer a one-off product or box set.

Mary: We don’t try to force customers to buy what we want them to. Listening to the data we glean from Klaviyo has been really successful for us.

 

Leslie: What tips do you have for other brands who want to implement a quiz?

Jeff: It’s all about segmentation. Most brands are collecting emails in a pop-up and don’t have that personalized information. Sure, we do lose some people who just aren’t willing to fill out a quiz. But those who do are highly qualified. 

From an email list hygiene perspective, our entire Klaviyo database is made of people who are interested enough in our product that they took the time to fill out a quiz. That’s about as hot of a lead as you can get and that shows in our email engagement.

"From an email list hygiene perspective, our entire Klaviyo database is made of people who are interested enough in our product that they took the time to fill out a quiz. That’s about as hot of a lead as you can get and that shows in our email engagement."

Jeff Bartlett, director of lifecycle marketing, Hunt a Killer

Leslie: Besides acquiring new customers, how else are you using segmentation in the business? 

Mary: We also use a Typeform survey for multiple win-back series in Klaviyo. After someone cancels their subscription with us, we send them a survey asking why they canceled. Then, we segment those options and send appropriate messaging as a win-back campaign. 

If they canceled for financial reasons, we send an email with a cheaper product or a discount. If they didn’t like the monthly format, we suggest a non-subscription product. Using segmentation as a way to win back lost customers who are still in our database is helpful.

 

Leslie: As a subscription box company, you automatically have the opportunity to build a longer relationship with the customer. What tools or tactics are you using to drive repeat purchases?

Jeff: Before a customer’s subscription ends, we use email to get customers excited about the upcoming season and, in a way, gamify their journey. 

For example, our most recent season is called Curtain Call and it’s about a Broadway theater proprietor who finds a dead body that’s 80 years old in the attic of the theater and the player needs to solve the murder. As you play that season, each episode has an ending action where you’re coordinating with a character through a dashboard. You’re communicating with the fictional theater owner that you’ve solved the case. 

In real life, we use email to bracket that experience. Fifteen minutes after you’ve solved the case in the game’s portal, you get an email triggered from Klaviyo that says “Congratulations! You finished episode one out of six” and has a progress bar that shows you’re a sixth of the way complete. It teases the next episode and has a call-to-action to ship the next box early. Quite a few members don’t want to wait a month, so they order ahead. 

We also have in-game content sent via email throughout the series. Let’s say it’ll be a month before you get your next box. Well in that month you get a newsletter from the Cadence Theater, which is the theater in the game, and it’s sent to you from the email address of your contact in the game. A week later, a  fictional character from the game will send you an email with a teaser about what’s coming in the next box. These are all sent with Klaivyo.

These emails help keep the customer’s mind in the game between boxes and help maintain a fully immersive experience. The engagement of those emails from fictional characters is through the roof. A clickthrough rate of around 50 percent is not unusual for these types of emails triggered by in-game actions. 

Inside the last box of a season, we include teasers and a note from an in-game detective that says, “I think I might have found your next case” along with follow-up emails from the detective. We tease up the next season by introducing new characters who will start to interact with the customer via email and get the customer excited to purchase a new season. 

It’s really this multi-pronged email marketing experience that has performed really well for us and kudos to our product team for having the idea to send fictional content from in-game characters between episodes. I’m not sure I would have thought of that but I love what it’s done to our email program.

"These emails help keep the customer’s mind in the game between boxes and help maintain a fully immersive experience. The engagement of those emails from fictional characters is through the roof. A clickthrough rate of around 50 percent is not unusual for these types of emails triggered by in-game actions. "

Jeff Bartlett, director of lifecycle marketing, Hunt a Killer

Leslie: What a great use case for both engagement and retention. Christmas came early for Hunt A Killer, so to speak, and your team was ready for it. What marketing advice do you have for brands before they head into the holidays? 

Mary: One of the things Jeff and I talk about fairly frequently is the impossibility of creating a calendar that we stick to, especially during unprecedented times like these. 

We’re fairly agile in how we operate and, with certain inventory, changes come up. We have really strong talking points, but we follow what the customer wants rather than what we want to push on the customer. We’re always looking for ways to serve their needs in tandem with our business. Customer obsession is one of our values and it’s something that we as an email team hold ourselves to. I think our ability to react to our customers rather than hold ourselves to the rigidity of a calendar has helped us. 

Jeff: Every company has customer obsession as a core value. It’s easy to write down but it’s hard to actually live. When we send emails, one of the things we always ask ourselves is, “If I was a customer, would I want this email? Does this serve the customer or does this just serve us?” 

One of the things we started doing last year was creating blog content we thought people would want to read and sending them in bi-weekly newsletters. Besides our blog posts, the newsletters include links to influencer content we recently sponsored and links to articles we’re reading that we think our customers would enjoy. 

There’s very little sales content because we’re just trying to add value. The key performance indicator (KPI) is engagement. We want people to be glad they’re on our email list. 

This was especially important during shelter-in-place orders. People were actually thanking us in our Facebook community for sending newsletters with things to read and true crime videos to stream. In my 11-year email career, I’ve never seen an audience so enthusiastic that they reached out and said, “please send me more emails.” 

My advice for any company is when you’re sending an email, it shouldn’t be interruptive. It should be something that they want to see, whether it’s a product they’ve been waiting for that’s back in stock, a release that you think they’re going to be excited about, or something that you think might be interesting for that customer. 

If it doesn’t pass the bar of being relevant for the person you’re emailing, why email it? No matter what the business, Black Friday or not, you have to be adding value for your customers with your messaging or you shouldn’t bother with your messaging at all.

"If it doesn't pass the bar of being relevant for the person you're emailing, why email it? No matter what the business, Black Friday or not, you have to be adding value for your customers with your messaging or you shouldn't bother with your messaging at all. "

Jeff Bartlett, director of lifecycle marketing, Hunt a Killer

Interested in learning more about segmentation? Learn the three emails to segment before you send them to your entire list.

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