If you’ve ever seen Alex Cranmer you probably hate him…

That’s exactly the way he wants it.

In fact, it’s often Cranmer’s job to make you dislike him when he’s starring in hit dramas like Blue Bloods, Law and Order: SVU, and CSI: New York. On the silver screen Cranmer has been everything from a belligerent killer to a pistol wielding madman.

“I play the bad guy quite often,” Cranmer says.

It’s not just the silver screen though…

Hollywood adores Cranmer’s acting prowess too and you’ll soon be able to catch his latest at a theatre near you in a role alongside heralded actor and comedian Adam Sandler. But rubbing shoulders and working with folks who have stars on the Walk of Fame is only a part time job for Cranmer.

The bulk of Cranmer’s time is spent selling military antiques unearthed from dusty places like a 16th-century palace in Kathmandu…

Wanna Add a Cannon to Your Cart?

British cannons, World War II helmets, and muskets from the 1800s…

When he’s not wooing Hollywood or auditioning for roles in primetime dramas, Cranmer keeps himself plenty busy with military antiques that date back, in some cases, four hundred years or more.

It all started when his grandfather left a collection of antique weapons to Cranmer’s father. The inheritance prompted Cranmer’s father, Christian, to look for other large stashes of old military munitions that were laid to rest after conflicts.

Christian IMA

In 2003, the search led Christian to a palace in Nepal that had been closed nearly two hundred years. The country was in the midst of a Civil War and the palace was under the watch of armed guards but Christian was undaunted.

When Christian managed to push open the palace’s massive double doors he found the treasure he had traveled halfway around the world to find; 55,000 muskets, rifles, and cannons from wars gone by.

The palace had been converted into an armory to store the weapons and offered for sale to the highest bidder. With many of the rifles worth more than $3,000, the discovery was a business coup for Cranmer, who founded International Military Antiques (IMA) 22-years after inheriting his father’s antique stash.

Christian IMA

Cranmer built the fledgling business by finding and purchasing military antiques and selling them to collectors throughout Europe. To continue growing, Cranmer traveled the world in search of much bigger caches like the one in Nepal. He made major acquisitions in places like Egypt, Uruguay, and the Balkans. Eventually, IMA, which had become the premier destination for military collectibles and antique guns, found it necessary to evolve past its mail order advertising strategy.

With the company’s New Jersey headquarters just 45 minutes from New York City where Alex envisioned launching his acting career, the younger Cranmer figured joining his father was a better fit than waiting tables or tending bar to make ends meet.

IMA3

Despite his skeptical father, Alex launched IMA’s new website that immediately doubled sales and sells three distinct types of inventory to collectors and enthusiasts:

  • Reproductions: metal and textile reproductions of military antiques imported from Asia
  • Collector Items: collectibles and one-of-a-kind items picked from shows, dealers, and private collections
  • Vintage Surplus: original items like the Nepal stash that include antique muskets and rifles

Today, IMA introduces forty new items each week which offers collectors and enthusiasts a reason to return to the site frequently to see what’s new and is fueling IMA’s accelerated growth and impressive performance results:

  • IMA did more than $6 million in revenue in 2017
  • Revenue from a recent campaign increased 35.5% y.o.y
  • Average order values during the campaign increased 24.2%

“It was a record quarter,” Cranmer says. “Dad is definitely a believer now and we became a real ecommerce company almost overnight. We have great partners who are responsible for a lot of our success. Honestly, there’s nothing we can’t do with the team we have.”

The multimillion dollar success and KPIs are certainly impressive…

Why then would Cranmer so deeply value customers who yell at him?

What’s Wrong–You’re Late!

It’s not exactly a yell prompted by anger…

But it’s the digital equivalent of a kick in the pants and it often happens early on Saturday mornings.

If Cranmer happens to sleep late after a long night out or gets busy with the kids and doesn’t send the IMA weekend newsletter at 6 A.M. sharp–he hears about it instantly.

“We have customers who are sitting there with their coffee waiting for our email on Saturday mornings,” Cranmer says. “If I’m late they let me know about it because they’re literally staring at their inboxes and anxiously waiting for that newsletter to arrive.”

It’s a testament to the loyal customer base IMA has cultivated over decades and the dedication the company has in creating an email newsletter people can’t wait to get. In a recent 30-day period here’s how IMA’s email has performed:

  • IMA generates a 35-to-1 ROI with email
  • 34% of all onsite revenue was generated by clicking through one of its marketing emails
  • Email conversion rate is 1.51% vs. an onsite conversion rate of 0.8%

“I can’t spend enough on email,” Cranmer says of the ROI. “Well managed email campaigns are the lowest hanging fruit there is in digital marketing.”

So what makes IMA’s email so special and how can you adapt yours to achieve similar results?

Cranmer has generously agreed to dissect one of his famous newsletter emails and highlight three components you might adapt so your target audience waits by its inbox for your email:

Component #1: Sell History Not a Product

Of course IMA is trying to sell military antiques but that’s not the only reason the company sends email. Because Cranmer knows his target audience so well, he understands history buffs are often waiting for his newsletter so they can learn something new about particular items.

In this instance, WWII buffs can click on the image of an Army Air Force A-2 Jacket to learn more about the book this jacket was featured in, the service member to whom the jacket was originally issued, and the role 98th Bomb Group which wore the jackets played:

ima top section

“The majority of our customers, at least initially, are just window shopping and interested in learning more about history,” Cranmer says. “But we generate 160,000 unique visitors a month and often the items we feature as history lessons wind up being purchased weeks later so we know email played a role in the purchase.”

Component #2: Inject Urgency

Especially important for audiences that skew a bit older, IMA keeps its newsletter structure simple by inserting 40 products in two columns and powering it with exquisite product photography and design that’s easy to scroll through on any device.

However, it’s toward the bottom where the history lesson evolves into an urgent sales pitch in which IMA offers discounts on two special items but only for 72-hours:

ima discount section

“They get the email on Saturday morning and if they want the discount they have to make a purchase by Monday at midnight,” Cranmer says. “It’s one reason our email conversion rates are so much better and tells us we have a healthy list.”

Component #3: Intrigue & Interactivity

Even for those not interested in a history lesson or ready to buy anything, they still have an opportunity to engage with IMA’s newsletter by playing “The Mystery Item” game. The first person who can identify the mystery item with supporting evidence on IMA’s Facebook page earns a $50 gift card:

ima game section

“It gives customers another reason to check back to see what the mystery item is and who won the prize,” Cranmer says. “It causes them to be curious and turns the hunt into a game where they can win real money.”

Even more important, the newsletter also acts as a compass…

It points IMA in the right marketing direction.

List = Imperative

Despite recently culling approximately 25,000 inactives from the IMA email list…

The company is adding approximately 1,500 new subscribers a month and now has a valuable list of more than 100,000 customers and history buffs.

“Without the email list I would worry about my business,” Cranmer says. “To say our list is crucial is an understatement. It’s imperative.”

Once a user interacts with IMA’s newsletter they’re segmented based on their behavior and entered into one or more of the following sequences:

  • Welcome series–asks customers for more information about their interests so IMA can better personalize its email
  • Browse & abandon series–users coming to the IMA site from the newsletter are tracked so future email may be personalized
  • Shopping cart abandonment series–customers who click on one of the 40 newsletter items, add it to the cart, but don’t complete the checkout are retargeted
  • One of two customer win back campaigns–a) customers who have been idle three months are offered a coupon or b) customers who made a purchase two weeks ago are offered a discount to make another purchase

In the end, Cranmer may have stumbled upon a new metric to measure successthe screams he hears from customers waiting on his email.

Turns out email complaints and Facebook chirps from early-risers sipping coffee and wondering why the newsletter is a few minutes late is music to Cranmer’s ears.

“It’s actually a great compliment,” Cranmer says. “It’s awesome and part of what’s great about the passionate niche we’re in.”

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Author       
Nick Winkler
Nick Winkler heads The Winkler Group, a strategic communications firm that provides content marketing services to the world's best known brands, businesses, & marketers. Get more from Nick here.