By David Huffman published January 26, 2011

4 Lessons Learned from a 6-Week Email Marketing Case Study

Email marketing.

Some folks will tell you it’s dead.  Others steer clear of it because they fear that it’s annoying to potential customers.

To the first point I say, it ain’t dead.  Sure, open rates hover around 15-30% depending on your industry, but according to research from Chadwick Martin and Bailey (September 2010), close to half (49%) of consumers share content online at least once a week, with the vast majority sharing through e-mail (86%). Facebook comes in second with 49% of adults sharing content on that platform.

To the second point:  well, “annoying” is subjective.  In other words – what’s annoying to you may be kind of awesome to me.  Right?

Right.

So in an attempt to not be so anecdotal about it, I set out on a six-week test of email marketing to see what would happen. Within that six-week test, we also ran an A/B split test of a headline.

Nothing really blew my mind, but the test did give me some nice data to show the boss.  And that’s always a good thing.  Especially, in light of some folks not really understanding this content marketing thing.

The easiest way to combat that misunderstanding is to test and just hand ‘em the data.

Here are the details from my six-week email marketing campaign.  Note the goals are fairly broad.  That’s because I did not have a benchmark to work from.  In the future, we’ll have more specific goals, such as generating six enrollments.

6-Week Email Marketing Campaign Overview

Goal:
Re-engage “cold leads”  by re-sparking their interest in our program using new content we had developed and give them the information they need to make a buying decision.  Ultimately, we wanted to generate enrollments in our program.

To provide some context, we defined cold leads as prospects who had:

  • Reached out to us before
  • Received our monthly “update” or nothing at all
  • Not enrolled in our program
  • Not opted out of our list

Metrics:

  • Primary – number of re-converted leads, enrollments.
  • Secondary – average open rate, click-through rate, unsubscribes.

Strategy:
Send one email a week for six weeks – alternating between non-gated (no form) content and gated content with a heavy call to action (e.g., click here to download eBook).

Results:

  • 5% conversion on gated content, equaling  around 40 leads reconverted
  • Seven enrollments (representing around $100,000 ROI)
  • Open rates were consistent with industry benchmarks which are in the 15-20% range for the Education sector (MailChimp)
  • Zero unsubscribes
  • Click-through rate:  3.5%

Take aways:

Email frequency increase does not necessarily decrease open rates.
In other words, our list did not get tired of emails sent to them.  Open rates in weeks five and six were comparable to week one as well as our general open rates.

More direct headlines win.
In a simple A/B headline test, the more direct “tell not sell” headline performed close to 20% better than the sales­y one. In this example, “Schedule your campus tour” performed better than “Take a test drive of our campus.

Customers open emails with success stories.
Our most opened and highest clicked through emails were a couple of video customer success stories. If you haven’t already, you may want to start including these in your content plan.  Keep it simple and publish them on your blog or website. Rather than a link to a YouTube video, put a link in the email to the page on your site where the video is hosted.  That’ll give you some click-through data as well as bringing the prospect back to your site.

Bottom-line is YOU NEED MORE CONTENT.
In six weeks, we generated over $100,000 dollars in return merely by sending content-packed emails to our list of “cold leads.”  The content for this particular campaign was in the form of blog articles, two ebook offers,video success stories and invitations to events. The more you have, the fresher your approach.

Final Words

Email marketing is important.  If you are collecting information from folks and that info includes an email address – use it.  Armed with nothing more than a little time and content, you can still turn un-engaged old leads into real dollars for the company.

Author: David Huffman

Dave Huffman is the Content Webmaster for Deaconess Health System in Evansville, Indiana. He is also the author of a blog about all things small business, from content marketing to creative strategies. You can follow him at Twitter @davemhuffman.

Other posts by David Huffman

Join Over 180,000 of your Peers!

Get daily articles and news delivered to your email inbox and get CMI’s exclusive e-book Get Inspired: 75 (More) Content Marketing Examples FREE!

  • http://Twitter.com/JakeFromCTI Jake Walsh

    Thanks for the insight, David. I’m interested in the emails you sent with success stories. Any chance you can post a link to the online version of those campaigns?

    Also, I was curious about how frequently you were sending to the “cold leads” prior to the 6-week campaign. Had you been sending them other content on a regular basis, or was this the first email they received from you in several months?

    • http://twitter.com/davemhuffman Dave Huffman

      Hey, sure thing Jake. This was our most popular one: http://www.blog.beonair.com/bid/39845/Stoke-Your-Fire-At-The-Ohio-Illinois-Center-for-Broadcasting

      Tons of ways you could do this. With this particular one, I tried to turn it into more of a blog post/video success story combo.

      Before we started the campaign, we had been emailing the cold leads about twice a month. So they had been getting “some” communication from us – however, it was mostly in the form of updates like “Look what we’re doing now!” No real content with a goal to convert was sent.

      One thing I’m wanting to test next is how things will look when we push this out a bit further. Say to 12 weeks or even indefinitely.

      Time frames aside, the biggest lesson I reaffirmed was the importance of getting that content together and making sure to use ALL of our channels to distribute it.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment my friend 🙂

      • http://Twitter.com/JakeFromCTI Jake Walsh

        Cool, thanks for the link and feedback. When you linked to this success story, did you include an “enroll today” button or some other call to action? Or did the email simply point them to the blog (with the hopes of getting contact form submissions or enrollments via the website)?

        The reason I ask is because I’m doing something very similar to this in a newsletter we send to advertising clients – linking to case studies on our blog as a way to inform them of advertising opportunities. I was hoping to see an example of the campaign itself…but if you don’t have a link to the archived email, no prob. I was just curious to see how you designed it.

        • http://twitter.com/davemhuffman Dave Huffman

          Oh shoot, I misunderstood you – sorry about that.

          To be honest Jake, it was just a very basic email sent via YMLP. Super short and to the point, No real design at all – mostly text based that is. I’ve gotten more into experimenting with “less is more” especially with email marketing.

          The success stories were sent on the alternate “no call to action weeks” meaning the only real call to action in the email was to “click to see so and so’s story…”

          However, at the end of the success story was a call to action to download or register for a relevant piece of content. That was, as you said, our little secondary hope that the reader would download from there.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patricia-Redsicker/1153901224 Patricia Redsicker

    Hi Dave,

    I love Email Marketing so I found this article to be very useful. I was particularly encouraged about success stories because I’ve been using them on every issue of my newsletter. However I am not familiar with the video format, so I’m glad to have learned something new. Couple of questions:
    #1. How does one conduct an A/B Split Test?
    #2. How did you measure the value of the 7 enrollments ($100,000 ROI)

    This is really great stuff – thank you!

    • http://twitter.com/davemhuffman Dave Huffman

      Hey Patricia!

      Let me warn ya that I’m no testing expert 😉 But here’s how I did my A/B Split

      1. Split the list into two parts – Group A & B
      2. Sent the “selling” headline to Group A
      3. Sent the “telling” headline to Group B
      4. Measured and compared open rates and click through rates

      I’ve also done this without segmenting the list and the results were about the same, which I thought was fairly interesting since the emails came only a few days apart from each other.

      As far as ROI goes we just calculated investment in the project versus the dollars it generated. In this case our only immediate investment was time. One COULD say that my salary, cost of email program, etc. should be factored in though.

  • http://www.exist.com Macel Legaspi

    david, i had planned for the set same of goals and earlier today i had this discussion w/ my colleague about the results of what we had done. some say email is dead, and sometimes obtrusive, but you make good points. i’m just really concerned about people thinking of emails as spam, yah, spam too can be subjective. we just started to “warm up” our cold leads this week and so far, the email open rates are low from 6 to 16% — and you know what’s interesting is that I found out from HubSpot the other day that open rates aren’t really a good indication — rather a good metric. let me re-phrase, i found out the other day from Hubspot that they don’t track open rates simply because it’s not a valuable metric.

    will share to you and the rest the results of our campaign!

    • http://twitter.com/davemhuffman Dave Huffman

      Awesome, yea please share!

      I actually use Hubspot and I was a little thrown off at first when I didn’t see any open rate data in their dashboard, only click-through.

      They are obviously the experts, but I still wouldn’t toss open rate out the window. I think it still says a lot about your headline and the value your readers place on your emails. In other words, not everyone hits the ol’ Unsubscribe button. Most just do not open the email, if they don’t want to read that is.

      That said, I get what Hubspot is saying. I actually don’t boo-hoo over low open rates too much aside from taking a second look at my past campaign content and my headlines, etc.

      Goooo get ’em Macel 😉

  • Anonymous

    Dave,

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience and data. If you don’t mind me asking, I’d be interested to hear how non-gated content performed vs. gated. (You mention a 5% conversion on gated content, which obviously helped to reconvert leads. Was there more content engagement with the non-gated information, and were you able to tie any significant results to that?)

    • http://twitter.com/davemhuffman Dave Huffman

      You, my friend, found a lil’ hole in my test 🙂

      I didn’t really check the two against each other, but I’m really glad you brought that up. I’m starting up another 6 weeks with another campus and I was thinking of different approaches.

      I DO know that our highest clicked through email was a non-gated customer success video. But overall, I’m not really sure what the comparison was.

      Thanks for the idear!