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Feb 25, 2004
Case Study

How to Maximize Business-to-Business Email Newsletter Results: Useful Data & Samples

SUMMARY: If you're looking for data to compare your newsletter results with, you'll love this Case Study. Includes results metrics on how opens and clicks can vary depending on:

Who the newsletter is "from"
If you precede the newsletter with a text note at top
The source of the name you're sending to
If the name works for a customer-company or not
You'll also find newsletter samples and a handy email communications flow chart:

"We're pretty lean and mean," says Julia Ochinero, Openwave (NASDAQ: OPWV) Senior Manager Customer Marketing.

The young wireless data tech Company, formed by a series of mergers and acquisitions four years ago, needed to build its brand name. Plus it had to educate customers and potential partners about the technology as a whole, "we're on the cusp of the evolution of the industry."

How do you grow a brand and educate an entire marketplace when your marketing budget and staffing are tight?

One of the most obvious answers is to launch an email newsletter. But, let's face it, the business technology world is so overun with newsletters that making any kind of impact with one is increasingly difficult.

Plus, Openwave didn't have an in-house list to send email to.
Their target audience were powerful executives in the wireless telecom industry - such as the heads of Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile. These are not names you easily can rent to mail to.


First the team carefully mapped out a newsletter communications strategy (see link to handy diagram below) that detailed each stage of the process from gathering opt-ins to analyzing results.

-> Step #1: Gathering opt-ins into a centralized database

The team scrambled gathering contact names from every direction - including marketing files from their acquired companies, executives' Rolodexs (R), trade show meetings, and a pop-up on Openwave's site.

However, there will two strict rules:

Rule a. No name could be emailed on a regular basis until that individual had proactively opted-in. Each name added to the database was automatically sent an email asking them to opt-in to the newsletter list. If they didn't respond in the affirmative, Openwave did not mail that name again.

Ochinero says, "We wanted to start off on the right foot with this audience. These are valuable contacts. I don't want people getting the newsletter who don't want to get it."

Rule b. Name quality was far more important than quantity. While, the team yearned for a nice fat list (who doesn't?), they
restrained their name-gathering to just the most targeted names -- highly qualified customers and prospects. "We are narrow focused," explains Ochinero. "We do not throw spaghetti against the wall and hope it sticks.

She realized this pickiness would be a critical factor for the program's long-term success, because the newsletter team had decided from the start to base future editorial and creative designs on response metrics such as which stories were the most read. If you have off-target names on your list, they'll skew your response metrics ... and ultimate editorial.

It's easy for the whole newsletter to be derailed quickly.

-> Step #2: Creating must-read editorial

But, the marketing team needed to study results from a few issues before they could figure out which content would be most appealing to the *right* recipients.

Although they wanted to send a newsletter every 60-days, this wasn't possible with limited editorial resources. And a less-valuable newsletter might be worse than no newsletter at all. So the team decided to start with quarterly frequency.

To get the most possible cross-departmental buy-in and input, Openwave formed a newsletter editorial committee to brainstorm up topics for their first annual editorial calendar. Ochinero notes, "The biggest challenge is product or technical oriented people writing very tech oriented articles. Our newsletter was supposed to be more focused on the business decision-maker."

The committee solved this by creating and internally distributing an editorial guidelines memo, clearly describing "the filters through which all stories have to fit."

Ochinero also got great story ideas by attending quarterly sales account planning meetings. "I asked, what stories would help you communicate to your customers? I'm not in the street with the customer; I really need the sales team's help in making the product relevant."

-> Step #3: Maximizing issue impact

Aside from a solid list and great content, the third element that can make or break a newsletter's success is to individualize it to each recipient, and make it appear to be a one-to-one communication instead of a mass broadcast.

So, whenever possible, names in Openwave's database included a code indicating which staff members actually knew that person. That way when a newsletter was sent, it could be "from" an Openwave staffer the recipient knew. If the recipient responded back to the newsletter with a note, that note was logged by the system prior to being forwarded on to the original "from" staffer.

Plus, the team added a short text-note at the top of each issue -- before the HTML graphics for the issue began. It's the email-equivalent of clipping a personal letter to a mass-produced brochure. (See link below for samples.)

Ochinero wanted sales reps especially to personalize these notes to the names in the database that were tagged as being from their list. However, sales reps don't love to type lots of letters. So she made it as easy as possible for them, by posting four different template letters per issue that they could choose from. Reps could use one of these notes, or create their own.

The notes included the rep's direct phone number.

Once reps oked the copy for the names on their list, the newsletters were sent out. The whole process from posting the upcoming issue to the intranet to gathering all the reps' notes took about two weeks.

-> Step #4. Using stats to grow internal help and buy-in

The key to this entire process -- creating a list, inventing stories, sending out personal notes -- was that the marketing department could not act alone. The newsletter required almost everyone company-wide to pitch in, in some way or another.

So, Ochinero created an internal marketing campaign to get buy-in. The editorial committee helped, as did personally schmoozing the sales department. But what really made the difference was posting newsletter results publicly.

After each issue, Ochinero created a new Powerpoint presentation that included a brief overview of the newsletter process, and then revealed metrics data for that issue. She picked her metrics data carefully to emphasize that what's important is how a name responds, not the gross number of names sent to. Stats included:

- Average clickthrough per article topic
- Opens, bounces, and unique clickers per list source
- Average amount of time names from each of 54 specific customer and business partner companies spent reading the issue

To foster competitive spirit, she also posted the results data by named source (individual sales rep or Openwave exec name) on a prominently located bulletin board at headquarters. So, everyone could see that one person's names had performed exceptionally well, while someone else's weren't so responsive.

Again it's worth noting that the factor promoted most was how responsive sourced-names were, not the mass quantity of names. A rep who turned in a large but lower quality list could not shine.


Openwave's newsletters consistently meet or beat business-to-business average metrics. Average issue open rates have ranged from 33-59% of names mailed.

Open rates are sliding slowly over time but this appears to be more a list hygiene factor because bounce rates can be in the mid-teens as names age on the list. For example, 33% of the latest sent issue were opened, but if you remove bounces from the total, the open rate rises to 39%.

A newsletter sent more frequently than quarterly would have lower bounce rates.

The personalized lists, where the "from" is a name the individual would recognize, consistently get a significantly higher open rate than other lists. The lift can be as much as 8-9 points.

Subscribers who joined the list from the Web site pop-up generally get the lowest open rate, because they have not been qualified in any way aside from the fact that they visited the site. In an effort to keep name quality high, Ochinero recently replaced the standard pop-up with a registration form asking a few questions beyond merely "what is your email address?"

Overall unique clicks as a percent of names sent averaged just under 10%. Click rates varied per issue, which makes sense because each issue covers different topics. However, overall the click rates have held steady for the past 14 months, indicating that once you get recipients to open, you can keep them clicking if your content isn't boring.

Fascinatingly, the source of a name appears to be directly related to which articles that name is most likely to click on. Names gathered from the Web site, trade shows and other general sources tend to click on the top article overwhelmingly, with a smattering of clicks on articles lower down. For example, 30% of site-gathered clickers read the top article of the latest issue.

Names gathered from personal contact lists that got a personal letter at the top, are far more likely to dig deeper into the issue. So 22.5% of personalized recipients clicked on the top article of the most recent issue, while the rest clicked articles further below. At 14.8%, personalized recipients were also twice as likely as other names to click on an issue's link to download a PDF report.

Personal contact lists varied significantly in value. Several sales reps' personal contact lists got click rates in the mid-40s, while most others averaged just under 10%.

Last but not least, the relationship the recipient's company had with Openwave directly affects newsletter read-time. So, although the average read-time for one issue was 4:34 minutes, executives working for companies closely allied with Openwave spent 5:51 minutes per issue, and other lists spent 3:20 minutes with the issue.

Taken together, this data indicates that you may want to create two different types of newsletters: an in-depth newsletter with multiple articles for closer, personalized, relationships, and a "lite" version with only a couple of stories to woo folks who have less of a relationship with you.

Useful links related to this article:

Samples of Openwave newsletters and their handy communications planning diagram

MEA Digital LLC - the interactive agency who help Openwave strategize and create newsletters:

Bluestreak - the broadcast platform MEA uses to send Openwave's issues:

See Also:

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