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Mar 13, 2008
Case Study

How Online Video Series Lifted Subscriptions 40%

SUMMARY: Online video is one of the hottest areas on the Web, but ad-supported services epitomized by YouTube aren’t the only model to follow. Publishers with high-quality products and targeted niches can generate ROI with video.

A software training company created a subscription-based online video platform with a complimentary trial that’s attracting clients hungry for quality content. Includes 6 strategies to boost online subscriptions 40%.
Steve Johnson, Director, Online Media, Total Training, saw his industry shifting around him. For 11 years, Total Training had provided VHS and DVD training programs that teach professional developers the ins and outs of popular software from Adobe and Microsoft. Several years ago, they phased out VHS tapes in favor of DVDs. Then online video exploded, and by 2007 Johnson saw pent-up demand for his company’s courses on the Web.

“We absolutely realize that the future of training, as well as Total Training, is around online availability,” says Johnson. “We needed to ensure the online experience would match that same type of professional, high-quality training available on our DVDs.”

Johnson and his team needed an online product and a marketing strategy that would highlight the benefits of this training, such as instant availability and interactive features. They also had to reassure prospects that online video matched the quality they’d come to expect from the company’s DVD products.

Johnson and his team spent 18 months developing Total Training Online before launching the program in early 2007. To find out what clients were looking for in an online video-training program they used:
- Customer surveys
- Telephone interviews
- Conversations with customers at industry events.

Customer feedback also helped them design a free trial program as a lead marketing tactic.

Here are 6 strategies they used to attract users to the trial and convert them into subscribers for the training courses, which range in price from $199 to $299 annually:

-> Strategy #1. Offer limited trial

Johnson and his team developed a time-based, limited-access trial program so users could test the online training platform to see the quality of the video and experiment with user-friendly features. Limits were set to prevent prospects from taking an entire training course during the complimentary access period.

- To access Total Training Online, visitors register for a seven-day “guest pass.”
- Guest users can then watch the first 20 minutes of any course.

-> Strategy #2. Make registration easy

At first, Johnson and his team required visitors to sign up for a guest pass using a 14-field registration form similar to the one used to ship DVDs. They quickly realized that the amount of information they asked for was probably keeping prospects from signing up. And it wasn’t necessary for creating a trial account.

Working with the IT team, Johnson replaced that 14-field form with a new trial registration platform that asks for one thing: user’s email address. And even that is optional. Guests need only to click on a button to start the trial.

Users are encouraged to give their email address, however, to get the following benefits:
o Information on new products and services from Total Training
o Industry news, including new software releases and events
o Invitations to special events and special offers from Total Training

-> Strategy #3. Promote trial program to DVD buyers

Johnson says there’s a large audience that prefers to receive training on DVDs, but his team made sure they company’s ecommerce customers were alerted to the new, online training option. Marketing tactics to DVD buyers included:

- Stickers or fliers inserted into DVD packages mailed to customers. The stickers announced the launch of Total Training Online and encouraged users to try a guest pass.

- Special offers for DVD/online training bundles, such as:
o Six months of online training access for customers who spend more than $249 on DVDs
o “Mix and Match” sales that let customers who buy any Total Training product choose a free DVD or online training subscription of equal or lesser value

-> Strategy #4. Promote trials through partners, resellers and affiliates

The company’s large network of affiliates, software company partners, and distributors and resellers offered an ideal channel for online promotions:

- Affiliates, including blogs, online forums and industry magazines, were offered video clips of training and links to the guest pass signup page to place on their sites. “Affiliates are always looking for rich content to add to their sites.” And they receive a percentage of any subscriptions generated through their site.

- Partners Microsoft and Adobe were given video clips and links to the trial signup page on their product pages, user groups and other relevant websites. These links took visitors to special landing pages that highlighted courses available on that company’s products.

The team also created special programs with partners, such as Adobe, who wanted to promote new software. For example, Abobe created a promotion for its Flex 3 software, which gave users complimentary 30-day access to Total Training’s library of online Flex courses.

- Channel partners and distributors, such as CDW and The Douglas Stewart Company, promoted the trial program to its customers.

-> Strategy #5. Send survey and discount offer to non-converters

As users began sampling online training, Johnson’s team developed a strategy to convert visitors who didn’t sign up for a subscription at the end of the trial period. The strategy:

- Two weeks after the end of their trial, they received an email survey asking for feedback on their experience. The email included a coupon code offering 15% off an online subscription upon completion of the survey.

- The email used the subject line, “Speak your mind and save 15%.”

- The online survey included 10 questions:
o Questions 1-8 asked users to rank on a scale of 1-5 specific aspects of the online training experience, such as how easy it was to sign up for a trial and how satisfied they were with video quality, features and content
o Questions 9 and 10 asked users the specific the reason they didn’t purchase a subscription, and to describe any difficulties they had with the audio and video

-> Strategy #6. Create video tour

The trial program allows users to sample online training videos. But Johnson decided shortly after launch that prospects might need a better overview of the online training program before jumping into a trial.

“We’re a very visual company, and we produce a visual product,” he says. “We realized we had to produce a video that gave a tour of training online.”

- The video tour lasts roughly one minute, and is hosted by company founder and presenter Brian Maffitt, well-known in the online design industry.

- Images and the script highlight key features of the online training platform, including:
o High-definition video
o Large viewing window (960 x 540 pixels, compared to YouTube’s 320 x 240)
o Ability to search and bookmark lessons
o Ability to track progress through the course by flagging videos already watched

- The team has placed links to the video tour in multiple locations on the Total Training website, including:
o Large billboard on the homepage
o Banner and two other links on the Online Training page
o Link on the subscription plan pricing page


Johnson’s team saw a 40% jump in Total Training Online subscribers by December. It convinced him that their approach is meeting industry demand for online video training.

“Online training, because of the advances in technology, is absolutely where we need to be. This has been our biggest learning experience, and it’s really transforming us as a company,” Johnson says.

Using a super-short form for trial signups was a major breakthrough:
- Trial leads jumped 66% when the team started asking only for an email address
- 51% of trial registrants provided email contact information.

Johnson wouldn’t disclose specific numbers for traffic or leads generated through links with partners, affiliates and distributors. But Johnson says that wide marketing net is delivering a large quantity of highly qualified visitors. “The quality of traffic from an Adobe or Microsoft, that’s our exact target audience. It definitely will convert at the best rates.”

On the other end of the funnel, the team’s feedback survey and discount offer are helping convert more of those leads. The 15% discount for an online subscription has become one of the company’s top-10 revenue-producing coupon codes.

Johnson says the catchy subject line, “Speak your mind and save 15%,” has achieved an open rate 54% higher than the average open rate for the company’s email newsletters and offers.

Feedback from the survey form has helped the team improve their marketing tactics. For example, the survey showed that many trial participants who didn’t convert mistakenly assumed the limited amount of content available during the trial was all that was included in a paid subscription.

In response, the team created a new video shown as the final installment in every free-trial course. It details exactly what additional content is available to users after they subscribe.

Providing that kind of marketing and support information in video form has been particularly successful with Total Training’s audience, says Johnson. For example, the video overview tour of the online training platform is one of the top five videos watched on the entire site. It’s the first place a majority of visitors click when they land on the homepage.

“It’s a very popular link. I’m surprised, even if they don’t do video training, why more companies don’t offer a visual overview of the service or product they provide.”

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from Total Training:



The Douglas Stewart Company:

Total Training:

See Also:

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