Ileana Rowe has one of the toughest markets to email
into: Teachers and technology decision-makers at America's
kindergarten through eighth grade schools.
Rowe, Marketing Manager for software firm Learning.com, serves an
audience that is not only tough to reach because there are
virtually no quality lists available for rental, but who are also
fairly allergic to promotional email.
If even one school professional thinks your emailed promotion is
a bit spammy (no matter how careful you are to use permission
lists), "you get talked about in Listservs and you get a lot of
However, Rowe needed to find a way to make email work because
selling software to schools is a lot more complicated than
selling books. She needed to gradually educate tens of thousands
of possible customers and influencers, but did not have a sizeable
field sales force or postal mail budget for repeated mailings.
Email was by far the most economic way to go. As long as she
could make sure nobody would hate her company for it.CAMPAIGN
She decided to launch an email newsletter (you saw that
one coming, didn't you?) Like most marketers, she did not
have a list of people who had already agreed to receive a
Rowe worked together with agency emailROI, Inc. to create a
five-step campaign to build a great list and launch a company
Step #1 - Finding lists to send an invitational mailing to
Rowe had a fairly small in-house email list she had already built
from enquiries and folks the team met at trade shows. However,
she did not assume these names would want to get a regular
newsletter without being asked first. That would be a sure way
to poison at least part of her best prospect file against the
Company. She then decided to send an invitational mailing to
Plus, Rowe also worked a barter deal with some educational
associations for them to send out the invitational mailing to
their lists on her behalf as well. The association's name on the
mailing would be a type of "fireproofing" against being labeled a
Step #2 - Testing offers and subject lines
To make the most of the lists, Rowe decided to first run a test
campaign to a slice of the list. She tested two different offers: A white paper and a no-cost software trial. Landing pages for
both offers included a prominently positioned check box to join
the newsletter list.
She also tested two different subject lines for each offer. This
way when she rolled out the campaign she would not only know which
offer worked the best, but also which subject line. The tests
were (link to some samples below):
White paper offer subject lines:
a. Will your students be technologically literate by 8th
b. Recent Update: Changes in technology funding
No cost trial offer subject lines:
a. Don't let your students fall behind the technology
b. Is your technology investment boosting student
The creative was what emailROI's President Kent Lewis calls
"mainly text HTML." He explains, "We were looking to appeal to
the typical no-frills teacher personality. It was mostly just
Arial 10 font." Creative included a small photo of children in a
classroom in the upper right corner, but the rest was mainly text
Step #3 - Rolling out to the whole list
After giving results a solid two weeks to come in, Rowe rolled
out the winner to the rest of the names she could mail to.
Step #4 - Follow-up mailings to list members and non-replies
The newsletter was not quite ready to launch immediately after
this campaign, but Rowe knew how important it is to not sit on
names indefinitely while you are getting your act together because
people quickly forget they have given you permission to email them.
She sent out a brief friendly "mainly-text" follow-up note to
everyone who had taken advantage of the offer. She hoped some
recipients would pass it along, so it included the link to the
white paper and the no-cost trial offer. (Link to sample below.)
A few months later, she got permission to mail to the outside
lists again, and this time she sent them a reminder note about
the original offer (link to sample below).
Step #5 - Launching sales-cycle-specific newsletters
Instead of just launching one single email newsletter, Rowe
reviewed the marketplace for hotspots. States where technology
review cycles meant that a decision to purchase software might be
In those states (California, Texas and Florida) she launched
special versions of the newsletter with headline stories directed
specifically toward their needs and funding abilities. Other
states educators received a more generic newsletter aimed at
keeping them in the loop until the funding would come through and
they too could make a decision. (Link to samples of both below.)
Then, as warm prospects turned into hot leads, the rest of Rowe's
marketing campaigns, including Webinars, direct postal mail,
teleconferencing and field sales rep presentations, kicked in to
hopefully close the deal.
The white paper offer won hands down over the no-cost trial. The winning subject line was, "Recent Update: Changes in technology funding" because funding is always a pain point for educators and it sounded like the email would contain valuable newsy information on that front.
Lewis' take on this is that trials really only appeal to prospects pretty far along in the sales cycle, whereas white papers have a broader appeal. If you can only get your hands on a list once or twice, stick with the more generally-appealing offer.
- The house list of names Rowe's team had gained from enquiries
and show meetings naturally performed best, with 9.7% of names
mailed requesting to join the newsletter list and 8.5% of names
mailed downloading the white paper. (You had your choice of
- The association lists performed respectably, however the metrics were reversed. 1.5% of names mailed downloaded the
white paper, but only 1% asked to get the newsletter. This indicates that a newsletter offer is a bit further along in the
sales cycle than a one-time white paper download.
- The follow-up mailing to white paper downloaders was very
successful, getting a 66% open-rate and 5.2% click rate.
- The follow-up mailing to non-respondents was far less successful, indicating that when you have mailed a particular offer to these lists once you have pretty much gotten all the response you will get.
- The monthly newsletter on average gets a 40% open rate and
nearly a 10% click rate on links to longer stories.
- The newsletter itself has been responsible for growing
Learning.com's list. Each month for the past six months
subscriptions have doubled as recipients have passed issues on to colleagues. Naturally this growth rate will slow one day, but in the meantime it proves that kind of like yeast added to flour, a strong starter list added to great content can rise into a healthy loaf of bread.
Link to samples of Learning.com's email campaigns and