December 06, 2017
Case Study

Email Marketing: How IEEE GlobalSpec gets millennial engineers to read emails


Video may have killed the radio star but can it also lead to an email newsletter renaissance with millennials?

In our latest case study, you can discover how IEEE GlobalSpec achieved an 80% engagement rate in an email newsletter with a group of 146,000 subscribers, mostly millennials.

Read on to learn how Don Lesem, Vice President and Chief Design Officer, and Bryan DeLuca, Senior Director of Audience Development, Content, UI/UX and Design, both of IEEE GlobalSpec, launched a new, video-heavy email newsletter to serve a subset of their audience of engineers that skewed mostly millennial.

by Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content & Marketing, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute; Courtney Eckerle, Senior Managing Editor, MarketingSherpa


THE CUSTOMER is the world’s largest online destination for engineers, helping more than 8 million of them get news and analysis from an experienced editorial staff in addition to a standards directory, reference library, engineering community, and searchable database of 122 million parts from suppliers across the industrial sector.

The site is powered by IEEE GlobalSpec, a for-profit subsidiary of the nonprofit IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), world’s largest technical professional organization. Its mission is “advancing technology for humanity.”

IEEE GlobalSpec noticed a high engagement with videos in its email newsletters. So the company decided to develop a newsletter that was video-centric.

Before deciding to launch the video-centric newsletter, the team built an audience for it by looking at their data and building a propensity model to determine which subscribers were likely to engage with a video newsletter format and what content might interest them.


“Really, the goal was the user. We knew the user was interacting with these things. We really had the user in mind when we created this and really how they want to interact with the world, especially our universe, and how they want to interact with some of the companies or some of the stories we're telling,” said Bryan DeLuca, Senior Director of Audience Development, Content, UI/UX and Design, IEEE GlobalSpec.

“And let's not forget we're also playing to a millennial audience,” said Don Lesem, Vice President and Chief Design Officer, IEEE GlobalSpec.

Step #1. Determine the best audience for the new newsletter

IEEE GlobalSpec sends around 1,100 newsletters per year, which breaks out to about 80 to 90 newsletters a month across 8 to 9 million subscriptions. That includes about 2.2 to 2.3 million unique subscribers on average subscribing to four newsletters.

The team discovered an increased interaction with video or visual elements — GIFs, charts and graphics — and lengthy time spent on webinars.

They started looking at what videos advertisers produced, along with editorially creating new, unique videos. Then they went through the metrics associated with people who were attending webinars, clicking on videos and interacting with graphical elements to develop a list of subscribers across industries.

While IEEE GlobalSpec serves multiple industries with its content, the methodology focused on selecting an audience from those who were most likely to interact with this type of content, not which industries they were in. They focused on serving a general engineering audience with interesting video to see if that will engage engineers across the spectrum of industries in their database.

For this newsletter — which the team named “Engineering in Motion” — they selected an audience of 146,000 subscribers.

In addition to selecting current subscribers for the new newsletter, the team also created a sign-up page on its website.

Creative Sample 1 – Newsletter sign-up page

(Click on image to enlarge)


Step #2. Create unique content

IEEE GlobalSpec has its own studio and engineering staff. The practicing engineers on staff develop content and also provide material expertise for content classification schemes.

The team has started creating short-form videos of how things work that appeals to the curiosity of the engineers in its audience (e.g., unboxing items).

Another video that runs on the Engineering 360 site is a weekly headline summary — a less than five-minute weekly newscast.

In addition to the studio, there is an engineering lab where the team films videos about things like teardowns.

“I think most people, especially in the engineering space, they sort of forget; they think of engineers as really analytical people, but they're actually really creative. Think about what they do every day. They're designing things. They're creative and curious human beings. So, they're designing every single day. They're very interested in what other people are working on or what's happening. So, they're curious about seeing how things work. It's the perfect type of content for them because they could actually see visually how things are working,” Lesem said.

For example, one newsletter featured a video in which the audience could “Watch a Bipedal Robot Sit, Squat and Crouch.”

Creative Sample 2 – Newsletter showing creative content

(Click on image to enlarge)


Step #3. Make sure the design and format appeals to a millennial audience

“If you spend some time looking at the newsletter, you'll see it may not be the most conventional design,” DeLuca said.

Creative Sample 3 – Newsletter showing design with black background

(Click on image to enlarge)


The video newsletter has a black background. The reason for the untraditional approach is because this audience is made up of visual people, so it was important to create a design that is aesthetically appealing, especially to younger members of the audience.

To that end, it was also important to create a newsletter that is mobile responsive.

While mobile use among IEEE GlobalSpec’s audience has lagged behind other industries in general, the team had noticed a jump from 15-18% opens on mobile to 30-35% of opens on mobile.

“Video is a killer app on the handset. People will watch a two-minute video on their handset. So, this is a newsletter. It comes to your inbox. You grab it on your email inbox on your handset, and you watch the video,” DeLuca said.

Part of the video strategy was to create a compelling experience for millennials. “The difference between the tenured engineer and the young millennial engineer is the tenured engineer will go in and type a part number or look for a specific document that he knows from his past, and he's just looking for a reference,” Lesem said.

He continued, “The millennial engineer doesn't know any of that and is going in and asking questions, ‘How does this work? Where do I look? Can you show me a picture? Give me some feedback?’ They're looking for that. The video newsletters play to that changing behavior.”

Step #4. Increase frequency to meet demand

After launching, the team increased the frequency of the newsletter to three issues a month.

Audience adoption — open rates and clickthrough rates — exceeded their expectations.

The team is looking beyond just a frequency increase, and determining whether to increase the volume of this newsletter further or start stratifying and segmenting and having video newsletters that are more targeted to various disciplines and market segments instead of just general engineering.


Each video averages about 15,000 views per newsletter send. This high engagement rate was a result of looking at the propensity to engage with visual content and focusing the newsletter send to only the high propensity subscribers.

The success of this initiative helped the larger team at IEEE GlobalSpec understand that its audience of engineers isn’t one-dimensional. “I use the term that engineers read the funny papers, too. They read the sports page,” Lesem said.

“When you think about the changing demographic in the engineering workforce and the expectation that I can watch a video that will show me how to do something or apply something or inform me of something, it is a very different habit for the millennials versus the tenured engineer who would rather read the document as they've done historically and the younger engineer wants to watch a video and go on about their work,” he said.

But video isn’t the only content success the team has realized. “We increased content production on all fronts as our audience is hungry for it. They've become very loyal to our brands. So, they're spending a lot of time with our brands and our content. We're just producing more of it across the board. That's not just video; it's all of our content,” DeLuca said.

The overall value of content marketing was also reflected in research conducted by the company. According to a survey of 800 global engineers by IEEE GlobalSpec in partnership with TREW Marketing, 84% of engineers are more likely to do business with companies that regularly produce new and current content.

From the Engineering in Motion email newsletter, the team has achieved the following results:

  • 36% open rate
  • 23% clickthrough rate
  • 80% engagement rate

“Even trailing-edge millennials, around 14 years old now, they actually spend more time watching long-form video on mobile — we're talking about full-blown movies on mobile devices — than they do on televisions. So, obviously the mobile piece becomes very, very viable in all this, especially going forward,” DeLuca said.


IEEE GlobalSpec Engineering 360

Related Resources

Email Marketing: Five ideas to increase your email’s perceived value

Marketing Research Chart: How millennials and baby boomers want to receive marketing messages on the go

Ecommerce Chart: How millennials and baby boomers want you to improve the shopping experience

MECLABS Institute Email Messaging Online Certification Course (from MarketingSherpa’s parent research organization) — Learn proven methodologies based on years of research

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