October 29, 2014
Case Study

B2B Email Marketing: How a publishing company used marketing automation to increase CTR 1,112%

SUMMARY: As we head into the 2015 Email Awards season, we wanted to reflect on the previous Best in Show winner for Lead Generation, IHS. The marketers in this case study set the standard for this year with a meticulously implemented campaign that focused on a customer-centric transformation of their email marketing strategy.

Read this award-winning case study to see how the parent company of Jane's Defence generated a tenfold increase in engagement over the legacy contact process
by Courtney Eckerle, Manager of Editorial Content

Out of 500 speaking submissions and email case studies, the judging panel for MarketingSherpa Email Awards 2015 selected two Best in Shows and five finalists for the MarketingSherpa Award — Reader’s Choice Email Campaign that will meet the standard set by this campaign.

This campaign exemplified the five key standards for this year’s judging process: transferable principles, strong results, customer-centricity, transformation and innovation.


The B2B decision-making process can be complex. Choosing a new software architecture or IT security system is a decision that can affect an entire company with a price tag reaching into seven figures.

Now, let's take things up a notch. What about purchasing 10 twin-turboprop airlifters that can each haul a payload of more than 25,000 pounds? That's what the Royal Australian Air Force recently did in a $1.2 billion deal.

When deals like this are signed, the defense industry reads about it in Jane's, a division of IHS. The company had hundreds of thousands of visitors every month to Janes360.com and the Jane's Defence areas of IHS.com.

However, very few of those people were engaging with Jane's beyond reading the latest defense industry news by visiting the site. They weren't taking advantage of the company's defense and security intelligence and analysis products to help them with these purchase decisions.

In addition, IHS was using batch and blast email marketing to sell these data gathering and analysis products to military, government and defense industry professionals. The problem was the marketing team had almost no customer data beyond email addresses.

The result was low conversion rates and a "lead limbo" where prospects would become cold and unresponsive. There wasn't an efficient system in place for ensuring customers were aware of the diversity of solutions IHS offers.

"We had quite a lot of contacts, we had 140,000 of them plus, but we didn't have consistent data and they weren't segmented. Worst of all, they were aging out. This is a military business — people change jobs every three years, sometimes faster," said Jim Scanlon, Marketing Manager, Defense, IHS, adding with every new job comes a new email address.

Secondly, he said, "It's a secretive business — some of these people are dealing with sensitive programs and they're not really willing to volunteer a lot of information. You certainly can't go out and buy a list for this business. The best list you are going to have is one you build. And that’s a real challenge."

What IHS needed was a sustainable program that would better profile and segment the legacy contacts in the database, as well as the nearly 1,000 new contacts entering the database each month. From there, the goal was to stay familiar and keep up-to-date information on those contacts by offering engaging content.


To conquer the challenges facing the IHS lead building structure, the marketing team reviewed their current process, and then revamped it entirely — from profiling to lead acquisition, nurturing and content.

Jane's Information Group, founded in 1898 but acquired by IHS seven years ago, provided the publishing outlet for this transformation with the Jane's 360 news portal that receives more than 100,000 visits a month.

However, Jane's was a print-oriented publisher for an extended period of time, best known for its books and trade magazines, like Jane's Defence Weekly.

Most of the digital content and video had to be built up for this effort.

"We did have an awakening going on in the market and organizations to work towards that, but off the bat, we didn't have it," Scanlon said.

Step #1. Review current systems

Initially when this effort was undertaken, Scanlon said, IHS was mostly trying to solve for the data problem.

His role a year ago was in field marketing and, "I was dealing with sales reps who are saying, 'I'm not getting enough leads,' and some who are saying, 'I'm getting too many leads and none of them are qualified.'"

The conclusion became that IHS needed to create better content assets to engage the product market.

Personas are "this nice thing that you hear about in best practices," Scanlon said, but nothing had been clearly defined.

"We talked about it broadly, and we hadn't really sat down and mapped out properly what the personas for the business line are," he said.

Cross-team persona discussions

"What Product Management thinks of the persona doesn't quite line up with what Sales thinks of personas," Scanlon explained.

Sales is dealing with people and all of the complexities of each client every day, he added. The marketing team needed to reconcile differences over a series of meetings and interviews with Sales as well as Product Management.

IHS developed a two-tiered persona structure, consisting of primary personas, and underneath each of those secondary segmentations. The team didn't set out to make a second tier, but it became clear that having the secondary personas would make identifying broader primary personas easier.

"The secondary ones were mostly just for our purposes in helping to clean up our database and build more targeted lists for other programs, so we could capture them now and use them again later," he said.

Six primary personas were created for use in this program to help send targeted messages, with a seventh "uber persona" as a general source to encapsulate the 140,000 legacy contacts without persona data.

Capturing information

In order to capture information to place customers into different personas, all of the IHS.com webpages were modified so all forms acquired the necessary information from leads coming in.

IHS added a primary buyer persona field, allowing leads to segment themselves for the content database. Scanlon said once that was accomplished, the real challenges began.

"OK great, you now know more about people than you did before. Well, what are you going to do about it?"

Step #2. Map out the lead generating email program

"When somebody is coming to us from a high level, they probably know about [Jane's 360]. It's a well-known name in the industry, but they don't really understand," Scanlon said.

An understanding of the depth of offerings is what the email program needs to accomplish. IHS and Jane's 360 have long histories, so the email program needs to slowly acquaint people with the current and most exciting solutions.

Scanlon said it was critical to discuss when to ask for the sale. The trick, he said, was to "do it without being overly pushy" and develop the program to have people to fill out forms progressively.

"So when we get to the end and ask them to talk to Sales, it's not asking them to fill out this massive form. It's a simple evaluation in the relationship," Scanlon said.

Using the persona information collected from the revised forms, webpage visitors are slotted into one of seven personas for a personalized four-touch month-long program. The four touches can be personalized for each persona, but mainly differ in the content asset and the form included.

Welcome email

First, customers are pulled into a welcome campaign. The welcome email is sent within 16 minutes, and introduces them to the Jane's 360 Insider Program, allowing them to see several different ways to stay connected, including:
  • Other newsletters

  • Opt-in pages

  • Twitter account

  • Facebook account

"Just ways for them to stay in front of us on their terms," said Penny Carroll, Senior Manager and Lead Management Architect, IHS. "We also make a big point in that welcome message to let them know they are going to receive additional communications from us."

First touch

The first touch comes a week after the welcome email and "is really just a high level 'Did you know?' type of a message that introduces you to Jane's Insider and to specific content, like a white paper," Carroll said.

This is a presentation of the different types of services that are offered to that particular persona. An important aspect of this touch is that it offers a light piece of content, and since it isn't gated, there is no push to fill out a form.

Second touch

The second touch increases slightly in content depth, and could provide the prospect with a case study. It asks, "How can I help you solve your problems based on the persona that you are?"

This touch is also not gated, as Carroll explained the marketing team was firm about warming prospects up with easy access to content before pushing for information.

Third touch

The third touch is the first gated content, although "this gate is going to be incredibly lenient," Carroll said.

Prospects are asked to confirm their persona and provide IHS with the second tier, a secondary persona to give insight into what areas within that persona they are most interested in.

"I was amazed as to the level of engagement with these contacts. They've gotten three touches from us, actually four if you count the welcome message, and they're still willing to share information with us," Carroll said.

Of prospects that enter the program organically, not legacy names, there is a 29.4% open rate and a 13.4% clickthrough rate in this touch. This is especially significant because it is the first gated communication.

When compared to the legacy contact group, there is a 119% increase in the open rate and a 981% increase in the clickthrough rate in this touch.

Fourth touch

The last touch has the highest value content, Carroll gave the example of a sample report or webinar and "would be meaningful or worthwhile for them to give us information to get this content."

"Really, this fourth touch is an opportunity for those contacts that are low-hanging fruit to raise their hands and say, 'Yes, I want to talk to Sales,'" Carroll said.

People can only go through this four-touch campaign once, and after going through the process, they are automatically entered into a monthly newsletter allowing IHS to continue to reach out with valuable content.

Step #3. Nurture leads with quality assets

After the four-touch campaign, prospects begin receiving a monthly lead drip and nurture, which goes "back to our original data problem of leads going cold. The monthly drip and nurture makes sure that we're always keeping in touch with people," Scanlon said.

It is not pushy messaging, he added, it is a way to provide quality content while keeping prospects familiar with IHS offerings.

As the campaign was implemented, he said, it isn't just pushing content out to an audience that may or may not be listening, but “you are into relationship marketing.”

In the course of 12 months, IHS rotates through the different areas of the portfolio, according to Scanlon. Each send might not be relevant to the person because this newsletter is broader and not persona driven, but the hope is the majority of content is relatable and is an asset to keeping IHS top of mind.

This step isn't persona-driven, according to Scanlon, because the resources to create a targeted message for each one every month simply aren't available. It has become a way to introduce all areas of the portfolio without crushing his team with a heavy content creation workload.

"After getting through the four-touch persona program, which is more solution oriented, the monthly messages end up being more content marketing oriented. And this content is relevant to multiple personas," he said.

Scanlon gave the example of a recent send covering satellite imagery analysis.

"Not everybody is into that, but a lot of people in this industry will be interested to look at satellite photos of Syria and what's going on there."

The goal is to fully educate people about the scenarios of the portfolio, and in the course of a year, "we'll cover the whole portfolio and not only have kept these leads active, but we're getting another crack at them if they haven't already converted," Scanlon added.


The results the team has achieved, and are hoping to replicate as well as expand upon, is an improvement of 10 times the engagement over the control group of legacy contacts, as well as:
  • Touch #1 generated an 1,112% higher clickthrough rate than the same message to the control group of legacy contacts, or the "uber persona" communication

  • Touch #2 generated a 741% higher CTR than the same message to the control group of legacy contacts

  • Touch #3 generated a 981% higher CTR than the same message to the control group of legacy contacts

  • Touch #4 generated a 398% higher CTR than the same message to the control group of legacy contacts

Also, interaction with this program has resulted in nearly 1,000 updated profiles that include additional segmentation fields (like secondary buyer persona and area of interest).

By focusing on evergreen assets, the IHS team has created a program with high sustainability and flexibility to allow for human interaction and priorities.

"I would say in sustainability, no one person could have done this. We needed product marketing to create the content. We needed copywriting support. We needed technical support. We needed to think through the strategy. There's a lot of stuff going on and everybody has something to offer," Scanlon said.

"The trick to this thing is that it's regular. It's communicating and it's keeping people warm," he concluded.

IHS has nine distinct business units, and "each of them could benefit from a similar program," said Byron O'Dell, Senior Director of Demand Management, IHS.

"We can build an infrastructure that allows us to not just take care of the 600 to 1,000 or so leads a month that are coming in through this program, but we can build an infrastructure that fundamentally helps us start nurturing across the business," O'Dell explained.

One of the most rewarding results of this campaign, according to O'Dell, is it didn't just solve one businesses' problem, but has transformed processes across IHS' nine business units.

"We've laid an infrastructure that allows us to replicate it, hopefully nine more times," he concluded.

Keep reading MarketingSherpa newsletters to see the announcement of the 2015 MarketingSherpa Email Awards winner’s announcement and case studies from the winning campaign, as well as finalists for the MarketingSherpa Award – Reader’s Choice Email Campaign — in a few weeks, we’ll ask you to vote for your favorite on the MarketingSherpa blog.

Creative Samples

  1. Welcome email

  2. First touch

  3. Second touch

  4. Third touch

  5. Fourth touch



Jane's 360

Related Resources

MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2015 — Want to see more presentations like this one? Attend #SherpaEmail, Feb. 23-26, Las Vegas

B2B Email Marketing: How a global information company transformed from batch-and-blast to persona-driven email marketing [Full video session from Email Summit 2014]

B2B Marketing 2013 Wrap-up: Multichannel, direct mail, social media and more

Online Marketing: 4 sources of customer insight on your website

E-commerce: 10 case studies to help you excel in content marketing, social media and website optimization

Multichannel Marketing: IT company's zombie-themed campaign increases CTO 3% at president, owner level

Email Deliverability: 8 tactics help you overcome rising B2B challenges

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