April 26, 2011
Case Study

Product Migration: Convincing customers to change behavior with a 7-part email campaign

SUMMARY: You cannot hit customers over the head when you want them to change how they conduct business with you. You need to give them plenty of reasons and ample time, or they might change who they're doing business with.

See how this company encouraged reluctant customers to start using upgraded tools with an email campaign that gradually increased in urgency. Adoption rates hit 95 percent by the end of the effort. Check out the email campaign’s metrics.
by Adam T. Sutton, Senior Reporter


Product migration is a tricky task. Any time you retire or replace one product with another, you are bound to have reluctant customers, as the marketers at VerticalResponse discovered.

The email service provider launched three updated email editing tools in March 2010 and wanted customers to start using them. The company planned to shut off the original tools after a large portion of customers made the switch.

"In the beginning we thought it would take six weeks [to achieve nearly total adoption]," says Amber Cleave, Retention Marketing Programs Manager, VerticalResponse. "We decided we would have to lengthen that."

Even six months after the launch, only about 70 percent of VerticalResponse's customers used the newer tools. This was despite the newer versions being clearly superior to the originals’, says Kim Stiglitz, Director, Retention and Conversion Marketing, VerticalResponse.

Since the original tools were about ten years old, VerticalResponse planned to remove them soon. Getting 30 percent of customers to make the switch had become a retention issue. These marketers had to nudge customers to make the switch without upsetting and losing them.


In September, the marketers planned to target a seven-part email campaign to customers who had not made the switch. The campaign further explained the updates and gradually noted that the older tools were being phased out.

Here are the steps the team followed:

Step #1. Start with a company-wide launch

The email campaign would not be the first time most customers had heard about the new email editing tools. The company launched the updated versions in March via:

- In-app messaging

VerticalResponse's engineering department added comments and suggestions about the new tools in customers' dashboards. Customers who logged in were prompted to learn about the new tools and try them.

- Company blogs

VerticalResponse maintains two blogs, one about its products and another about marketing. The company added posts to both blogs describing the new tools and encouraging customers to try them.

- Email newsletter

VR Buzz, the company's email newsletter, also featured articles about the new tools during the March launch.

Step #2. Give them time and gather information

After launch, the marketers realized that customers were not making the switch as fast as they had hoped.

In response, they waited for six months while watching adoption rates. This gave customers time to naturally switch and gave the marketing team time to gather information from customer comments and surveys the engineering team had embedded into the application.

"We also wanted to get some feedback in the early stages," Stiglitz says. "That way we could learn about people's challenges or struggles and what their wins were. [Then] we could use that good information in our email campaigns and send very targeted communications."

Step #3. Segment audience

Stiglitz and Cleave planned to target customers who had not adopted the new editing tools. But creating this list was not simple. They had to work with the company's engineers to identify these customers and add them to a list.

Once they could target non-adopters, the marketers wanted to further segment customers by the editing tools they preferred. VerticalResponse had three different email editors, all of which had new versions. Working with their engineers, the marketers identified each customer's preference.

The three types of editing tools:

o Wizard - themed email creation
o Canvas - custom email creation
o Freeform/Text - upload pre-written HTML or text emails

This enabled the marketers to target non-adopters and customize messages based on their preferences.

Step #4. Launch monthly email campaign

In September, six months after the launch, the new tools' adoption rate hit about 70 percent. The marketers then launched the email campaign.

Since the emails would be sent in addition to VerticalResponse's usual messages, Stiglitz and Cleave planned to send one per month. This would help prevent overwhelming or annoying their customers. Also, any customer who made the switch was not included in later mailings.

The marketers defined a conversion as a customer making a transition to a new editing tool. To monitor conversion rates, the marketers had to check with the company's engineers after sending each email.

Each email had the following features throughout the campaign:

o VerticalResponse's usual banner and colors
o Personal salutation: "Dear FIRSTNAME,"
o References to the editing tool customers preferred
o Multiple links to try the new tool
o Listed benefits of the new tool
o Large button, such as, "Create an Email Now"

The email's links and button brought customers to a login page to sign in to their accounts and try the new editing tools. (See creative samples below to see how each message differed depending on customers' preferences).

Step #5. Look for encouraging signs

Stiglitz and Cleave wanted to monitor how the company's core customers (those who had used the service within the last six months) responded to the campaign. To do so, they also segmented the campaign's data by customers' activity level.

Activity segments were defined by customers who had used VerticalResponse within the following periods:

o 0 to 6 months
o 6 to 12 months
o 12+ months

After sending the first email in September, the results encouraged the marketers to continue.

"The most active people were converting at the highest rate, and that made us really confident that we would be able to switch everyone over in a timely manner, without losing or upsetting our core audience," Cleave says (see results below).

Step #6. Include an incentive

The marketers sent one of the campaign's emails on December 10. Since customers typically used VerticalResponse more often in December, they also sent a December 20 email that included a sweepstakes (see creative samples below).

"We had been messaging these people for a while and the messaging was getting a little stronger around the holidays, and people were sending a lot of emails at that time," Cleave says. "We wanted to provide people with an incentive to actually take action.

The email noted:

"Make the switch by sending an email in the upgraded editors by 12/31/10, and get entered to win free email for a year!"

The email also emphasized how easy it was to use the new tools:

"You can create a new email, or copy an existing one into the upgraded editors, with just one click."

Customers who made the switch were entered into a random drawing for free service.

Step #7. Gradually increase the urgency

The VerticalResponse team did not want to come on too strong and appear as if they were demanding that customers change their behavior. Instead, they gradually increased the campaign's tone.

The campaign's initial emails highlighted benefits of the new tools and urged customers to try them with copy such as:

"We know change can be intimidating, but in this case change is good!"

In December, halfway through the campaign, the emails' urgency increased with copy such as:

"In early 2011, we will turn off all the old editors, so make the switch today."

In February, the marketers provided the March shut-down date for the original tools:

"After 10 months of transition, our original email editors are officially going away (3/3/11)."

As the email copy increased in urgency, the marketers included links to additional information such as tutorials and product demos to help customers make the switch.

Step #8. Make the switch, provide resources

Inevitably, the team had to shut off the original editing tools. The marketers expected a bump in complaints and questions in customer service and social networks in response.

For the switch, they sent a final email in March noting that the original tools would be removed in a matter of days. They also addressed the switch in VerticalResponse's email newsletter. The newsletter pointed subscribers to additional resources such as tutorials, demos and blog posts about the new tools. They hoped these resources would pre-empt customers' questions.

"When we turned them [older editing tools] off, there was not a single negative tweet and very little action to our customer support team," Stiglitz says. "We were in awe. I think it really spoke to the fact that we spent nine months transitioning customers to this new product and tried to do it in a thoughtful way."

The adoption rate increased to 95 percent from about 70 percent during the course of the campaign. While some of the increase can be attributed to VerticalResponse's in-app messaging, most of the change came from the marketers' emails, Stiglitz says.

Results from the campaign's first send on September 29 (segmented by preferred editing tool and last login date):

- Canvas users

o 0 to 6 months: 21.84% open rate, 0.71% 0CTR, 32.0% conversion rate

o 6 to 12 months: 17.18% open rate, 0.70% CTR, 4.6% conversion rate

o 12+ months: 13.30% open rate, 0.52% CTR, 0.95% conversion rate

- Wizard users

o 0 to 6 months: 20.74% open rate, 1.14% CTR, 17.8% conversion rate

o 6 to 12 months: 15.33% open rate, 0.23% CTR, 2.5% conversion rate

o 12+ months: 11.35% open rate, 0.45% CTR, 0.4% conversion rate

- Freeform/text users

o 0 to 12 months: 20.02% open rate, 0.66% CTR, 17.0% conversion rate

o 12+ months: 20.40% open rate, 0.43% CTR, 0% conversion rate

Results from the campaign's Dec. 20 contest send:

- Full list: 14.55% open rate, 1.22% CTR, 9.25% conversion rate.

"The clickthrough and conversions were really high on that one, comparatively, especially for sending it right around Christmas," Stiglitz says.

Useful links related to this article:


1. September email:

a. Wizard
b. Canvas
c. Freeform

2. December sweepstakes email
3. January email
4. February email

Email Subject Lines: Longer subject increases opens 8.2%

Email Copy: Half the words, 16% higher clickthrough rate

Members Library -- First Look at "Flip the Funnel" -- Joseph Jaffe's 5 Retention-Centric Strategies to Lift Sales

6 Steps: Grow Customer Loyalty, Get 93% Recommendation Rate

VerticalResponse’s Marketing Blog

VerticalResponse’s Product Blog


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