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Apr 26, 2007
Case Study

How Cisco Doubled Email Registration Conversions by Offering Fewer Sign-up Choices

SUMMARY: 83% of business professionals want more control of what newsletter content they get, while 74.5% want more control over frequency, according to MarketingSherpa data.

That’s why you have to see how Cisco Systems more than doubled registration-page conversions by largely doing the opposite -- slashing the number of choices and limiting details about a newsletter program. Plus, how they used video to turn dry product fact sheets in an enjoyable experience.
Last year, Brian Ellefritz, Sr. Manager Customer Relationship Marketing, Cisco Systems, was determined to solve the problem of what he calls the “90-day honeymoon” for one of his company’s monthly customer newsletter programs, BizWise/TechWise.

“Even if they see value in it, the newsletter in their minds eventually tails off into the category of, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ll look at that later,’ ” he says. “And you see your open, clickthrough and response rates worsen over time.”

To bring a consistently higher level of interest in the program, Ellefritz and his team wanted to give their combined 50,000 subscribers content that was both more targeted *and* enjoyable -- two different things in this case.

But the first act in making the program stronger dealt with attracting more people to sign up. Here are the four steps they took:

-> Step #1. Update the registration page

Ellefritz decided that the registration page needed a change in attitude. He scrapped their typical check-box process of presenting the choice of opting into various areas of interest. Instead, they offered a simpler proposition:

o Join the “Innovators Program” and get only the monthly newsletter alone
o Opt to receive the newsletter, as well as webcasts, access to video-on-demand and special offers/promos

“We don’t go into a laundry list of what special offers and content entail. We simply leave it just like that,” Ellefritz says. “We emphasized the idea that they were joining a program rather signing up for another newsletter.”

-> Step #2. Video and multimedia datasheets

Like much of the marketing world, Ellefritz and his team have been smitten with online video and multimedia. For the past two years, one video per newsletter was standard, while they added a podcast whenever they could get their hands on some quality content.

“We began wondering what other experiences could be enriched by video,” he says. “We started looking at our datasheets, which, of course, entail all of the technical facts on a product and are boring as hell and very dry to read. We thought that putting a face to those instructions could make them more enjoyable.”

So last October, Ellefritz started using Cisco’s product managers as instructors for an ongoing video datasheets series. They tested the 5-minute videos vs the two- to three-page documents to see if the former would catch on. The videos and documents were hyperlinked in the campaigns.

-> Step #3. Customize newsletters for smaller groups

Instead of large blasts to the whole file, Ellefritz and his team deepened their segments to more particular areas of interest with smaller groups. “But the question is: how do you scale to relevance? That’s one thing we had to come to a conclusion about.”

Ellefritz would have liked to target individuals with specific newsletter content in an Amazon-like upsell sense, but neither Cisco nor most of the B-to-B marketplace has reached that level of sophistication. Yet, his team implemented a system that tracked subscriber clicks in 75-day windows and then created numerous segments of 200-300 recipients. The segments evolved month-to-month, depending on viewer behavior.

Groups were split into areas of shown interest, including:
o Security issues
o Internet telephone equipment
o Router switches

Other content was wrapped around the main article or offer to give the viewer a full range of activities.

Finally, premium content or promotional offers that mapped to the reader’s implicit care abouts were sent to these segments. The newsletter content also corresponded with direct mail and sales campaigns being carried out by field reps. “From the customers’ perspective, it feels like Cisco is telling a seamless story,” Ellefritz says.

-> Step #4. Surveys on the back end

Because there wasn’t much A/B testing in their major initiatives, Ellefritz used post-alterations surveys to measure customer satisfaction.

“Before we made the changes, we believed that there were people who might not know they were getting the newsletter,” he says. “We wanted to know as much as possible if they were starting to feel a rhythm and cadence to it.”


The updated registration page and the behavior-specific segmentation are working just like Ellefritz hoped. For instance, in a prospect campaign offering a free report to SMBs, 3.5% had been Cisco’s historical response rate (which is already in the top 25% of B-to-B acquisition marketing efforts according to MarketingSherpa research). When the same offer is sent to readers based on their tracked behavior, the clickthrough-to-offer jumps to 31%.

“Across the board, we’re not that interested in open rates because they don’t tell us about viewer interests,” he says. “If a viewer clicks on a security-themed webcast and a white paper on security, that person would likely be receptive to a security offer. And we haven’t received a single complaint pertaining to the idea of being intrusive.”

In terms of the registration page by itself, 76% of new members elect to receive marketing content in addition to BizWise/TechWise. Opt-in rates for this revamped newsletter program compared to traditional acquisition offers have jumped from 2.6% to 5.3%.

“The presentation of a program vs a newsletter -- practically all by itself -- has more than doubled the response,” Ellefritz says. “The idea of joining a program is outperforming the situation where they have to check or not check a series of boxes.”

They also found that 51% of those receiving the entire Innovators Program breadth of offers were extremely happy vs 35% who expressed the same sentiment about getting the newsletter by itself.

In the few months that the data sheet testing has taken place, the video files account for 21% of the total data sheet downloads. The average viewer watches at least half (2.5 minutes) of the presentation, which Ellefritz calls “the type of engagement we were looking to accomplish.”

Also, the HTML datasheets are often bookmarked by Cisco visitors, who tend to have regimented viewing experiences, so many of them still have no idea that the videos even exist. “I think the popularity of the video is best showcased by the fact that we have shot at least five more of them in the last week,” he says. “One thing about them that I’d advise other marketers is that they do not have to be polished. It’s more about what they say than what they look like.”

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from Cisco Systems’ BizWise and TechWise newsletters:

Ogilvy & Mather - aided with strategy and ongoing production:

Cisco Systems:

See Also:

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