April 29, 2005
Case Study

How GE Healthcare Gets Email Clickthrough Rates of 7%-10% (Includes Beautiful Creative Samples)

SUMMARY: Even if you have absolutely nothing to do with healthcare, take a moment to click to the creative samples from this Case Study. You'll probably want to make copies of the clean, compelling layout for your swipe file. GE's email team prove that campaigns for highly technical products and services can be just as clickable as anything a consumer marketer puts out. A must-read for every B-to-B marketer hoping to take their email program up a notch.
CHALLENGE If you're marketing the latest hot videogame, it's probably pretty easy to come up with exciting email creative that gets clicks.

But Keene Benson, eMarketing Specialist GE Healthcare, had to market technical instruments and chemical reagents to research scientists. It's subject matter that perhaps only another research scientist could love. Which is why most product managers and marketers at GE Healthcare had research science backgrounds and often PhDs.

Benson didn't.

Plus, the division's past email campaigns had such lackluster results that the team only bothered sending one campaign a month. Email marketing was not high-priority. In fact, it was pretty much in the basement.

Benson yearned to prove email could generate new sales leads, warm up prospects in the middle of the sales cycle, and even make direct sales. And that, yes, even highly technical B-to-B email campaigns can be compelling and glamorous.

He had basically no budget, but boundless enthusiasm.

CAMPAIGN Benson concentrated on five specific tactics to make the program a success:

Tactic #1. Readable copy that's interesting to prospects

Most B-to-B copywriters confronted with scary-technical products do either of two things:

a. Type up whatever the product manager says, with endless sentences featuring five-syllable words and tech specs.

b. Pack copy with buzzwords, braggadocio, and hyperbole to mask the fact that they don't know what they're talking about.

Instead, Benson took the middle road. "I interview the marketing manager and say, 'OK I'm 12 years old, explain this to me so I can understand it.' Of course there are often many technical things they want to put in. I say, 'OK, that's good. Now why does the customer want to know about that specific bit of scientific info? What's the benefit of that?'"

"They love to rattle off the specs of different instruments. I keep pushing them, 'What does that do? Does it save time? Waste less? Produce more scientific results?'"

"They know the science inside and out, but I know with the email I only have 10-15 seconds to get someone to go to that next step and click to the next page."

The resulting copy (link to samples below) is written in a calm, factual, and positive tone, using seven specific best practices:

a. Contains fewer than 200 words including headline and offer

b. Always includes the word "you"

c. Features short sentences, perhaps 10 words long

d. Has paragraphs that are usually only 1-2 sentences long

e. States a benefit for every feature

f. Uses specific technical terms ("gel filtration chromatography column") instead of empty hype

g. Focuses exclusively on a single topic to the exclusion of anything else, such as general info on GE or other goods and services the company also offers

Tactic #2. Refreshingly clean design

Benson created a set of six design rules that would serve as a template for all emails.

a. Extra-large, easy-to-read typeface for headline, body, and click link copy (no Verdana 8.5 that's so unfortunately common in B-to-B).

b. Several click links, including one in the text and one near the top of the message. If the message was long enough to require scrolling, Benson would put another link near the bottom as well.

c. A GE logo symbol in the same place and size on every message to enhance branding.

d. Whenever possible, a scientific image near the top of the email. Instead of generic clip art, Benson might illustrate the message with a colorful schematic of ions doing whatever it is that ions do.

e. Whenever possible an actual photo of the offer -- whether it be a tote bag, or a plastic pipette holding some hightech PCR beads.

f. Generous white space instead of boxes, borders, or other lines around the content.

Tactic #3. Constantly qualifying and segmenting the list

When prospects first opted-in to join GE Healthcare's list, the sign-up form featured quick contact basics, plus two more questions. (Link to screenshot below.)

The first question, "Areas of interest," listed 41 niche topics in two columns, from 2D electrophoresis to Spectrophotometry. The second asked "Which complimentary mailings do you wish to receive?" and offered six options (none prechecked) ranging from a catalog to the Nucleotide Shipping Schedule.

You can imagine that any scientist signing up would be reassured by these detailed questions and assume (rightly) that GE Healthcare would only send him or her info of specific interest.

Next, Benson used an online survey tool to quickly and easily set up custom landing pages for most emails (except for direct purchase offers from the ecommerce site).

"When I first came here, surveys were 30 questions long. I said we can't do that. The first campaign cut the questions down to 15. The most responses they'd ever had was about 40 and that campaign had 900 surveys completed. It actually crippled our database department at the time."

With that success under his belt, Benson was able to convince marketing to let him shorten surveys even further to seven or so questions. To keep responses high, he also often featured a giveaway, such as a free tote bag or samples. However, he decided against higher-value sweeps offers because it wasn't worth the trouble to deal with potential legal issues.

Once results came in, Benson would coordinate with the in-house telemarketing department to further qualify the iffy leads. Example: if a scientist asked for a sample of something but his or her profile indicated it wasn't a likely match, telemarketing could call up and ask what was up.

Tactic #4. Pushing on despite squawks from other departments

Naturally, Benson wanted to merge these survey results with the CRM system and then tie CRM back out to the email database. "I kept asking IT and they said 'No it can't happen.' I kept asking and asking anyway until someone said 'Oh yeah, we can do this.'"

"It only happened because we had so much success with campaigns and we kept on running them. We didn't stop just because we had no back end. We figured if we kept running campaigns someone would realize they had to put money into this and fix it. Now we have a whole automated system."

He had a similar outcome with the telemarketing department who at first complained when a successful campaign dumped too many leads in their laps to handle. Benson's reaction was to keep the leads flowing unremittingly until sales realized they had to gear up for the new reality.

Tactic #5. Aggressively testing list rentals

As news of email success began to spread through the organization, Benson was flooded with requests to send more campaigns. "We constantly get pushed by marketing to overuse the database and send too frequently." He worried that too much email sent to the same names would kill the golden goose.

So with marketing's cooperation, he created a series of rules:

a. Each name could get only one email per week max.

b. Marketers would have to duke out who won the right to send to a name that had multiple-possible mailings. Benson stayed out of the battles and served as a service bureau (an in-house email agency) rather than a decision maker.

c. Rental files were run against a house suppression-file prior to mailings so no prospect got extra campaigns by mistake.

Benson rented only highly-targeted lists, such as technical magazine and journal subscribers, as well as related trade show lists. He notes that although trade shows used to turn him down, many are now opening the doors for opt-in list rentals.

RESULTS "When I came into my role in mid-2003 we were only sending an average of one email per month with little call to action. This past year we sent an average of 11 emails per month (using our house and third-party lists) and produced the most leads, 34%, of any marketing channel with a 16% share of revenue by channel," says Benson proudly. He adds, "I have had a number of highly successful campaigns greatly exceeding our targets and with a CTR in the 7%-10% range."

Best of all, Benson's been able to expand his budget to hire another email staffer.

Our favorite campaign of his so far? A customer wish list sweeps where customers had the chance to enter their names to win a free lab instrument. Best part -- customers had to click on drop-down box lists of all GE's offerings to pick their top three wishes of the instruments they hoped to win.

Results proved to be fabulous market research and helpful to sales reps.

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/ge-healthcare/study.html

SurveyMonkey - the online surveying tool GE Healthcare uses to collect all email responses requiring more questions answered: http://www.surveymonkey.com

GE Healthcare - the division Benson works for: http://www.amershambiosciences.com

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