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Aug 22, 2000
Case Study

How MarketingSherpa Grew from a List of 1,000 Friends to 90,000 Weekly Readers

SUMMARY: Although MarketingSherpa may now have a big name, we've never had a big marketing budget.When a reader wrote in to ask, "How did you grow your circulation?" we shared the details in this Case Study. If you are trying to grow an opt-in list for your company, you might want to check our story out for stealable ideas.
Last week a subscriber emailed us asking, "What are the tactics that helped you grow your online circulation?" Everyone is looking for good ideas to grow their opt-in lists these days, so we thought you might like to know how we did it.


MarketingSherpa, a start-up online B-to-B publisher with a teensy marketing budget needed to grow a serious-enough circulation to attract major advertisers. The Company's target market -- professionals in the Internet marketing and advertising industry with big marketing budgets -- was a tough nut to crack, both because there were several well-entrenched competitors and because this target market "gets way too much email already!" Publisher & Managing Editor Anne Holland filled us in on the details.


"First we started with our personal contacts. We sent personal emails to almost 1,000 industry players either I or someone on my team knew. We asked them to forward the message to their friends and a lot of them did, which made a huge difference in our initial circulation. For example, my one pal at iVillage got a bunch of other iVillage marketers to sign up for our very first issue."

Every issue of MarketingSherpa's newsletters also carries a line at the very top urging recipients to "forward this issue to friends -- without cutting!" The URL for free subscriptions is also clearly noted at both the top and bottom of issues.

Next each of MarketingSherpa's far-flung staff, in Washington DC, New York and London, were required to attend at least two industry events a month to spread the word in person. "If you meet someone at an event," Holland explains, "and they think you're cool, then they will pay attention to your follow-up email the next day and even forward it to all their friends. So we got subscriptions from a lot of busy marketers who normally don't reply to email marketing."

The Company also began partnerships with, and Desktop News to distribute its hotlinked headlines across the Web. "Whenever one of our hotlinked headlines is carried by another major ezine or site, we see a greater jump in circulation than we do with regular online advertising."

Last but not least, MarketingSherpa's site was specifically developed with subscription generation and viral marketing in mind. "Every single page has a subscription box in the upper left corner," says Holland, "and you can forward every single story to friends.

Holland also notes that editorial positioning contributed to the publications' success. "We did a lot of research before launching to find out exactly what our target market really wanted that they weren't already getting from the dozens of other emarketing-related publications around. They told us that they didn't want any more news or columnists. They just wanted to know what was working for their peers. That single idea drives every single issue we do."


Just four months after launching, the network of sites now boasts a weekly readership in excess of 20,000 including marketers from IBM, the,, Ogilvy, Proctor & Gamble and MediaMetrix. MarketingSherpa was named "Site of the Week" by The Economist's eBusinessForum in July.

[9/12/01 NOTE: Since this Case Study was originally published in August 2000, MarketingSherpa's circulation has more than quadrupled to 90,000 weekly readers, although the Company has not spent any additional funds on marketing. The tactics described above have been largely responsible, along with a search engine optimization and positioning campaign.]
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