November 13, 2013
Case Study

Marketing Automation: Implementation drives $550,000 in net new revenue at Crain's

SUMMARY: Print media has been a tough business, even for respected trade names. Those challenges were hitting home at Crain's Business Insurance, a business insurance trade publication. At the same time, there was also an opportunity with the growing importance of content marketing.

We often write case studies and how-to instructions on the topic of marketing automation. This case study covers how Crain's implemented automation for the first time, and goes into detail through the entire process from vendor selection to lead scoring.

Read on to find out what the team did, and see the impressive results across a number of metrics.
by David Kirkpatrick, Senior Reporter


Crain's Business Insurance, a trade publication, faced a two-part marketing challenge. On one hand, there was a pain point publications of all types began facing with reduced ad revenue and some publications even ceasing to publish. On the other hand, there was a marketing opportunity when industry-wide customers began to shift buying behavior to up-front research and seeking that material online.

Steve Susina, Director of Demand Generation Services, Crain Communications with Crain's Business Insurance publication, added that the economic slowdown in the late 2000s also began forcing marketers to justify budgets, making digital and inbound marketing more attractive than traditional print advertising.

Trends at the company pointed to declining revenue in Crain's traditional advertising revenue streams, particularly in print. At the same time, digital content marketing and demand generation was on the rise.

To revamp marketing at Crain's Business Insurance and drive revenue growth, the team first examined and implemented marketing automation, and over the last year, saw increases in essentially every key performance indicator.

This case study looks at the steps Susina and his team undertook to achieve the automation implementation and covers the impressive results this effort created.


Susina said survey after survey revealed that Crain's core customers — industry advertisers and marketers — felt they didn't have enough content on their own websites, which limits their ability to run effective lead scoring and nurturing programs on their own.

"The biggest challenge [our core customers] are facing is that they themselves can't create enough content to engage their customers,” Susina explained. "What we bring to [our core customers] as a media player is that we're already engaged with those same people, just at a little different level."

He continued, "And, we have the staff in place that is, every week, creating content for those people."

This large database of engaged readers led to an understanding that marketing automation would be a way to leverage that rich data and behavior of its readers to provide opportunities and services for Crain's core customers.

Susina added that marketing automation allowed the team to make use of elements such as:
  • Lead scoring

  • Tracking multiple personas

  • Personalizing marketing programs to the individual level

Those elements then allowed the team to leverage those capabilities as sellable services to its core customers — advertisers and marketers in the industry.

Although the core customers are industry advertisers and marketers, Susina explained Crain's actually defines four tiers of customers:
  1. Those who place ads, buy lead generation or lead nurturing programs, events or other services.

  2. Paid subscribers who have full access to Crain's online content.

  3. Registered users who have filled out a form for tiered access to the website — 10 articles per week.

  4. Readers who come to the site occasionally, but haven't registered and have access to one article per week, plus summaries.

Step #1. Select the marketing automation vendor

Susina said the vendor had been selected by the time he joined the team after having previously deploying automation at another company.

The vendor selection process balanced cost and performance with a few specific concerns.

"The showstopper was being able to develop this multi-tiered scoring model where we could build different customer personas and manage scores for each type," Susina said.

Step #2. Integrate the databases

The early stages of actually implementing automation involved identifying templates, identifying code that needed to be applied, and making sure the software was tied into the website.

Susina described the biggest challenge was mapping three different databases:
  • Print subscriber contact information

  • Online registrants

  • Marketing automation software database

"We wanted to make sure that information was flowing so when somebody was a new subscriber, the information made it into our marketing automation database, or if they registered online to read articles on the website, that information flowed," he explained. "Then, we could use [the automation software] — as we generated new names there — to push that information back into those other systems."

Part of that challenge was creating consistent field records across all three databases. With the integrated system, customers only have to register once either through a print subscription or online form and the information flows throughout the entire internal system.

For example, if someone changes their address, the new address appears across all three databases.

Step #3. Help educate the IT department

As the implementation process began, the IT department did not really know what marketing automation software was, so Susina said there was a series of informal educational conversations about why this software was being added to the technology solution and how it was going to positively impact Crain's business.

Susina said he felt like he was able to alleviate some of the IT concerns because he had a background working for an IT systems integration company and did marketing in that environment. Because of that background, he understood some of the concerns of the IT department.

Even before implementing the marketing automation system, Susina knew Crain's already had a complex database in place for managing print subscriptions, handling credit card payments, validating addresses and ensuring delivery. The process was complex, stand-alone and had been managed and optimized over time.

Bringing in marketing automation meant adding another database to the enterprise, a database that Susina wanted to integrate with the complex stand-alone database, and also the separate database that gated access to Crain's website.

Another system the marketing automation software needed to connect with was the content management system to be able to track the workflow of content creation and publication within the marketing automation system.

His IT background allowed him to understand where he wanted the marketing automation system to fit within the overall database and technology structure at Crain's rather than simply plopping a major software system on IT's lap and expecting that unit to handle the entire implementation and integration process alone.

Step #4. Integrate the content creation process into automation

Because Crain's is a publication, content creation was key to its business and marketing. The company has reporters with more than 300 years of combined writing and editorial experience.

The company had already begun a process of customer segmentation by the editorial group prior to implementing marketing automation, but that process became even more formalized after implementation.

Reported news was aligned to six categories relevant to the insurance industry:
  • Benefits

  • Management

  • Brokers and insurers

  • Market executives

  • Managers

  • Workers' compensation

From there, the content management system was used to code in sub-categories.

"For example," Susina explained, "a particular article was a risk management article, but specifically within risk was a cyber risk or construction risk or weather-related topic. And, it was one of those group collaborations between our IT staff, the editorial staff and our marketing automation team to figure out a way that we would be able to capture the user behavior when they read that information online, but also make sure that those articles were identified when they were being written."

He continued, "We've segmented our readership one way. We're segmenting the content we create to align with those readers and we're creating articles in a way that allows us to identify who they're being written for upfront as they're being written."

The main benefit of this editorial segmentation was Marketing's ability to learn what type of information those specific readers would be looking for from Crain's advertisers.

Step #5. Implement lead scoring

The team tracked what articles were being read, but also kept track of who was consuming that content with scoring rules that separate out behavior and demographic information. The key to the system was meeting the specific goals — such as reaching a particular job title — for each advertiser.

Susina said each advertiser looked for a different type of readership.

He explained:
What we tried to do in the lead scoring was make sure it was flexible enough so that we could create almost a unique approach for each advertiser as they came in.

So, we could ask them [to] give us the background. What would someone that would be a good fit, an ideal customer, look like from a job title, from a job role, from a purchase influence? [This was] collected from our subscription forms and registration forms.

Then, let's map that to how engaged they are with relevant content so when we do a program for a customer, that will have the contextual relevance of somebody who is interested in a construction risk service, we can map that against certain people who download that white paper or register for that webinar, have been highly engaged with our construction risk content, and others have not been engaged at all.

And, we provide that with the lead program so that it's not just a list of names that downloaded a white paper. It's a list of names that have been sorted based on how engaged those people are with related content and then filtered again based on traditional demographics so that account executives and marketing managers rate low and operations people would rate more highly.

Step #6. Drive online content revenue with marketing automation

Susina said automation allowed the team to offer other services to their customers — advertisers.

Marketing automation allowed the team to utilize a traditional content syndication model to provide lead generation for its customers.

"The attractiveness of this approach is that the customer gains insight based on what our readers — those who register for the syndicated content — are reading online, which is reflected in the lead score," Susina explained.

He added, "There are lots of potential suppliers for different sources of content syndication, but they have always relied on the advertiser accepting that the [syndicate's] audience is homogeneous. We can offer insights into the audience that go deeper by measuring and monitoring behavior."

Another is for Crain's to run an educational webinar with different levels of customer involvement:
  • The customer provides a thought leader, Crain's solicits its audience for attendees, and the content and delivery function is handed over to the customer.

  • Crain's produces the webinar and the customer is purely the sponsor with no control over content.

  • At the high-end, Crain's implements a full end-to-end demand generation and lead nurturing program that leverages a webinar as a top-of-the-funnel lead generation activity.

Step #7. Allow marketing automation to influence marketing strategy

Susina said Crain's was using marketing automation in three ways:
  • As an engine to drive a new series of revenue-generating services

  • Nurturing for advertising customers

  • Drive subscription sales for Business Insurance

Building the database list was important at Crain's, and automation made that goal even more important.

Susina described a few ways Crain's engaged in list building:
We have a lot of names that come in through things like trade show exchanges. So, we go to a trade show, we get the attendees list, and not all of those names are registered to use the site.

As a B2B information provider, we'll give a small amount of information away completely unrestricted [on the website]. So, if you come to, there's some information, you can read one article a day without registering. You can see certain articles, certain information without registering.

But, if you start to look like you're engaging in more than one article, we're going to ask for some limited amount of information, and it could be as small as just an email address or it could be filling out a complete background and signing up for newsletters. But, all of that information is being collected in our marketing automation database.

We have a large number of email addresses that we have in-house. We have a smaller number of registered online users, and then the smallest is the actual print database. We have a combination model of both paid and controlled, so some of our readers are paying us an annual subscription fee for complete site access, others are controlled subscribers. It's a hybrid model.

Step #8. Understand automation is not a stand-alone process

"We're actually cross-training the functional owners on how to use the tool in their day-to-day jobs," Susina said.

By that, he meant the person who:
  • Runs the audience development subscription program

  • Runs marketing for promotions to advertising customers

Also, they know how to use marketing automation.

Susina added, "We've cross-trained staff so everybody knows how to leverage this database and leverage this tool."


Before looking into Susina's takeaways from this effort, here are some of the metrics produced by the team after implementing automation:
  • Nearly $550,000 in brand-new advertising revenue for demand generation services

  • 43% increase in registered online newsletter subscribers

  • 2% increase in paid print subscribers

  • Conversion rate of 2.6% from anonymous website visitors (more than 3,900 per day)

In addition, of the high-end efforts from Step #6, Crain's customer paid the company $50,000 for an end-to-end program. That program brought the customer 1,180 top-of-the-funnel leads, 102 marketing qualified leads, 25 sales-accepted leads and one sale to date valued at $2 million.

Here is Susina's main takeaway of this entire effort:
It's thinking holistically about how a marketing automation program fits into the overall marketing approach.

[This] isn't a tool to enable a batch-and-blast or drip marketing, it's really thinking about how we want to communicate with the customers and whether those customers are our advertisers and whether it’s our advertising something for each of our readers.

Coming up with what we really want to communicate, and then how do we use the tool to help achieve that.

It's been said that if you don't have a well-thought-out marketing approach to begin with, marketing automation just helps you use a poor approach faster. So, thinking about the process external to the tool and optimizing that first, and that drives into cross-training people so that they understand their role.

He also said marketing automation has changed the team's processes in a number of ways, including:
  • Automatically targeting subscription offers based on readership online, rather than manually creating targets lists based on company, job title or function.

  • Having more flexible email subscription management — from one opt-out of everything to separate lists for webinars, events, alerts, white papers, etc.

  • Having better insights into what the online audience actually engages with.

  • Leveraging analytics inherent in marketing automation for A/B testing — adjusting subject lines, email elements, etc.

  • The use of progressive profiling rather than the old 28-field form.


Crain Communications

MarketoCrain's Business Insurance marketing automation vendor

Related Resources

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Marketing Automation: 25% more engagement, 0% unsubscribe in 4-email series

Marketing Automation: SMB implementation improves lead generation 300%, reduces cost-per-acquisition 50%

B2B Marketing: 7 tactics for implementing marketing automation from a fellow brand-side marketer

Marketing Automation Vendor Selection: B2B marketer reduces unqualified leads 341%

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