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Jul 26, 2001
Case Study

VersusLaw Gains Paid Online Subscribers with Low-Cost Guerrilla Marketing Tactics

SUMMARY: If you market to lawyers, other small business people, or you specialize in subscription marketing, this is the Case Study for you. Tim Jones, VersusLaw Marketing Manager, has to acquire new subscribers on a very small budget. The online service, which is the world's largest Web-based provider of searchable caselaw, only costs $6.95 per month for subscriptions, so profit margins are tight. Learn how Jones used a combination of email newsletter marketing and a low-cost/high-impact direct mail campaign to grow his online sales.

Tim Jones, VersusLaw Marketing Manager, has to acquire new subscribers on a very tight budget. The online service, which is the world's largest Web-based provider of searchable caselaw, only costs $6.95 per month for subscriptions, so profit margins are tight.

Luckily, most of VersusLaw's competitors cost literally thousands of dollars. So, the company gets quite a bit of business simply through viral "I can't believe it's this cheap" word-of-mouth, especially among smaller law firms and independent practitioners.

Jones' mission for 2001 was to grow the subscriber base more aggressively than word of mouth could alone.


VersusLaw was also publishing an add-on $10 per month email newsletter called "AdvanceLinks" which gave subscribers hotlinks to newly released court opinions on the VersusLaw site. The product hadn't been getting much marketing attention, and as a result subscriptions were lagging. In fact the Company was considering folding it in January 2001. Then Jones had a brainwave: why not turn AdvanceLinks into a completely free opt-in product and use it to extend the word about VersusLaw's paid products?

First in January he emailed all paid subscribers a note letting them know AdvanceLinks would be free from now on, and asking them to spread the word to all their colleagues. Jones also piggybacked an offer on VersusLaw's February 2001 subscriber survey. Everyone who filled out the online survey then saw a thank-you page with a very prominent free offer for AdvanceLinks.

Next on Wednesday May 9th, Jones issued a formal press release on BusinessWire, which, as all BusinessWire and PR Newswire press releases are, was automatically carried on hundreds of online news sites including Yahoo news. The headline read, "Free Weekly Case Law Updates Delivered Via Email by VersusLaw"

And on May 18th, VersusLaw removed all banners from its home page. Banner profits had been dropping (as they have been for almost all sites), so the Company decided its "above the fold" real estate would be put to more profitable use in promoting its own products, including the free AdvanceLinks opt-in service.

Aside from the AdvanceLinks project, Jones also launched a low-cost direct marketing campaign for VersusLaw in January by negotiating a special deal with a leading legal association, the NACDL. The NACDL agreed to (postal) mail a letter on association letterhead, in an envelope featuring the association's logo, to all members recommending they take a free trial of the VersusLaw service. NACDL thought highly enough of VersusLaw's service that the association picked up all paper, printing and lettershop costs. VersusLaw only paid for postage. (Nice deal if you can get it!)

The letter directed NACDL members to a special Web page to sign up for their free month's trial. With permission, Jones added NACDL's logo to the top of the page, along with VersusLaw's, "so they knew they were where they were supposed to be." Jones also restricted the number of fields on the registration form to just name and email address. He explains, "We didn't want to lose the chance to show them our service. When I go to a site and they ask tons of questions, I don't want to fill it out."

In order to convert trials to paid subscriptions, Jones sent all trials one email notice near the end of their term and a second emailed offer after their trial ended.


VersusLaw's paid subscriptions grew substantially in the first two quarters of 2001, despite the economy.

Much of this growth was fueled by new subscribers to the free AdvanceLinks newsletter, who click through to the site to see new court opinions on a regular basis -- and of course while they are there, they're also served offers for the paid service. Jones can prove he's reaching a new audience with the free service, because now almost 50% of AdvanceLinks opt-ins are not VersusLaw subscribers.

The NACDL campaign was outstandingly successful. Approximately 10% of NACDL members signed onto the special Web page to get their free trial. (For those of you without direct postal mail experience, this is about double the rate one might expect from a successful B-to-B soft offer.) Then a full 17% of free trials converted to paying subscriptions!

BTW: Jones asked us to note that he's not the original Tim Jones who worked at VersusLaw a few years ago. Although they share a name they are different people. So, if you contact him as a result of this article, he won't be the same old Tim after all.
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