August 26, 2014
Case Study

Email Marketing: 400% webinar attendance increase for B2B company through relevance and A/B testing

SUMMARY: Struggling with client education and lagging registration and attendance for its monthly webinars, International SOS committed to a multi-year effort to improve its webinar registration email series.

Through consistent A/B testing and a renewed focus on relevance for clients, the marketing team was able to increase webinar attendance 400% from 2011 to 2014, and increase registration 352%.
by Courtney Eckerle, Manager of Editorial Content


"Part of International SOS' marketing function focuses on promoting the utilization of our services via traveler and expatriate education. This is essential for client retention," said Nadia Karasawa, Assistant Marketing Manager, International SOS.

International SOS provides medical and travel security risk services to multinational corporations, governments and NGOs to help them meet their Duty of Care obligations, a legal precedence requiring employers to ensure that all reasonably practical measures have been taken to control risks for employees.

The company also promotes annual memberships, which offers access to medical and security assistance services for overseas travelers and expatriates.

While there's no extra fee to utilize the majority of the services included in the membership, Karasawa explained the struggle is mostly in client education.

"Unless their employees actually know what [the services] are and do use them, it becomes harder to show clients the value of their membership," she said.

Also, Karasawa said that while the team found that many clients did an excellent job at educating their traveling population when they first rolled out their International SOS membership, "which led to a peak in utilization in the first few months, [it was] followed by a continuous decline," she said.


The continuous decline in International SOS membership utilization and education was happening for a few different reasons, Karasawa said, listing:
  • Loss of momentum

  • Regular travelers becoming complacent

  • New staff joining client organization

"We felt that our clients needed continuous support with traveler education in order to meet their Duty of Care obligations," she said.

To help with these issues, International SOS has been hosting monthly traveler education webinars since 2009 with the intention of educating traveling clients on the services available to them through their International SOS membership. Also, these webinars were intended to increase service utilization and ultimately, client retention.

When Karasawa joined International SOS in October 2011, the team had been tasked with looking at the email and campaign analytics and implementing incremental changes for improved performance.

"So it wasn't about doing more, but doing what we were doing better," she said.

Step #1. Assess email segmentation, content focus and calls-to-action

"The first round of changes were quite simple really, and focused mainly on the email invite," Karasawa said.

The message in 2011 was fairly untargeted, she explained, addressing both client contacts and travelers at the same time, and International SOS couldn't segment its database at the time.

"The exact same email was sent to the exact same people every month, making it look like we were inviting them to the same event every time," she said.

So for the 2012 send, the team changed the message to clearly address the client (not the traveler), and because they were unable to segment, an introductory paragraph was added asking the client to forward the invitation to their travelers.

The paragraph was signed from "International SOS Account Management Team," and read:
Dear [name],

To keep your colleagues healthy and safe overseas, please forward the below invitation to new employees, expats and regular travelers who may need a refresher. This webinar provides a simple overview of how to get the most from your International SOS membership.

For further information and resources, please go to our Membership Toolkit website where you can find articles and useful tools to download. If you need additional help educating your colleagues about the services and information available through your membership, please contact us.

They also changed the subject line and the webinar title to have a "'what's in it for you' focus rather than 'come and hear about International SOS,'" she said.

The previous 2011 subject line read: "WEBINAR BRIEFING: How to use our International SOS Membership [webinar date]."

The updated subject line in 2012 moved the webinar date to the front of the copy, reading, "Webinar next week: International SOS Membership: what this means for you."

Another issue with the 2011 message, according to Karasawa, was that it was unclear about the date of the webinar, which could have affected the number of attendees they were generating. The previous email text said only "Last Monday of Every Month."

The team put the specific date on the new send, as well as inserting a sense of urgency by saying, "webinar next week."

Karasawa said the team felt that there hadn't been a compelling reason to attend the webinar in the email copy, so also added were bullet points with key takeaways attendees could expect, and the benefits of attending, as well as a client testimonial.

"But mostly, it was about removing things from the email invite. We made it a lot simpler and focused on one call-to-action — register — which was repeated three times," she said.

Previously, she added, the webinar send had calls-to-action to register for all 11 webinars available in a year.

Step #2. Focus on personalization and automation

"The second round of changes in 2013 was mainly driven due to the implementation of a marketing automation tool integrated with our CRM," Karasawa said.

At this point, she explained, the team determined that after the webinar had occurred, the details of all registrants and attendees should sync over to International SOS' CRM (customer relationship management) system, so the account management team had visibility over the level of engagement for their clients.

"The quality of the database improved considerably as we no longer had to import and export Excel lists every month," she said.

This change allowed the team to include personalized information in the send, such as the 2013 email coming from the email address of the client's account manager, as well as having the introductory paragraph signed by the account manager.

Self-segmentation for greater relevance

Also, the team added a self-segmentation field to the registration form, asking attendees to identify themselves as:
  • Membership users (Travelers or expatriates)

  • Buyers or managers

By identifying these attendees, the team could start excluding travelers and expatriates from the send list, to keep the invite send focused directly to buyers and managers.

Travelers and expatriates were automatically signed up for the nine-month "Platinum" email series, which was 12 emails sent every three weeks. The emails were specifically targeted at this group "with the aim to keep the services available to them through their International SOS membership top-of-mind," Karasawa said.

The first Platinum series email, for example, had the subject line, "Lost Passport. Stomach bug. Weird delays. Weird rash."

The content was focused on serving that particular group, reiterating the subject line's message, stating, "People call us for a variety of reasons. It doesn't need to be an emergency. Your membership allows you to call as often as you need. And there's no extra cost — to you or your organization — to get a general travel, medical or security advice."

It also featured links to the webinar, to download the assistance app, browse member portals and call the assistance center.

Developing webinar content

In October 2013, the team launched a new webinar format that was "more engaging and interactive, with better use of polling tools and the chat panel to provide a more personalized experience," Karasawa said.

The team increased relevancy with the structure of the webinars, which was now
  • Why should I care?

  • How will this improve my life?

  • What must I do?

The webinar also featured more slides, and utilized video to strengthen the emotional connection for attendees. The polling tool increased engagement by asking where the attendee was traveling next.

By obtaining this information, the host of the webinar would use the poll information to give tips directly to attendees.

"Our host would say, 'So, Paul, remember to sign up for email alerts before you head off to Brazil,' 'Melanie make sure to check out the Hong Kong information in our assistance app,' 'Lisa, make sure you call our assistance center for a free travel brief before you go to Papua New Guinea,'" Karasawa said.

Through these changes to the webinar content, which were "somewhat simple, we saw the number of on-demand attendees nearly triple since then."

Step #3. Testing every element

"Everything has been A/B tested," Karasawa said about the changes made to the emails.

Most of the elements now in the email webinar invites, such as color and content positioning, have been tested.

"As the invites are sent each and every month to the same audience, it is very easy for us to run A/B tests and benchmark against previous results," she said.

As an example, the team saw the best results from repeating the call-to-action three times in the sends, and by saying "Register Now" as opposed to simply, "Register." They also tested the color, and found that orange won out over other colors.

"Register Now" achieved 4% more conversions than "Register," and the orange button generated 5% more conversions over the blue or gray colors in previous sends.

By adjusting how they presented the webinar, calling it an "express" webinar even though 30-minute length never changed, the team also saw registration and attendance numbers increase.

"We have always sent a pre-departure checklist with the webinar recording and slide deck post-webinar, but by explicitly listing it as a "bonus" in the invite, we were also able to get better results," she said.

The team saw that four bullet points worked better than three, that "four top tips" worked, social sharing buttons don't, and that six or seven form fields generated similar conversion rates.

The team's process depended on "what we were testing," she said.

For some tests, such as using the account manager's email address versus a generic International SOS address, they judged success based on open rates.

However, for a test like the color of the call-to-action, they looked at clickthrough rates. Conversion rates were used to determine the winner of a test, such as how many form fields were optimal in registration.

"But, we always kept an eye on overall registration and attendance rates as ultimately, that's what we always wanted to improve," she said.

An asset the team discovered along the way was an email sent on the day of the webinar to all registrants reminding them to attend was effective.

Lose unnecessary friction

An element the team had to abandon through this process was the form to access the post-event resources, such as the webinar recording, slide deck and pre-departure checklist.

"We figured the extra information we were collecting was just a nice to have, not a must, and we’d rather make it as easy as possible for travelers to consume the content of the webinar, and for clients to share this content with their travelers," Karasawa said.

This change increased the number of attendees who were accessing that information on-demand, and she added that it taught them a lesson about implementing changes not on "whether we like them or not," but based only on results.

"It really wasn't about what I or our team think works — it was all about what works with our audience," she said.


Karasawa said one of her takeaways from this multi-year effort was "test, test, test. Sometimes little changes can have big impacts."

All of these small changes have culminated in steady increases to registration and attendance for the webinars, and led to a current 2014 version that is radically different from the 2011 send.

The results the team was able to achieve were:
The 2011 send vs. 2012 send
  • A 72% increase in registration

  • A 23% increase in attendees

The 2012 send vs. 2013 send
  • A 47% increase in registration

  • A 23% increase in attendees

The 2014 send is the result of three years of testing, and has a changed design, reflecting the results of the testing and optimization program — the orange CTA button, "Register Now" and calling the event an "Express Webinar."

So far, she said, they are currently seeing 352% more registrations and 400% more attendees (live and on-demand) than the original 2011 webinar send.

Karasawa said a big part of their success was taking it slow, changing things gradually and through testing.

"It's easy to get overwhelmed when there's so much that can or should be improved. Planning a big overhaul can take a lot of time, involve lots of project management, stakeholder meetings, approvals," she said. She added, jokingly, "Or is it just in our company?"

Minor changes, however, "are so much easier to implement. And it's easy to see and measure improvements, which in turn, encourages you to take that next baby step, and the next, and the next," Karasawa concluded.

Creative Samples

  1. 2011 webinar send

  2. 2012 webinar send

  3. 2013 webinar send

  4. Platinum send

  5. 2014 webinar send

Campaign Team

International SOS
Suzanne Benedet, Client Services, Australasia
Lisa Burke, Client Services, Australasia
Brooke Campbell, Marketing Manager, Australasia
Sara Duddy, PR and Content Manager, Australasia
Nadia Karasawa, Assistant Marketing Manager, Australasia
Rebecca Malzacher, Regional Marketing Director, Australasia

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