January 14, 2010
Case Study

New Opt-in Tactics and Welcome Series Deliver Big Lift in Subscribers, Engagement

SUMMARY: A good list-growth campaign should be tied to a welcome message -- or series of messages -- that capitalize on new subscriber interest in your company’s communications.

Read how the marketing team for a state tourism agency tackled this goal with an incentive offer for new email subscribers and a welcome series to get them to interact with the site. Opt-in rate increased 2,000%, and conversion rates from the welcome series averaged 31.4%.

George Zimmerman, VP, Travel Michigan, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and his team had plenty to be proud of. Their marketing efforts had helped make Michigan.org the most popular state tourism website for several years.

But they were still unsatisfied with their email marketing strategy. Despite strong Web traffic, they weren’t seeing a similar increase in email subscribers.

"We just didn’t feel like we were in the same place at all with our email program," says Zimmerman.

Then in Spring 2009, the team was planning to launch its first national television advertising campaign. They expected the ads to generate a large volume of new visitors to their website, and needed a revamped email strategy to ensure they converted as many new visitors as possible into email subscribers.


Prior to the rollout of their national advertising campaign, the team conducted tests to improve two key aspects of their email program:
o A new offer to generate newsletter subscribers
o A new welcome series to engage new subscribers with the Pure Michigan travel website

Here are three steps they took to conduct the tests and adjust their tactics:

Step #1. Offer incentive for new email subscribers

The team wanted to test whether an incentive offer would boost opt-ins. They found a simple solution by combining their email program with another existing product.

Each year, Travel Michigan prints "Michigan Travel Ideas" magazine, which is free to consumers. They decided to position the guide as a free premium to email subscribers.

"We had always kind of offered them separately, but bundling the communication on the two products made it a lot more compelling," says Zimmerman.

Step #2. Test interstitial opt-in page

Next, the team tested an interstitial overlay screen to present the newsletter/guidebook offer to first-time site visitors. The screen would pop up a few seconds after a new visitor landed on the homepage, and would only be shown to visitors once.

- They designed two registration forms for the overlay screen:
o A longer form that included the guidebook offer and requested a mailing address
o A shorter form that had no book offer and only required name and email address

- They served the interstitial page to 15% of the site's traffic to determine what impact it would have on email registrations and bounce rate. They served half of those visitors the longer form with incentive, and half the shorter form, to see which performed better.

After about three weeks, the test provided clear results:
o The longer form with the guidebook offer was outperforming the short form with no offer
o The interstitial page was boosting opt-ins and not increasing bounce rate

"It fairly quickly became obvious that this was going to work in a big way," says Zimmerman. They began using the interstitial opt-in page with all traffic.

Step #3. Create new welcome series

With a more aggressive opt-in strategy in place, the team needed a better way to engage new email subscribers and get them to explore the Pure Michigan website.

The team's existing policy was to send new email subscribers the first monthly newsletter published after their registration. If a new subscriber had opted-in the day after a monthly newsletter was sent, they would wait 30 days before hearing from Pure Michigan again.

To prevent such communication gaps, they created a two-message welcome series for new email subscribers:

- The first message was sent 24 hours following registration. It was designed to capitalize on a new subscribers’ interest in Michigan travel by highlighting the website’s monthly travel deals.

The note described the "eSpecials" travel deals program, and included a large green button to take visitors directly to the eSpecials portion of the website.

- The second email was sent seven days after registration. It provided tips and links to help new subscribers get the most out of their newsletter subscription, and how to further explore the services available on the website.

Suggested actions included:
o View pages on deals, festivals, shopping, dining, etc.
o Sign up for other email alert programs
o Connect with Pure Michigan on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube
o Specify travel interests through subscription preference center

The impact of the email tests and new tactics "exceeded our expectations in every way," says Zimmerman.

Rolling out the interstitial opt-in page and providing the travel guidebook as an incentive delivered an enormous lift in key metrics:

- Newsletter opt-ins grew 2,000% over the previous year.

- Bounce rate off the homepage dropped 69%.

- 52% of new sign-ups were out-of-state residents -- the team’s primary target. Previously, only about 25% of email subscribers lived outside Michigan.

- The team delivered more than 1 million travel guides in 2009 before running out of copies. By comparison, the team sends approximately 850,000 guides in a typical year.

"The guide doesn’t produce any value for our private sector travel partners by sitting in our warehouse," says Zimmerman.

The new welcome series also was a huge success, delivering high open and conversion rates, which the team defines as a click from Michigan.org to one of their private-sector travel partner sites.

- Email #1:
o 94% open rate
o 31.6% conversion rate

- Email #2:
o 68% open rate
o 31.2% conversion rate

"We felt really good that we were able to showcase the state with advertising, and then engage consumers in a much more efficient way through the email campaigns," says Zimmerman.

Useful links related to this article

Creative Samples from Travel Michigan’s email campaigns

How to Get 1000% Increase in Opt-ins - Test Results

Fluency Media: Manages Travel Michigan’s email and online marketing:

Pure Michigan -- Michigan’s Official Travel and Tourism Site

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