December 21, 2011
Case Study

Email Marketing: How Microsoft used triggered email to increase open rates 800% and clickthrough 2,100%

SUMMARY: Triggered email efforts have their place, typically found in lead nurturing strategies. This tactic can also be effective in improving customer satisfaction immediately after purchasing a new product.

This case study looks at how Microsoft implemented a multi-stage, months-long triggered email series to improve engagement and educate new B2B Office 2010 customers. Find out how they increased open rates by 800% and clickthrough by 2,100%.
by David Kirkpatrick, Reporter


When engaging prospects in the sales funnel, a multipiece email strategy is a key part of lead nurturing. Once that prospect becomes a customer, email probably becomes a more personalized exchange between the company and the client.

The need for an organized set of email sends is no longer necessary, correct? Think again. Applying a nurturing strategy to existing customers can be an effective way to improve customer satisfaction, and increase repeat business by educating the customer on a potentially complex product that users might not be utilizing to its fullest extent.

Jamie Bothwell, Senior Product Manager, Microsoft, Office Division, said that after the release of Office 2010, using a combination of product usage data and "voice of the customer" surveys, the company realized there was a drop off in usage activity and satisfaction. This occurred immediately after B2B customers purchased the product from the Office website.

She said, "When asked to explain why, customers told us they were having difficulty learning the new product and wanted more step-by-step instructions on new features and how to get started."

In response to this information, the Microsoft Office Relationship Marketing team created a multistage triggered email campaign that closely mirrored a typical email lead nurturing effort to address the concerns of new customers.

In this article, find out how Microsoft executed an email campaign on new Office 2010 customers to engage and educate them, and achieved dramatic increases in open and clickthrough rates, along with teaching something new about the product to 80% of program participants.


The email list for this effort was compiled from people who purchased Office 2010 directly from Microsoft on its website, and was specifically geared for B2B users of the software. The marketing team did not use this effort to market to consumers.

For this effort, Microsoft mapped out a calendar for the entire initiative with the program’s email sends triggered by certain customer activities. The program began with the first trigger -- purchase of Office 2010 on the Microsoft website -- and once the entire series went to action, customer behavior within the program triggered/or did not trigger additional elements of the campaign.

The heart of the effort was multiple levels of educational content that Office customers would receive based on their engagement with the program.

Step #1. Establish guiding principles for Marketing

The entire effort was built around five guiding principles:
  1. Put the customer at the center of everything

  2. Foster authentic and personal relationships

  3. Improve relevance through better targeting

  4. Help the customer get value right away

  5. Engage customers in the conversation

With those points in mind, after the initial feedback from customers expressing problems in learning how to use the new product and knowing that those customers simply were not using their new purchase, Marketing knew the fourth principle-- helping the customer get immediate value -- was not being met.

The new initiative was designed around using the other principles to meet the goal of providing immediate value for the new customers.

Step #2. Plan the effort to be relevant to the customer’s needs

"The program consists of two parts," Bothwell explained. "A 'getting started' section and an 'ongoing usage section.'"

The program also involved three key elements:
  • Actions were based on how long the customer has been in the program

  • Targeted messages were integrated with other marketing pieces

  • The program included re-targeting based on customer behaviors

All email sends included a call-to-action to visit landing pages with content specifically tied to the email message.

For example, the first email send in the "getting started" section of the effort sent the recipient to a "getting started" landing page that served as the homepage for a microsite dedicated to that part of the program.

The email sends were also reinforced by targeted ads on the landing pages and microsites program participants were sent to.

Build the program around real people

The "ongoing usage" section of the effort was essentially an educational outreach (see steps four and five for more on this section of the program). To meet principle two from above -- foster authentic and personal relationships -- this educational content consisted of messages and instructional videos from actual Microsoft employees, not outside talent.

Bothwell stated, "The decision (to use actual employees) was made in the original strategy creation for the program, based on the importance of developing an ongoing relationship, literally, between Microsoft and our customers."

She added, "We featured employees who actually work on the products they are discussing."

Step #3. Begin with a "welcome" email series

The “getting started” piece of the effort includes three emails, a landing page tied to the initial email that serves as homepage for the welcoming microsite, and targeted ads on the Microsoft Office website.

"A few days after a customer purchases Office from one of our online stores, they receive the first of three ‘getting started’ emails that thank the customer for their purchase and introduces some of the most notable new features in the product," Bothwell explained.

Here is the "getting started" section from the customer’s perspective:
  • Within a day or two of making the purchase, the customer receives the welcome email

  • he welcome email includes a call-to-action that leads to the "Getting Started Center" microsite

  • Targeted advertising on the Office homepage begins

  • Two days after the welcome email, a second email is sent

  • One week after the second email, the final email of the "getting started" section is sent

Bothwell said, "The goal of this section is to welcome users and get them using the product they just purchased."

Step #4. Educate the customer with rich product-information content

The "ongoing usage" section began at the start of the month after the "getting started" section was complete.

This section dove into each of Office 2010’s four applications:
  • Word

  • Excel

  • OneNote

  • PowerPoint

Each application was featured for one month at a time. Like the welcome section, the "ongoing usage" program involved email with a call-to-action tied to a specific landing page and targeted advertising for the featured application on the Microsoft Office homepage.

Every email in the program "came" from an actual Microsoft employee who was involved in that application, and the landing pages featured instructional videos from that same employee.

The Microsoft employee serving as the presenter contributed to the email copy to ensure the message had their "voice."

"The personality of our employees comes out strongly in the creative – especially in the videos," said Bothwell. "Showing customers that Microsoft is more than a behemoth corporation (and that) the employees who work on the products are interested in helping users get the most out of Office."

The targeted advertising for the featured application, such as Excel, began a few days before the first Excel email was sent.

The goal of the targeted ads and email was to get the recipient to the dedicated landing page featuring educational content on the highlighted Office application.

User behavior triggers additional email

This program included a behavioral aspect in that if the customer opened the email and visited the landing page to view the video, they would receive additional email. If not, they did not receive any more email until the next application’s cycle began at the start of the next month.

Bothwell stated, "The goal of this section is to drive usage of the new features and increased satisfaction with the product."

Step #5. Re-target users who engage with the effort with increasingly challenging content

After the initial email, users who engaged with the campaign by opening the mail and visiting the landing page would receive an additional email with information on a feature of the application, such as "charts" in the Excel portion of the effort. Targeted ads also featured "charts" after this engagement to correspond with the email message.

If the customer continued to show engagement, their next visit to the Office website would present them with targeted ads leading to a landing page featuring another application feature. Those ads would be followed by a second, and final, email in the re-targeting effort.

"For each application, we developed three levels of content of increasing difficulty so we could deliver more information to the users that expressed interest, and not bother users who were not interested," explained Bothwell. "If a user engages with the first Excel email, for example, they will receive another email on a more advanced topic within Excel."

The entire program from welcome, to education on each application, lasted between four-and-a-half to five months.


Bothwell offered three key learnings from the campaign:
  • Taking a long-term approach worked by optimizing the user experience by layering new elements to the marketing effort over time

  • Helpful content in the form of step-by-step articles and videos built on the customer relationship and improved customer help and support

  • Using actual employees who understand the product was very effective in personalizing the experience for the customer

She mentioned one point to keep in mind when reaching out internally for marketing content is there are some limitations to this approach, such as turnover or employees being relocated within the company.

The results for the effort include:
  • 800% improvement in open rate

  • 2,100% increase in clickthrough rate

  • Open rate 50% above what Microsoft considered the industry average

  • Website videos achieved 63% completion rate

  • 66.6% of program participants tried a new feature

And after reviewing user outcomes, the team found that 80% of participants "learned something new."

Jamie Bothwell will present an in-depth look at this case study at the upcoming MarketingSherpa Email Summit in Las Vegas, Feb. 7-10, 2012.

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples:
  1. "Getting started" email and landing page

  2. Targeted ads on landing page and microsite

  3. Video featuring actual Microsoft employee

  4. Welcome email

  5. Targeted ad

Microsoft Office homepage

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