October 04, 2022
Case Study

Email Marketing for Business Training Companies: Success stories about A/B testing, LinkedIn newsletters, and virtual events


Every company engaged in content marketing can learn from B2B training/education/e-learning companies.

For these companies, their content is a product they must sell. The same holds true for content marketing. You must “sell” your free content – because even when there are no material costs, people pay with their attention, information, and trust – before you sell your actual product or service.

To spark your best ideas for doing that, today we bring you specific marketing examples with results from the training industry.

by Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content & Marketing, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute

Email Marketing for Business Training Companies: Success stories about A/B testing, LinkedIn newsletters, and virtual events

This article was published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.

We recently built a marketing course curriculum page for our “Become a Marketer-Philosopher: Create and optimize high-converting webpages” free digital marketing course.

And it got me thinking. This is somewhat like a PDP (product detail page) for an ecommerce company. The layout is totally different. But the goal is the same. We’re trying to show people what they’re going to get – the details of our product.

In our case, that training course product happens to be free. But for many training companies, they need to sell their content product. So, I realized – every content marketer could learn a lot from marketers at business training, education, and e-learning companies.

And nowhere is that truer than in the email channel. Content marketers should look at email as a product, not an advertisement. Sustainable success lies in permission-based email marketing – in other words, people keep “buying” your emails with their trust, time, and attention.

So today we bring you three email marketing case studies from business training companies to inspire your best thinking for your own content marketing.

Quick Case Study #1: Education company increases conversion rate 27% using concrete visuals in email

“As a startup, we wanted to experiment more to optimize for our growth. A/B testing was a phrase that was thrown around a lot, but it was intimidating to get started,” said Jennifer Chou, Growth Associate, EntryLevel.

The education company decided to test its emails first since they provided a direct line to engage with their audience, and it was easier to set up than testing the website. They had a four-email funnel and started with the first email in that funnel.

Control email

The original email was very text-heavy and aimed to prompt users to complete their enrollment.

“We tried to make our copy shine by highlighting our students’ motivation for signing up,” Chou said. “The ‘finish enroling here’ button is just barely above the fold, and more details are listed below to address any doubts students may have.” EntryLevel is an Australian company and uses the Australian spelling of “enrolling,” with only one “l.”

Creative Sample #1: Control email for education company

Creative Sample #1: Control email for education company

Treatment (variant) email

The team wanted to test a more visual email with mockups of its certificate, portfolio, and platform.

They hypothesized, based on organic social media post performance, that concrete visuals of what the audience found desirable would increase click-through rates.

They also removed a large chunk of the text so both the call-to-action button and the mockups would be above the fold. However, in retrospect, they realized this new email changed multiple variables: the mockups AND removing some copy.

Creative Sample #2: Treatment email for education company

Creative Sample #2: Treatment email for education company

Email test results

The experiment ran from August 7th to September 28th, 2022, because enrollment deadlines are every month, and they wanted at least two enrollment cycles to pass before drawing conclusions.

The treatment email led to a 32.6% increase in click-through rate (CTR), and experiment duration correlated with a 27% increase in conversion rate from signups to paid enrollments.

“As with any experiment, I checked for statistical significance to ensure these results were not due to random chance. I used Neil Patel’s calculator and plugged in how many people received the emails along with the CTRs of each email. The results ended up being statistically significant,” Chou said.

Discoveries from the test

Here is what the team learned from the test, according to Chou:

Make it concrete with visuals

Our audience always asks us what our course structure and course benefits are.

By giving them a concrete visual of the value they’re getting, our growth increased – largely because we were able to properly communicate that our product aligns with their goals.

There are tradeoffs between speed vs “correct” experimentation

We had just conducted another email funnel experiment days before starting this one.

We tested whether sending a reminder about the upcoming enrolment deadline would lead to more conversions. This experiment had just concluded, with the deadline email being successful. We went ahead with sending the deadline email to everyone going forward, then immediately launched this current experiment days after.

In an ideal world, there would be no confounding factors such as this one, but our team decided it was a necessary tradeoff. As a startup, we wanted to experiment quickly and grow quickly. As long as the growth keeps increasing, we’re happy.

Consider time zones in your team

When working in a remote team, different time zones can make experiment dates a nightmare to sort out.

Luckily, EntryLevel is a small startup so only one person was in charge of this experiment – however, if entire growth teams are experimenting, it’s crucial to ensure all dates and times are communicated in one consistent time zone.

Quick Case Study #2: Training and consulting organizations goes from 0 to 2,078 subscribers on LinkedIn for free using 3-part targeted content

“One of our most successful marketing campaigns has been our GQ [Genius Quotient] Playbook, a weekly LinkedIn-based newsletter where we provide unique and useful posts to fuel success,” said Catherine Mattiske, Inventor, Genius Quotient.

The team’s goal was to get closer to its ideal target market: business leaders and decision-makers in large global corporations. “Despite having a sizeable Facebook following, nearing 100,000, we knew our business audience was on LinkedIn,” Mattiske said.

She already had a fairly successful LinkedIn network in this demographic — almost 14,500 people were already LinkedIn connections — but simply having connections is no guarantee they’re going to subscribe to your newsletter.

Creative Sample #3: LinkedIn newsletter for training and consulting organization

Creative Sample #3: LinkedIn newsletter for training and consulting organization

Every Monday, the team posts an article to the GQ Playbook that is rich in three things:

Facts and research

“We provide researched facts, as well as link to research and other articles from media that our target audience frequents, such as McKinsey & Company and Harvard Business Review,” she said.

Topics catering to the target persona

They write topics with these questions in mind:

  • What does our target persona care about?
  • What are their problems right now?
  • What are their gaps?

They then come in at the back end and say, “If you’ve got this gap, here are all the facts around the gap, and here's what to do about it.” And there's a solution at the end that’s tied in — not as a blatant advertisement, but just to say, “Hey, this writer has a solution for your problem.”

Every article is structured on the Inner Genius Wheel

The articles are structured for all 12 Inner Genius Archetypes, which were developed by Mattiske to help people understand their communication and learning styles.  

“Each member of your audience learns differently; for example, some want to connect to the big picture, while others want the facts, figures, and data. Once your audience is given ‘their’ piece of information in their style, their attention is hooked. However, the average writer/presenter unconsciously writes/presents in the way they themselves learn best,” she said.

In the first 24 hours after launching the GQ Playbook, the team had about 700 subscribers. The next week, that went up to about 1,200. Now a couple of months in, and they recently went past 2,000 subscribers. This is entirely organic with $0 advertising spend.

“It's not just another piece of puffery or a ‘look what I've done…me, me, me’ type of article like you’ll commonly see on LinkedIn; instead, it’s a valuable piece of writing that has a) facts and research, b) topics that cater to our targeted audience, and c) balanced communication to hook the attention of every one of our readers,” Mattiske concluded.

Quick Case Study #3: E-learning provider adds thousands of new email subscribers with virtual event

“Our most successful marketing tactic to date has been running an annual global virtual summit event,” said Dr. Mark Farrell, CEO and Founder, ProActuary.

The team’s audience is global actuaries and for the last three years they have run a two- or three-day virtual summit event, with each one attracting thousands of registrations. The event is free (although they do have sponsors covering costs) and is a huge amount of work, but the marketing returns are worth every single hour of time, according to Farrell.

Virtual event theme

The team picks a different theme each year. They look for a theme that has wide appeal that satisfies a need and generates excitement so that viral sharing occurs naturally. In 2020, the theme was “The Digital Actuary” focusing on how actuaries can embrace a digital future. In 2021, they focused on personal and professional development with a “Growth Actuary” event. And this year they highlighted the various disruptions in the actuarial space and how actuaries are being disruptive, with their “Disruptive Actuary” event.

The team then needs to reach out to potential speakers to cover the chosen topics. Speaker selection is critical. Naturally, speakers need to be great presenters and to have an important (and preferably unique) message to share. Ideally, they also want speakers that have an audience and will help promote the event.

Once the speakers are in place and the event is organized, marketing begins. They usually promote and market over a three-week period. They have found this to be the optimal time period as it gives enough time for people to hear about it and sign up, but it’s also close enough to the event that attendees don’t put off signing up.

“We do most of our marketing through LinkedIn. Our LinkedIn marketing posts, over the three-week period, tend to generate hundreds of thousands of views as we highlight speakers, talks, and reasons why people should attend,” Farrell said. They also encourage attendees to share the event on social media by offering prizes to those who share.

Each event has added thousands of new subscribers to their email list, built the brand, and generated a profit through sponsor income. “I highly recommend hosting virtual summit events if you have a niche audience with a specific problem that isn’t currently adequately addressed,” Farrell said.

Related resources

Selling Free Content: Why Seth Godin never gives anything away for free

Free Digital Marketing Course – Become a Marketer-Philosopher: Create and optimize high-converting webpages

Marketing Strategy: How to find answers to the most common marketing questions

Win The Competition For Attention: 3 quick marketing case studies with tips

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