May 03, 2007
Case Study

How Repackaged Virtual Seminar Lifted ROI 60% for Publisher

SUMMARY: Email by itself is a powerful marketing tool, but combining it with postal direct mail can create a marketing strategy that can really increase ROI for the right product.

See how one publishing/research company repackaged content to break into the virtual seminar business. Includes surprising results from when they didn’t mail the printed brochure and used only email for their marketing.
ZweigWhite has spent 20 years building a diversified publishing, research, consulting and training business for the architecture, engineering and construction industries. But even with that track record, Marketing Director Ross Foniri didn’t know what to expect when they launched a new product last year.

Interest in their in-person project management training events had waned. At the same time, they had developed a short-form audio conference series to touch on important topics in the A/E/C industry. So, they decided to revive the training program by offering it as a four-part audio conference, with prices starting at $595.

“A lot of the allure of going to live management events is having the opportunity to network with people, so it was going to be very interesting to see how the virtual seminar turned out,” Foniri says. “Also, since it was being held under the audio conference format, but at a much higher price point, we wondered if that would be a turnoff.”

To answer these questions, Foniri and his team had to find the right potential audience and develop an appropriate marketing strategy to see if they could develop virtual seminars as a new franchise.

The four-part program was designed to train mid-level employees at A/E/C firms looking to make the jump into a project management role. But the marketing campaign targeted those employees’ bosses -- the top managers or heads of project management teams who might have young talent and would welcome an opportunity to develop their skills.

Here’s how Foniri and his team made their pitch:

-> Step #1. Analyze subscriber/customer database

First, they turned to ZweigWhite’s database, which tracks customer data from across the company’s business lines -- newsletters, events, consulting and research products. Thanks to coding in the database that recorded names, companies, job functions and past purchases, Foniri was able to filter the roughly 50,000 contacts for customers who would be the best candidates for the virtual seminar.

Their screening criteria included:

- Subscribers to the ZweigLetter, the firm’s newsletter for managers of A/E/C firms
- Customers who had previously purchased project-management related products
- Customers who had attended live events in the past
- Contacts with a project management job title or function

-> Step #2. Create an event brochure

Given the length and high price point of the virtual seminar, Foniri’s team put together a four-page brochure similar to ones they used for live events. The brochure included:

- A complete program schedule
- Information about the instructor's credentials
- Marketing messages promoting the advantages of the virtual training seminar, such as no travel expenses and the ability to train as many managers as a firm needed for one fee

Four weeks before the event, they mailed brochures to the contacts culled from the company’s database, as well as inserted them into appropriate newsletters.

-> Step #3. Three-stage email campaign

Next, Foniri and his team sent three email invitations to the contact list. Each maintained a similar look and feel to the print brochure and offered details about the event itself, but included different offers:

Email #1 - offered an early registration discount of $100
Email #2 - reiterated the event’s basic details, but offered full-price registrations
Email #3 - sent two or three days before the event with an urgent message that the time to register was running out

For one session of the virtual seminar, Foniri decided not to send a print brochure and see what response they would get. Instead, they used the email with the early registration discount as the first contact.

-> Step #4. Track registrations

Finally, they put tracking mechanisms into each marketing piece. The emails contained a direct link, while the brochures featured a tracking code on the mail-in registration form.

For telephone orders, customer service personnel were instructed to ask customers if they were responding to a specific marketing piece and if there was a promotional code on it.
Attendance for the first event was high enough to deliver a 60% return on the company’s investment. By following the same marketing strategy, they have maintained a consistent attendance level and return in each of the three following sessions (with one crucial exception -- see below). “It’s surprising yet fantastic at the same time.”

Interestingly enough, the four separate sessions also attracted different sets of attendees. “At this rate, we’re hitting a new chunk of firms each time, which has been great.”

The one exception to Foniri’s success rate taught him an important lesson about the value of the print brochure. The one time he chose not to send it, registrations for that session fell 63% compared to the other ones.

External factors, such as proximity to the holidays and a previous session, may have played into the drop, but Foniri also suspects the nature of the event makes a print brochure more important. A four-day, $595 commitment isn’t an impulse buy, and managers need time to think about the purchase while coordinating schedules with employees who would be attending the training. Having a concrete, detailed brochure seems to help with that decision-making process.

This trend is reflected in their email responses as well. Despite the first email containing an early-registration discount, Foniri hasn’t seen it generate more than 25% of all registrations. Instead, the second and third emails, which don’t offer the discount but come after introducing the program details to managers, typically generate more than 50% of the responses.

The lesson for other publishers with their own paid events programs: mine your existing customer database to target your marketing efforts and treat multi-day, high-price online training programs as you would a big, in-person event, with a full brochure and multiple email contacts.

Foniri is already applying what he has learned to new ZweigWhite events planned for later this year, such as a virtual seminar on legal issues in the A/E/C industry.

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from the Project Management Essentials program:


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