Case Study: Email Benchmarks Campaign

The Challenge

Content has always been at the core of Campaign Monitor as a brand and a business. Our website attracts more than 1M monthly visits, thanks in large part to the SEO-driven content strategy we’ve built. However, we began to notice that even as traffic increased, our conversion rates (from website visitor to account signup) weren’t keeping pace.

Conversions from two key channels, organic and direct, were dropping and it was having an impact on other channels including paid and referrals. Since the performance of our self-service funnel is closely tied to conversions coming from our direct and organic channels, and almost entirely driven by marketing, this was something that needed to be addressed right away. 

There were two big reasons why this was happening. One was obvious: Our SEO content was driving tons of volume but it wasn’t focused on the people who needed our product. The second was part of a much bigger and more concerning trend: Our brand awareness was dropping. As the ESP market grew more crowded, we’d lost share of voice and weren’t differentiating ourselves. In a commodified market like email marketing, a strong brand is vital to growth. We needed something that would set us apart and re-establish us as a thought leader in the market.

The Opportunity

Our immediate goal as a content team had to shift from driving traffic to driving conversions. We needed to build a content strategy focused on 1) increasing the quality of our traffic, 2) increasing our website conversion rate, and 3) influencing revenue (AER), and 4) re-establishing us as a thought leader in the email marketing space.

Our long-term goal was for Campaign Monitor to become synonymous with email marketing best practices and advice. For that, we’d need a content strategy that focused on brand awareness, PR coverage, customer advocacy, and more. This would ultimately allow us to build our standing as the email marketing expert, grow brand affinity, and influence buying decisions down the road.

The Process

Content strategy is not a list of tactics. It’s not an ebook, blog post, or landing page. It’s a cross-functional, multi-channel, multi-touch approach built on a deep understanding of the target audience, driven by data and improved by testing. 

As a content leader, my challenge was to create a content marketing campaign that could have an outsized impact on the KPIs that matter to us. Since I’m a very process-oriented person, I thought I’d share the nine-step process that I use to develop a data-informed, testing-driven, customer-centric content strategy.

Step 1: Audience Overview

The most innovative and exciting content strategy will fall flat if it’s not meeting a real need for the buyer. In this case, our audience is an SMB marketer who needs an email marketing tool that will save her time, remove manual work, and let her focus on the more strategic parts of her job. She knows her email programs could be performing better but she’s intimidated at the prospect of implementing a more advanced email marketing strategy involving segmentation, automation, or triggered emails. She’s very close to the engagement metrics (open rates, click rates, click-to-open rates) and reports on them frequently to her boss. She’s data-driven and slightly competitive, always looking to peers in her industry to understand where she stacks up, but not sure of how to improve. 

Additionally, we are targeting three key regions (AMER, EMEA, APAC) and three key industries (Agencies, Publishers, and Nonprofits). 

Step 2: Data Deep Dive

Next, I evaluated current and past marketing performance, existing content analytics, and qualitative feedback from customers and prospects. I used existing analytics across Google Analytics, SEO tools, Looker and Salesforce to identify what content was driving the highest ROI and, ultimately, where we could unlock additional conversion opportunities. In this research, I discovered that guides/ebooks, webinars, and interactive were our top-performing content types by AER, which we use as a stand-in measure of qualified traffic. 

I also discovered that our content pieces about “email marketing benchmarks”, which covered average email engagement rates by industry, were our top-performing content by self-service and sales-led AER. People were coming to our site to see email benchmarks by industry, and those visitors were converting at a much higher rate than those visiting our other content pages. Because we had such a rich wealth of data (over 100 billion emails sent from our platforms each year), we were perfectly poised to become the industry leader on email benchmarks.

Step 3: Stakeholder Interviews

Content strategy should be built with organization-wide goals in mind, not just marketing, so it’s important to me that the process is collaborative and cross-functional. I met with leaders across Campaign Monitor to verify what I’d seen in the data and supplement it with qualitative and anecdotal feedback. I wanted to understand what opportunities Product saw based on user behavior, what PMM could tell us about competitive intel, and what Customer teams were hearing on calls. I especially wanted to talk with leadership to understand where the business is going, both in the short- and long-term, and how we can align our content strategy to those goals. 

I always appreciate the insights that come from these conversations. But perhaps just importantly is building cross-functional buy-in for content campaigns before they launch. By involving other teams and departments in the ideation phase, I bring them on as partners in the content strategy and get them involved and invested in its success.

The idea of email benchmarks popped up in the stakeholder interviews as well. Customers and prospects both regularly asked for these report benchmark reports. Our team used them to start a conversation about how the customer’s email marketing was performing and how Campaign Monitor could help them improve. We were getting PR coverage from the report as well as social media buzz around the numbers as people discovered and shared it. This told me that in addition to its traffic-driving value, the Benchmarks report also had potential for reinforcing our brand positioning as email experts.

Step 4: Campaign Plan & Hypothesis Creation

It was clear to me that Email Benchmarks had enormous potential. People were already interested, providing us with a fantastic opportunity to continue experimenting with how to best capture and convert the traffic that we were driving organically. 

We decided to build this year’s content strategy around the Benchmarks. We’d experiment with format, build more interactive experiences, and get creative with our promotion and distribution strategy. We didn’t have the data to justify going all-in with this campaign budget yet, but we knew we could get organizational buy-in by testing our way into it.

When it comes to testing, my favorite tool is hypothesis creation. A hypothesis allows us to set expectations, agree on a framework for evaluating success, and—most importantly—reminds us that we are all conducting this experiment together. For the Benchmarks report, we aligned on this hypothesis: “By expanding our Benchmarks Report to target key regions and industries, as well as testing innovative content types like the ‘Get Your Score’ form and nurture journey, we believe we can increase its impact by 200% YoY, generating a total of $140k in SS AER across a 12-month period.”

If we could do that, then we could prove our case for even more budget for our next campaign.

Step 5: Align on Assets

Once we had a firm grasp on our working hypothesis and strategic focus, it was time to talk tactics. We got the core content team together, along with our partners across marketing, to agree on what content assets would be needed to make this campaign successful. Based on the data and takeaways from previous campaigns, we agreed on a list of deliverables:

  • Get Your Score form with a triggered “grade” calculated via logic in Marketo, plus a personalized email nurture based on their score
  • Gated guide and accompanying email nurture
  • Customer-led webinars with Q&A
  • Global Benchmarks Report by Industry & Day
  • Regional Benchmarks Reports (US, UK, Australia, and Europe)
  • Industry Benchmarks Reports & Gated Guides (Publishers, Nonprofits, Agencies)
  • Industry-specific email nurtures for each industry report
  • Customer testimonials about the Benchmarks Report
  • New templates created for our public template builder

We decided to write most of this content in-house, outsourcing other projects (like SEO blog posts) to freelancers so that our content writers could be really involved in creating high-visibility assets. Our team of creatives, developers, and marketing operations experts had been involved in planning from the beginning so they understood the goal of our content strategy and what they were each responsible for. I worked with our Growth & Strategy team to identify the most valuable paid opportunities, Linkedin and Display, to use for promoting this content and updated the marketing budget accordingly.

We built out the campaign in our project management software, Asana, assigned out tasks, and set deadlines. We created a dedicated Slack channel and had weekly check-ins to troubleshoot and provide updates on campaign progress. I socialized the plan to the marketing leadership team as well as my peers in other departments to ensure company-wide alignment and support.

Step 6: Promotion & Distribution Planning

Too many companies spend months on content creation and only a few days (or even hours) thinking about content distribution. I build the distribution planning into the same phase as content planning so we can be intentional and innovative about the way we promote.

My goal was to build a distribution strategy that extended the lifespan of our content, rather than focusing on a single moment in time. We outlined our tried-and-true channels (paid social, display, SEO, PR, email), along with some new ones that we wanted to test, then we created a content distribution and promotion map. 

As you can see below, we didn’t want promotion to stop with that first touch. We wanted to create content journeys that would re-engage people throughout their journey and invite them deeper into the content, build long-term relationships, and establish brand loyalty. This map helped everyone understand how people would discover our content, how we would re-target them, and how we would keep them engaged throughout the course of the campaign (or through conversion).

In addition to our existing channels, we wanted to start testing the impact we could have if we invested additional resources in exploring new distribution channels. I created enablement materials for our sales and customer teams, including Zoom trainings on how to use the content in their conversations. We repurposed content from blog to guide to webinar to recorded video so that people could consume it in a way that worked best for them. We also tested different website banner copy to drive existing traffic to these conversion-optimized pages. 

Step 7: Troubleshoot

Of course, like any massive campaign, this one had it’s challenges. One big obstacle was our website. Built in 2004, it was in an incredibly fragile state and scheduled to be migrated to a new platform the week after Benchmarks was scheduled to launch. Even the smallest content update ran the risk of crashing the entire website, including our platform….no pressure, right?

While the website didn’t crash, it did severely limit the number of page updates we could make, including content templates, styling, forms, and functionality. This constantly threatened our deadlines and required quick decisions to keep moving forward. For instance, we opted to launch the guide with a less-than-gorgeous “Get Your Score” form rather than delay. When our developers told us that the gated content download page wouldn’t be ready in time, we changed up our email sequence so we could launch without it.

If we’d waited, the form would have looked better and the guide would have launched alongside all the other assets. But I believe it’s better to get something out into the real world and let people react to it than to keep delaying it until everything is perfect. That’s the beauty of taking an iterative approach: If it’s not performing or there’s room for improvement, you can always adapt and optimize as you go.

Step 8: Launch!

We launched this year’s Benchmarks Report in January. Based on anonymized data from over 100 billion emails sent through our system, it is the industry’s most comprehensive guide for email marketing benchmarks. 

Along with our annual (ungated) post, we created a gated guide, webinar series, and a “Get Your Score” experience where email marketers could enter their own engagement metrics to see how they stacked up against others in their industry. But we didn’t stop at delivering the score. Once they found out where they ranked, they would be entered into an email nurture to help improve or maintain their engagement. We learned that people love competition as our social feeds were flooded with marketers sharing their score and challenging their peers to see how they stacked up.

We are also releasing regional and industry-specific Benchmark Reports throughout the year to keep a steady drumbeat of content beyond just the initial campaign launch. 

View more 2021 Benchmarks Report assets here.

Step 9: Measure & Optimize

Since it went live, the Benchmarks Report has already become one of our most successful content campaigns to date. Here are some of our key results:

  • Increased traffic to page by 170% YoY
  • 47k page visits to report in first month
  • Ranked in #1 spot for key search terms
  • 1240+ webinar registrations (52% prospects) 
  • 500+ content downloads
  • 600+ “Get Your Score” submissions
  • “Get Your Score” nurture averaged 61% open rate & 31% CTOR
  • 700+ new email subscribers 
  • 35+ pieces of media coverage including Media Post, INSIDER Intelligence, What’s New in Publishing, CMO Australia, RetailBiz (AUS), TotalRetail, and Smart Retailer
  • To date, this campaign has generated $91k in AER

As we’ve shifted the content strategy, we’ve seen gains of nearly a full percentage point in our overall website conversion rates. While we don’t have an immediate way to measure brand awareness, we look at PR coverage and engagement as leading indicators. Overall, organic and direct traffic is beginning to rebound. Building a beloved brand is a long-term goal that we continue to work towards but initial results are promising.

Of course, there are things from this year’s campaign that we will change for next time, along with plenty of new ideas that we want to test based on this year’s performance. These initial results allow us to make the case for future investments in content campaigns, including but not limited to Benchmarks.

Looking toward the future, we will continue to run the Benchmarks campaign, testing and experimenting every step of the way. We are also planning to expand the campaign to include a CM Email Academy, taking our brand promise of being the go-to source for email marketing expertise and providing it for free in the form of an online course. We’re also working on building a CM Community for marketers to learn more about email marketing from us and from one another.

Ultimately, I love telling the story of this project because it’s all about iteration. We took a good idea and made it great (and I know we’ll make it even better next time). I thrive when my team has the freedom to test, measure, tweak, and continuously optimize our content strategy. Not only does it drive better outcomes for the business, it also just makes work a lot more fun.

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