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How VMUG used email to promote premium content service

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Four years ago the VMware User Group debuted as an independent organization for VMware users. The group provides online resources and community, webinars, real-time events and other educational collateral and training for those in the IT field. Its main focus, VMUG Executive Director Victor Bohnert said, was engaging VMware users, getting them to download content, sign up for events and access its training. Because it works closely with VMware Inc., the group was able to tap the virtualization software provider's user database and hit the ground running with an email marketing list of about 21,000 prospects. Still, building its database was and remains one of the company's main goals. "Our target is to exceed 100,000 [email addresses] by August 2014," Bohnert said. VMUG also hopes to get more subscribers for some of its premium content, such as its subscription-based discount service called VMUG Advantage, introduced about 18 months ago. At the beginning of this year, VMUG decided to do an email push to gain subscribers for the VMUG Advantage program. While the company's agency Creative I, San Francisco, came up with the design of the email, it was up to Bohnert's team to figure out the messaging—specifically, what might make a prospect who already had a free membership pay $200 to become a member of VMUG Advantage. Previous emails that described the program drew lackluster results, he said. Bohnert's team focused on its most recent member surveys to see what existing members of VMUG Advantage were most interested in. "We knew from those surveys that registration and training are the highest costs for our members, so we led with offers on all our messaging," he said. In the past, the organization had sent out emails focused on cost savings but had not included specific information. The revamped emails, which went out during the first quarter of this year, focused on several specific discounts, including a voucher for a free certification exam and 50% discounts on VMware software. The emails also included a link to a savings calculator that enabled recipients to see how much they would benefit from the program based on which elements—events, trainings, software and certifications—they were already using or purchasing. About 80,000 active VMUG users received the messaging, which had an open rate of 25%. VMUG was able to convert 52 prospects to new subscribers within 24 hours of the email's being sent. Today, the group has about 3,400 subscribers, up from zero in 18 months. "It's an important source of revenue for us, and was well worth the research to reach more subscribers," Bohnert said.
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