Lessons learned from a failed email campaign

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Tech marketers face many challenges, from segmenting contact lists appropriately to sending marketing messages that resonate with target audiences. According to a new BtoB survey, tech marketers have greater problems with the depth and accuracy of their customer databases compared with nontech marketers because of misdirected content. It's a lesson that's been learned by multinational telecommunications company Level 3 Communications following a poorly received email campaign conducted in the latter half of 2012. Learning from its missteps, the company marshaled its marketing stakeholders, did a lot of reflection and performed a lengthy post-mortem of what went wrong and how to improve things. “If you look at the campaign design, coordinating emails, assets tied to the buyers' journey and timelines, you'd say it all was beautiful,” said Corey Livingston, senior director-global demand center at Level 3. “But what it really came down to was not understanding our target profiles and individual buyer needs.” Level 3's campaign cost the company “thousands of dollars” to plan and execute, Livingston said. Messages went to senior-level decision-makers at both midsize and large tech companies, and a total of 77,972 emails were delivered. The content looked strong, the email layouts were impressive and the company projected that the program would generate 200 sales engagements and a strong return on marketing investment. But over the life of the five-month campaign, the open rate was just 7.1%. Only seven forms were submitted, and a meager three inquiries were successfully reached. No inquiry qualified as a lead, and none went to sales. Qualified lead volume is key to evaluating a lead-gen program, according to 57% of tech marketers cited in a recent BtoB study, “2013 Lead Generation: Optimum Techniques for Managing Lead Generation Campaigns.” The study was based on an online survey conducted in June and July of 282 b-to-b marketing professionals. By comparison, 37% of non-tech marketers said qualified lead volume was key to evaluating a lead-gen program. Plus, 51% of technology marketers said poor customer database accuracy hinders demand generation, compared with 37% of nontech marketers. Tech marketers said they place greater value on case studies and educational content (53%) compared with 40% of nontech marketers. For Level 3, while the intended target audience was nontech decision-makers, 80% of the company's existing database consisted of names associated with highly technical roles. Also, the messaging was oriented toward a nontechnology audience—primarily C-suite and VP-level executives—and subject lines were crafted accordingly. But when recipients clicked through to related content, they found it was heavily tech-oriented. “To these executives, we could only assume it was 'Star Wars' speak,” Livingston said. After the campaign, Livingston said, the company stepped forward and said, “We failed.” “It took some people by surprise, and put some who contributed to the campaign on the defensive; but the results were black and white,” she said. “It was critically important to us to unpack each of our failures in order to set up our next programs successfully and not repeat the same expensive mistakes again and again.” In addition to working hard on its database and content appropriateness, Level 3 addressed email subject lines with A/B testing; improved landing page registration, which had required too many steps; and worked with the telemarketing department on quickening its responses to queries. “The post-mortem wasn't easy for any of us, but it did take us to a new level of growth and maturity in our marketing,” Livingston said. “We're now much more disciplined about our testing and experimentation strategy to help isolate and pinpoint gaps in our targeting, messaging and offers before we broadly deploy our campaigns.”
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