Marsh-McBirney maintains edge with e-mail marketing

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Marsh-McBirney Inc., a manufacturer of flow-measuring instruments, found a way to engage customers with e-mail newsletters.

The Frederick, Md.-based company’s products help municipalities and water and waste treatment facilities measure the flow in rivers, streams and sewers. It’s a highly competitive market, and Marsh-McBirney is a privately held company with only 65 employees. Conglomerates Siemens AG and ABB Group dominate the flow meter space, and Marsh-McBirney’s closest competitor, Isco Inc., generates about six times the amount of revenue that Marsh-McBirney does.

"We have much more restrictive budgets than our direct competitors," said Kevin Marsh, VP-sales. "We’re this little company, and we recognize we’re not going to be able to do traditional ad placements the way some of our bigger competitors can."

So the company turned to e-mail newsletters. Marsh had gained experience with the medium when he and his wife began publishing, as a hobby, a gardening e-mail newsletter for the Kansas City area. The newsletter has paid advertising and goes to about 6,000 gardeners. Marsh realized there might be a way to transfer that success to a b-to-b newsletter that would encourage customer relationships with Marsh-McBirney.

In January, the company began sending its "Focus on Flow" monthly e-mail newsletter to its list of customers with e-mail addresses, as well as to prospects whose names were gathered by sales reps. Rockville, Md.-based In-Box Interactive handles e-mail marketing services for Marsh-McBirney, including creative, formatting, distribution and back-end campaign analysis.

The newsletter highlights the technological advances that set Marsh-McBirney apart from its competitors, Marsh said. "One of our company’s strengths is that we’re innovative in terms of technology," he said. "We have a reputation for leading the market in creating and adapting technologies."

The newsletter also features examples of how Marsh-McBirney’s customers use the company’s products. Stories are written in-house and by independent industry experts.

The company chose an e-mail newsletter because of the nature of its business. The buying cycle for Marsh-McBirney’s products is a minimum of three months, and it is not unusual for the cycle to last more than a year. The average sale is about $15,000. Because customers are making capital purchase decisions on products that often need to last five to 15 years, Marsh opted to use the newsletters to build the company’s brand, rather than sending out the occasional offer-based e-mail campaign.

"There’s no appeal to a one-off special," he said. "That would not spur anyone to action."

Marsh said the newsletter format helps to communicate unfamiliar and technical information to customers and keeps the company’s products top of mind with readers. "They’re seeing my logo and company name every month," he said.

Marsh-McBirney began with just a few hundred e-mail addresses in January; since then it has tripled the number of subscribers by collecting prospects’ e-mail addresses from sales reps and at trade shows. Based on historical sales activity, Marsh estimates that about half of the e-mail subscribers will purchase something from the company within the next 12 months. Meanwhile, the audience is highly engaged; recent click-through rates have been about 35%.

The company funded the newsletter project by reallocating money from its direct mail and print advertising budgets, and Marsh is pleased with the return on investment.

"We’re getting similar effectiveness at probably half the cost compared to direct mail and print," he said.

Marsh would not reveal his marketing budget but said that about 25% of it is now earmarked for e-mail newsletter marketing.

Looking ahead, Marsh would like to bring even more sophistication to the process next year. "We’d like to integrate all this as a closed loop that incorporates newsletters, print, direct mail and trade shows," he said.

The newsletter will be a linchpin in that integration. Marsh said he’s hoping to use the newsletter as a testing ground to see what customers are interested in, then use that information to decide what the print advertising message should be.

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