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Growing Subscription Revenue With Triggered Emails and Online Renewals: How Three Companies Did It

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Publishers, membership-based organizations, and anyone who manages subscriptions can benefit from triggered emails by using date-based triggers to remind customers to renew. Automating this process saves time and money. Even more important, using triggered emails can significantly boost your response rates on renewals.

The following case studies illustrate how three organizations applied best-practices for deploying triggered emails to drive renewals—and what tips and tricks you can use to do the same.

Case 1: Magazine-Subscription Renewal

Magazines drive revenue from several sources, but the two most prominent are advertising and reader subscriptions.

Although many print publications must use snail mail as their primary vehicle for renewals, adding email and online renewals can decrease cost and boost renewal rates. Here's one potential scenario:


A subscriber signs up online for a one-year subscription to his favorite music magazine. His email address is captured as one of the fields on the subscription form. Though the magazine is a print publication, it need not confine itself to print renewal notices. Why not first send an online renewal?

For example, once a reader subscribes, the reader is automatically added to the triggered email campaign (also called a drip campaign). In 12 months, when the reader's subscription expires, the date-based email is triggered. Here's an example of what your campaign structure might look like:

  • Campaign 1: 30 days before subscription expires, send Reminder 1
  • Campaign 2: One week before subscription expires, send Reminder 2
  • Campaign 3: The day of expiration, send Reminder 3
  • Campaign 4: One week after expiration, send the Final Reminder

 

If the recipient renews, it's important to remove that person from the series of triggers. For example, if Jane Doe renews after receiving Campaign 1, she doesn't need (or want) to receive emails 2 through 4.

Case 2: Membership Renewals—Visual Art Exchange

Visual Art Exchange (VAE), the oldest private nonprofit visual-arts organization in Raleigh, NC, has had drastic increases in membership renewals and revenue generation since implementing online membership renewals with an auto-responder campaign.

With roughly 500 members and an annual budget of $300K, VAE counts on every dollar. Membership renewals account for roughly 20% of VAE's annual operating budget.

In July, VAE launched its annual membership drive, choosing to implement triggered emails and an online membership-renewal form as its primary marketing vehicle. Similar to the previous example, VAE uses several campaigns before and after the expiration date to encourage members to renew online. Those campaigns are powerful revenue generators, the first of which drove the following impressive results:

  • 54% open rate
  • 15% click-through rate
  • 20% increase in membership renewals from previous year (prior to online auto-responder campaigns)

 

In addition to triggered emails, VAE is using traditional email marketing as a vehicle to promote the membership campaign. Every newsletter or email update has a link to the membership-renewal form. VAE keeps the registration form to less than 12 questions and uses online payment service PayPal to process payment.

The key was to make it simple for the user to use and for VAE's small staff of four to manage.

"We didn't have the time or money to invest in a sophisticated membership-management system," said Sarah Powers, executive director of VAE. "We use surveys provided by our email-marketing provider to collect member data. Once they hit Submit, they are directed to a page on our website which allows them to choose which level they're going to sign up for. PayPal drives that portion of the process. It's simple, easy to manage, and thus far very effective."

VAE also uses clear subject lines in its auto responders to ensure the recipient understands what action needs to be taken. Some examples:

  • Your Visual Art Exchange Membership Expires in 30 Days—Renew Now
  • Your Visual Art Exchange Membership Expires in 7 Days—Renew Now
  • Your Visual Art Exchange Membership Expires Today—Renew Now

 

By implementing online renewals and triggers, VAE has also reduced expenses by eliminating bulk-mail programs.

In the past, all VAE members received renewal information through snail mail. Now, VAE sends printed mail packets only to those who have not renewed via the online-subscription method, achieving an 80% reduction in printing and postage expenses.

Case 3: Membership Renewals—North Carolina Board of Examiners of Electrical Contractors

The North Carolina Board of Examiners of Electrical Contractors (NCBEEC) has also attained remarkable success using triggered emails.

NCBEEC defines its mission as "to protect the life, health, and property of the public through examination of applicants, education of licensees, and discipline of individuals to promote quality electrical contracting in accordance with NC generate Statues Chapter 87-Article 4."

Similar to VAE, NCBEEC's main objectives for implementing triggered campaigns for renewals were to increase renewal rates and reduce the cost associated with traditional print renewal campaigns. With a membership of more than 14,000, NCBEEC was spending a substantial amount on printing and postage.

In August, the NCBEEC released its first drip campaign to members whose licenses were due to expire in October 2009. The email included several pieces of customized information for each recipient, including account number, user ID, and password. Each data point was required to complete the online renewal process.

Like VAE, a clear subject line was used explaining that the recipient's membership would soon expire. NCBEEC's results were instantly exciting to the staff. The first drip campaign included the following results:

  • Open rate of 46%
  • Click-through rate of 39%
  • 20% higher renewal rate than the previous year

 

NCBEEC went a step further and followed up directly with roughly 40 members whose email bounced. The calls resulted in fresh emails for all 40 bounces and additional renewals, with the following results:

  • Open rate of 51%
  • Click-through rate of 47%
  • 50% of recipients renewed after receiving campaign

 

Those results were in stark contrast to earlier efforts made by NCBEEC.

"We were mandated by our Board to find ways to cut spending," said Mary Higgins of NCBEEC. "We had tried to get licensees to renew online by sending print flyers in their renewal mailing requesting they visit the website to renew, but this wasn't successful. Using triggered email marketing takes them directly to the renewal page with one click. It's saving us time, postage, and printing expenditures."

Those results translated into major savings in printing and postage for NCBEEC. Traditionally, a print campaign with postage to its membership base could cost as much as $7K annually. NCBEEC now uses email renewals at a fraction of the cost—less than $1K annually.

Conclusions

Companies and organizations can realize real savings by using traditional email marketing along with drip campaigns to encourage renewals online. Keep the process simple and make the sign-up options intuitive for your subscribers.

There are plenty of tools you can use to get your online program up and running. At a minimum, you'll need the following:

  • A survey or registration program to collect membership information (many email-marketing providers offer it as an add-on product)
  • An email-marketing service provider to generate your drip campaigns
  • A payment system for credit-card or other payment processing

 

Once those tools are in place, it's simple to start driving revenue for your organization through online renewals. The beauty of triggered emails is that once they're set up in your email marketing application, you can hit Submit and watch the results.

Sure, you'll want to tweak and maximize messaging, but those tools largely automate the process, saving you precious time and energy. 


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Winston Bowden is marketing and sales manager at Durham-based Contactology (www.contactology.com). Reach him via wbowden@contactology.com.

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