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Company: CMO Council
Contact: Liz Miller, Vice-President of Operations
Location: Palo Alto, California
Industry: Nonprofit, B2B
Annual revenue: Confidential
Number of employees: Confidential

Quick Read:

When it comes to email marketing to marketing executives, standing out from the crowd can be quite a challenge. Such was the case for the CMO Council, an invitation-only marketing organization made up of more than 3,000 high-level executives from leading corporations worldwide. Representing the likes of Dell Computer, Nike Corp., Sony, and Coca-Cola, these members are the marketers who frequently "push the needle" and set the trends that inspire others.

When planning for the CMO Council's 2006 Summit—which took place late last year in two cities—Council leaders faced the dual challenge of effectively reaching busy members while maintaining the group's reputation for innovation and cutting-edge technology. Video stood out as a potential way to capture the attention and respect of these members, and ON24, Inc., a webcasting and media marketing services provider, showed the Council how it could integrate personalized webcasting into a new email format.

The new approach paid off, resulting in the Council's best-ever email campaign. The 2006 summit emails received a 99% open rate and an 80+% click-though rate and led to a host of early registrations for its two summit events.

The Challenge:

The CMO Council is a private, nonprofit organization made up of senior marketing executives; membership is by invitation only. Members work toward furthering the stature, credibility, and understanding of strategic marketing among business executives. Hence, this is a sophisticated audience that isn't easily impressed.

CMO Council executives had this in mind as they thought about new ways to promote their 2006 Summit—a two-part event consisting of a North America Summit, to be held in October in San Francisco, and a Europe Summit, to be held in London in November.

Email marketing had always played a pivotal role in the Council's event promotion, but the success rates were waning. In past years, Council email campaign open rates had typically been 80-85%, largely due to its highly qualified list of members who were honored to be in the association. But as the Council sent out more email announcements, combined with the hundreds of emails these members typically received each day, the open rates had dwindled to 55-60%.

The Council needed to differentiate its messages and cut through the clutter if it was going to get results.

"It came to our attention that our email marketing [had reached] the point where there was a lot of great content, but not that 'wow' factor," said Liz Miller, vice-president of operations for the CMO Council. "Our members are very savvy.... [To maintain our brand] we need to be ahead of that curve, to know about technology heading down the pipe before our members do."

The Campaign:

While partnering with the CMO Council on a separate initiative, ON24, Inc., a webcasting and media marketing services provider, introduced the idea of using webcasts within email promotions.

"They brought it to us as a new platform and a personalized, engaging format to interact with our members," explained Miller. This, they believed, would reinforce the CMO Council's reputation for cutting-edge marketing and technological innovation while encapsulating the Summit's theme that year: The Power of Engagement.

With this in mind, both sides began brainstorming and mapped out a promotion schedule that would entail a series of emails to tout both the North American and the European Summits.

Each email included a distinct message that built upon the preceding communications and embraced several key components to appeal to the target market:

  • Personalization incorporating peer-to-peer interaction: Each email was addressed to the member by name and presented as a personal invitation to connect with a well-known fellow marketer. The CMO Council tapped its Advisory Board to find spokespersons who members would view both as peers and frontrunners in the industry. These people included Yahoo Chief Marketing Officer Cammie Dunaway, Symantec Vice-President of Marketing Amanda Jobbins, and the CMO Council's own executive director, Donovan Neale-May.

  • Tight, "punchy" copy: Prior to this campaign, the CMO Council had sent out lengthy emails with comprehensive information promoting all the event's offerings, including the agenda as well as listings of topics and speakers. ON24 recommended shortening the message and instead focusing on the novelty of the technology—and "interaction" with the speaker within the webcast—to deliver the pertinent information.

    The resulting message was straight to the point with a clear call to action. It read, "Dear (Member): Meet Cammie Dunaway, chief marketing officer at Yahoo!. Please click on the link below...," then provided the link. The subject line, "CMO Council Summit: Members Only Invitation," was also crisp and enticing, and the video offered recipient-centric advantages for attending the Summit in succinct one-and-a-half- or two-minute presentations.

  • User-friendly technology: Webcasting was an exciting new medium, but it also had to be seamless to keep the recipient's attention. Therefore, when a CMO Council member clicked on the email link, they were taken to a webcast page that immediately launched the streaming video and allowed users to pause or replay the recording as desired. Users did not have to wait for the video to load, and it played continuously, without pausing to reload.

    "We made sure that the video was in a format that wouldn't take up a lot of bandwidth so that regardless of computer requirements, users could view it quickly and easily," said Cece Salomon-Lee, marketing communications manager at ON24, Inc. Moreover, the screen displayed tabs that linked directly to the agenda and registration pages on the 2006 Summit website so that users could obtain further information.

To keep the Summit fresh in the minds of its attendees-to-be, a fourth email containing a compilation video was also sent out just before the event. Webcasts were even shown at the entrance of the Summit venues during the events, in order to further connect with the attendees and spur conversation.

The entire process took about three weeks from the time the Council okayed the project to when ON24 delivered the rich media webcast. ON24's back-end reporting system allowed the Council to measure the number of recipient views, average viewing time, and user interaction, all in real-time.

The Results:

The Council members' reaction? They were impressed. The rich media campaign clearly captured their attention, boasting a 99% open rate and 80+% click though rate for the first round of emails promoting the San Francisco event.

"The concept of that level of peer interaction piqued a lot of people's interest," said Miller. "A very high level [of recipients who opened the email] then clicked on the link and viewed the message from Cammie, which became a very important tool in our promotion of the Summit; it gave us another entree and a very valuable one to open that dialogue with them."

The campaign also prompted significant early registration for the event, filling 235 of the 300 spots by the time the final compilation video email was sent out. "A side perk was that there a lot of interest early on so there was no last-minute push for registrations, [and we] could focus on other things such as staging the summit," Miller said.

The European campaign also fared well, experiencing a 45% increase in its open rate and an equally strong volume of early registrations. With this type of campaign, the CMO Council was able to "reinvigorate a lot of those people [who registered early] and keep the Summit top of mind," said Miller.

Lessons Learned:

  • Leverage the power of peers: To carry the message, the CMO Council used dynamic executives with whom their members could relate. They were positioned as peers offering insightful information that would interest the Council's member base. To further the connection, the spokespersons were chosen from the local markets they represented; Amanda Jobbins of Symantec is well known within Europe, for example, and was therefore selected to promote the London Summit.

  • Keep it short: By limiting the email copy, the focus of the message was placed on the innovative technology and interactive nature of the campaign, which really engaged the target audience, buttressed the CMO Council brand, and enticed its members to actively pursue additional information on their own accord.

  • Take a chance with new technology: The merging of interactive webcasts into email was not a proven platform at the time; however, the CMO Council opted to try it, resulting in better-than-expected results and a reputation boost in the process.

Related Links:

CMO Council 2006 Summit email example

CMO Council 2006 Summit rich media webcast

CMO Council Web site

ON24 Web site


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Kimberly Smith is a staff writer for MarketingProfs. Reach her via