By Nettie Hartsock
A successful online print company used a single educational white paper to increase its marketing list and scored big returns.
VistaPrint is known for high-quality, low-volume printing targeted at very small businesses. The company decided to think outside the box for lead generation ideas and settled on an educational white paper. The audience-the ultra-small business owner-is unfamiliar with white papers, so VistaPrint needed to get creative.
Mike Ewing, vice president of North America Acquisitions for VistaPrint, wanted to push the boundaries of standard marketing processes. He explained, “With this endeavor, we started out with the hypothesis: If you give people something of value, in exchange they are willing to be marketed to.” For Ewing, a key goal was to maximize the number of registrations for the paper and achieve a return on investment in three months.
Michael Stelzner, creative partner at Stelzner Consulting (the company VistaPrint contracted to produce the white paper), explained, “An underlying goal was permission-based marketing. VistaPrint wanted to expand its e-mail list for future marketing campaigns and was willing to give an educational white paper a try.”
The key of the initiative was to create and distribute the white paper from an altruistic approach. Rather than selling a product, VistaPrint wanted to give concrete tools to independent businesspeople to help them economically market their businesses. “With the campaign, we needed to move our standard marketing about buying printed products to permission-based, and offer value to those prospective customers who might not be ready to buy today,” recalled Ewing.
VistaPrint’s white paper campaign needed to convince small business owners to register for the full white paper after reading only the first page. Stelzner explained, “We used a strategy common in the videogame industry. Give a little away to hook readers and then make them act to get access to the rest.” The first page of the paper needed to have a high impact. “Providing the full text of the first page increased the lead quality by assuring those who registered were truly interested in the offer because they had been exposed to enough of the content to convince them to trade personal information for access to the document,” said Stelzner.
The title of the white paper, “Marketing Your Business on a Shoestring Budget: A Practical Guide to Success,” was carefully crafted. A deliberate decision was made not to refer to the document as a white paper because the target reader was unfamiliar with the term.
Stelzner Consulting built a micro-site for the white paper offer that contained no other information or links common with the VistaPrint.com site. This was important to keep the potential lead focused only on the white paper. See the site at www.vistaprintsmallbusiness.com.
The paper addressed and encompassed the most common challenges faced by companies with little or no marketing budgets. Not only did it summarize those issues, it also provided a series of tips for businesses to follow to capitalize on marketing with little or no budget and under any existing time constraints.
Finally, the paper ended with a strong call to action, an offer for 250 business cards at no cost from VistaPrint. The call to action was dispersed in many different places beyond the paper itself. It was located on the “thank you for registering” page, on the white paper download page and in a second e-mail that was sent 6 hours after initial registration.
VistaPrint promoted the paper online via Google AdWords and Overture campaigns, with e-mail blasts and on its websites.
VistaPrint was able to create a significant permission-based e-mail list for future marketing campaigns and achieved an excellent conversion rate.
The results were staggering. VistaPrint had more than 5,000 registrants in 60 days and more than 10% of these registrants converted into a sale.
Comparing the e-mail offer of the white paper to an offer for business cards returned mixed results. “We did a split test head-to-head offer and what we found in the e-mail was that the offer of the white paper was not as effective as the card offer,” said Ewing.
But the surprise, according to Ewing, was the boost of traffic from the search advertising portion of the initiative. “For search it was much better. We were also able to add more keywords, which we had not been able to do with just the business card offers. For instance, we could add ‘marketing tips’ and we were able to create boosted relevancy.”
VistaPrint was also able to drive existing traffic from its websites to the white paper offer. Ewing explained, “We didn’t know who those people were. But by using the content offer, we were able to drive up the registration rate.”
Ewing said they’re still in the process of determining if they will push more value-added content as part of their standard marketing initiatives, but sees the initial campaign as a success.
“The biggest lesson we learned is that you have to be willing to give something away. You have to look at your prospective customers and determine not only what you think they want, but what they need. We asked, ‘What do they want to get from us?’”
Ewing said the process also had value for VistaPrint beyond the marketing results. “Through this process, we actually came around to recognizing that many of our products could really be used by SMBs and serve them extensively in their day-to-day customer outreach.”
DISCUSSION: Discuss this topic at the WhitePaperSource forum.