Top Layer Finds E-Newsletters Keep It Top of Mind

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Top Layer Networks' business is built on protecting customers from computer hazards such as viruses and worms by providing network intrusion prevention systems. So it was not surprising that when trying to establish a new marketing initiative, the company's main goal was to connect with customers and prospects without being intrusive.


The answer: an e-newsletter that presents educational materials to these CIOs and IT managers, informing them of the latest issues around information security while keeping Top Layer top of mind as a potential solution.


"We had a very limited marketing budget, and we needed a low-cost way to communicate with thousands of contacts in our database," said Donna Rogers, marketing communications manager at Top Layer, Westboro, MA. "We wanted a way to help educate customers and prospects about our technology and general network security issues organizations are facing and hopefully lead them down the path of needing our product to help solve those issues. We also needed help to build brand recognition to help create sales opportunities."


Top Layer began work with application service provider IMN (iMakeNews Inc.), Waltham, MA, more than two years ago to create the newsletter, which initially went to a list of 3,000 names. Getting started was relatively easy and cost effective, Rogers said.


"Once you have the template in place, you can literally publish a newsletter in one day and get it out to thousands of people," she said. "With direct mail, from all the creative and printing and postage, the costs were prohibitive."


Thus, this low-cost marketing medium has been able to grow without straining Rogers' budget. Since that first issue was published in February 2003, the list of current and potential customers who get the newsletter has risen to 30,000 worldwide.


The newsletters contain white papers and analyst reports as well as links to relevant articles that appear in industry publications. Rogers said she initially created the content for the newsletters, but adding third-party content let her increase the frequency of the publication, from quarterly to its current schedule of every six to eight weeks.


Rogers quickly learned through the analytic capabilities offered by IMN and the newsletters that readers were most interested in that third-party content from industry trade publications (such as SC Magazine and Information Security).


"[The analytics] allow me to see who is clicking on what article, what they like and what they don't have interest in," she said. "Over time, I've used those results to help set up the newsletter so that I am providing more of the content that's been successful."


Rogers prefers to receive data, such as which articles are most popular among readers and which readers clicked on which articles, in an Excel spreadsheet (though IMN offers pie charts and other reporting presentations), which she can study and then forward to sales as a lead generation tool. Rogers said she typically waits three to five days for recipients to open the newsletter before she reviews the feedback.


When recipients click on a story (each issue typically has four to six stories), a new window opens -- so Top Layer doesn't lose the reader to a different site.


According to Rogers, the open rate for the newsletter averages 30 percent to 40 percent. The combined hit rate on the first and second articles is 43 percent to 75 percent (this represents the percentage of recipients who clicked through to read these entire articles).


"The [content] that has been written by third parties definitely pulls the best," she said. "If I link to something in those [industry] publications, they are usually going to read the article. Even though many of them may subscribe to the publications, it's a name they know and trust, and they may have missed an article. But I'm sending that article because it supports our basic products."


The newsletters have accomplished what Rogers desired from a financial standpoint: She estimates that each issue costs 2 cents to 4 cents per recipient to produce. And the publication is becoming the lead generator the company envisioned as well.


"Out of that 30,000, usually under 1,000 we would consider a warm lead -- someone to follow up with or pay more attention to," Rogers said. "Obviously, sales can't call all 30,000 people, so this helps bring those who have shown more interest to the top of the pile. It's helping them determine who they need to pay attention to."


The list of customers and prospects receiving the newsletter has grown partly because of Top Layer's diligence in collecting customer information from various touch points. The company receives contact information from venues such as trade shows as well as its Web site.


"We think the newsletter is an important component of our entire marketing program," she said. "The only reason it has been able to grow to 30,000 names is because we have been able to feed it from our other marketing programs. So we think it's an important part of our overall sales and marketing program."


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