It all started with a sobering realization. In one of the meetings at the Golf Channel headquarters, analysts and marketers discovered their email list was stagnant. Although their email marketing program had been in full swing for several years, they began to see a slump around 2013 and 2014.

Does this sound familiar?

Email marketing used to be the hot new way to reach customers, but as more people’s inboxes became stuffed with sales messages, it became harder and harder for businesses to break through.

How the Golf Channel Tackled the Challenge

The Golf Channel is a niche network. There’s no question about who makes up their customer base – anybody who loves the game of golf.

The network caters to all areas of this niche demographic. From the person who just stepped off the green for the first time to the professionals who are constantly looking for more ways to soak up the sport they love, the Golf Channel has content for them.

The problem wasn’t finding their customer or identifying their buyer personas. The problem was getting people signed up to have their content sent to them via email. They wanted to grow their email list, but something wasn’t adding up.

Email is a “huge driver of consumption, whether that’s going on or downloading our app or watching our videos. So we felt very invested in taking a look at why that was, why was our database flat and how could we change that,” said Carolina Castaneda, Digital Marketing Director for the Golf Channel.

So, they came up with a plan.

In 2015, they reported growing their email list by 32%.

Although that statistic alone impressed me, what I really resonated with was the level of engagement of their subscribers. This is where the real marketing gold is and what the Golf Channel knew they needed to get their content consumed.

After their campaign, the Golf Channel saw a 40% open rate and a 60% click through rate on average. These are impressive numbers for any business.

What You Can Learn From the Golf Channel’s Success

The Golf Channel executives recently sat down with the good people at MarketingSherpa to talk about their struggles and share a few insights about how they overcame the email marketing growth challenge faced by so many businesses.

If growing your email subscribers is a top priority in your marketing plan, here are a few lessons you can glean from the Golf Channel’s rise to success.

Lesson #1: Make the Sign Up Section Clearer

The first step in getting people to sign up is to show them the way to the email sign up form. If your fans don’t know about your list, or don’t know how to get on your list, it’ll be a lot more challenging to grow.

To make it clearer, the media outlet chose a few strategies.

  1. They added a Golf E-Newsletter link on their Facebook page.

With close to 500,000 likes on Facebook, the Golf Channel knew there was potential for new email sign ups from their social media following. To make it easier, they included a custom tab on their Facebook page where people could click to sign up without leaving the social network.

Facebook Marketing Case Study

  1. They tested various lightboxes on their website.

When a person lands on their website, they want to make it equally clear that they have an email newsletter available. To do this, they tested a variety of lightboxes that would pop up over the content a person was already engaged in.

They tested left aligned, full page takeovers, right corner aligned and more. Ultimately what they found was the takeover overlay in the middle of the page worked best for them.

This isn’t the case for every business, so it’s important to test to see what your specific audience wants from you. The Golf Channel agreed. They’re still testing to see what will work the best for their target market by continuing to monitor the data and insights that pour in.

Lesson #2: Simplify the Process

Step one in the Golf Channel campaign was to make it easier for their fans to sign up.

People tend to drift toward the path of least resistance. If the process to sign up for an email list goes beyond answering one or two questions, you’re losing a good chunk of your audience.

Before the redesign of their email subscription campaign, the Golf Channel required subscribers to answer 13 questions. It was a daunting process that undoubtedly scared off more than a handful of potential subscribers.

So, they simplified the process.

Instead of asking for 13 mandatory fields, the marketing team eliminated 12 questions. Now, the only information the person is required to give to get on the list is their email address.

Once the person fills out their email list, they are then presented with a few choices. They can choose to receive a daily email with news, scores and updates, information about sweepstakes and show premieres, or an email with exclusive offers.

Once they’ve chosen their preferences, they agree to a few requirements (such as being over the age of 18) and in one click, they’re signed up. Here’s how the process looks on the Golf Channel’s website:

email marketing case study

From first glance, the subscriber can see how simple the process will be. He knows it won’t take long to get on the list, so it makes the entire sign up process feel less intimidating.

Based on the 32% increase in subscribers, I can confidently say this form was far more effective than the previous 13-question form they used. If you’re planning a website redesign, or at least a redesign of your email sign up list, use this simplified form for inspiration.

Lesson #3: Allow for Customization

The lingering question about this signup form is, “how does a person get on or off the other email lists? What happens when a person grows tired of one of the emails and wants to change their preferences?”

The Golf Channel took that into consideration too.

At any time, an email subscriber can login to update their preferences. Many times when companies offer this login, the process is tedious. It requires setting up an account, having a password (and having to reset the password when the person undoubtedly forgets it), and then navigate to find the preferences section.

This process was also simplified in the Golf Channel campaign redo. For a person to update or change his preferences, he only has to provide his email address and click a button. Then, he can decide which email newsletter he’d like to receive instead.

Here’s what it looks like:

email marketing case study

This is again a one-click process to keep things as easy as possible for their subscribers. Instead of risking people clicking the dreaded unsubscribe button, they make it fast and straightforward for their subscribers to change their preferences and thereby, stay on the list.

Growing Your Email Subscribers the Golf Channel Way

“Email is alive and well. People are highly interested in email. Not only are they highly interested in receiving it, but they’re actually consuming it,” Castaneda said.

If you want to grow your email subscribers using the Golf Channel’s model, there are four main steps to follow:

  1. Make it clearer how to register
  2. Simplify the process
  3. Allow your email subscribers to decide how, what and when they receive content from you.

By doing this, the Golf Channel saw a 32% spike in subscribers, and a boost to 40% open rate with a 60% click through rate. This is no small feat.