Case Study: Which Marketing Strategies Filled a Group Program in Four Days

When I’m not furiously typing out another promotion plan for a client, I run another business called The Iceberg Project. It's all about helping people who are obsessed with Italy learn Italian in a way that’s accessible and fun.

One of the ways I do that is by sharing strategies of how to learn a language. An offering that accomplishes this is called the Italian Language Studio, a six-week online program that walks students through principles like how to improve memory, how to practice thinking in Italian, and how to choose the best resources for your level.

Early 2016, I decided to run another round of a group program called the Italian Language Studio ($457).

I knew from running it once in January 2015 that my max number of students was six. So I chose a date for the program to start -- July 2016 -- and started preparing for an application-only launch.


At this point, I had been growing The Iceberg Project community for around 3 ½ years. My email list was just over 2.2k, and I had been regularly sending free “bite-sized weekly lessons” throughout that entire time.

From the last time I ran the program, I had a waitlist of 51 people who had opted in to knowing when the next studio would launch.

I want to emphasize that so my results aren’t sensationalized. (Because I have a tendency, as a romantic, to sensationalize stories.)


So I planned to send the early list an email 48 hours before the main list.

All in all, I planned a 2-email launch sequence for the wait list and a 4-email launch sequence for the main list, which included standard formats like education, the initial call-to-action, FAQ, and last chance.


But, much to my surprise, I received thirteen applications after sending just two emails out - one to the wait list and one to the main list - in just four days.

If you’re curious about the numbers, here is what the recipient count, open rates, and clickthrough rates were for each email.

Waitlist email (read the copy here):

  • Recipients - 51

  • Open rate - 88.2%

  • Clickthrough rate - 49%

From the waitlist, two people signed up. Five applied from that group. And three weren’t accepted.

Main list email (read the copy here):

  • Recipients - 2, 278

  • Open rate - 54%

  • Clickthrough rate - 9%

From that group, there were 8 applications. Five people were accepted. One person who applied and was accepted passed on it. So that left me with four people who signed up.

Ta-da! I had my cohort of six students.


So what are the takeaways from this experience?

  • Consistent communication is queen. Consistent conversation with your community through one medium, like email, over a long period of time counts for A LOT for building trust and attracting ideal clients who want you have to offer.  

  • Social media is a bonus. I didn’t post at all on social media about the studio. I decided to focus all of my efforts on email since I had more confidence with a waitlist.

  • Waitlists can underperform a main list. I thought for sure that the majority of students would come from the waitlist. Lo and behold, the main list won out with a 50% conversion rate from application to sign up. The waitlist did bring in two people, but I expected it to bring in the most amount of sign ups.

  • Process what readers have to say. The copy I wrote for the two emails was not only a compilation of the thoughts I had collected from reader emails, but it was also a result of the processing I had done around what they had been telling me. So instead of just swiping a phrase they used, I would think about what the phrase meant in the bigger context of the other readers’ lives. Is this something that’s going to resonate with others? Or is there a deeper thread that this person is trying to say but doesn’t know how to articulate? If you’re curious about what the copy said, you can read it here and here.

  • Real urgency. I didn’t manufacture urgency. I knew my limitations as an online facilitator (6 students). And I knew that I didn’t love running the studio more than once a year. So I was honest with people. In my opinion, that accounted for a lot of the success of this launch.


This was a very different experience from the first time I launched this studio where I had hoped to enroll 10 students and instead enrolled 6. The material, at that time, wasn’t solid, and I did have one piece of feedback from that round that made me cry. (Not from joy but from “Fuck, I know exactly how I could have done better.”)


There are a couple things I wish I would have done better.

  1. Qualified the waitlist. I got a lot of applications from the waitlist but less sign ups because I said no to at least four people. They weren’t the right fit because of time zone conflicts, level of Italian, or level of motivation (who knows how I decided to measure that). I learned from that experience to be more specific about who the offering is for upfront, like on a waitlist opt-in page. Also, in the future, I could be more strategic about keeping in touch with the waitlist with freebies from the studio or "waitlist exclusive" virtual events.

  2. Considered the consequences. As I’ve grown as a marketer, I’ve learned to think about my marketing efforts in a more holistic way. So, how might the messages I’m sending in this launch affect the readers who don’t apply for it? The ones who can’t afford it? Do these messages in any way attempt leverage to leverage feminism or use revolutionary language that's inappropriate to make a sale? Are any of these messages manufactured or inauthentic? Do they add something useful to the conversation? Am I trying to unethically use unconscious mental triggers?

So beyond showcasing my professional experience as a marketer, this case study also serves as a reminder that learning how to effectively communicate with your ideal clients is a process. One that should be tinkered with, recorded, and acknowledged.

And it shows that we can always be thinking about how to use marketing for purposes beyond profit. To start important conversations. To educate people. And to be a part of the solution for the causes we believe in.

Hi, I’m Cher!

I write about the place where business + social responsibility meet. When I'm not researching whatever my latest obsession is, you can find me re-watching Remember the Titans, posting on Insta @___whatthehale, or hiking somewhere in the PNW. If you're interested in working with me on a marketing or PR campaign, I do that, too.

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