Studies have shown that only a small fraction of email marketers (32%) test their campaigns to see what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes it’s because of the last-minute nature of many email campaigns that are launched. Other times, it’s because email campaigns are set up with pre-made content and automated, to be promptly forgotten about months later. Both of these “just phoning it in” approaches to email marketing are leaving thousands of dollars on the table, and are just a step above purposely insulting your customers, in terms of effectiveness.
We’re going to help you turn your email marketing from second-tier afterthought to the star performer of your digital marketing initiative. A good place to start is to collect information on what works and what doesn’t, and the best way to do that is by A/B testing.
A/B testing is the practice of fine-tuning marketing materials by sending out two copies, with small differences in them, to see which one converts better. So when your marketing manager and your sales manager get into an argument about how to word the subject line, instead of being caught in the middle and picking a side, you can suggest they duke it out for marketing supremacy via a test. After a predetermined number of responses, one of the entries is declared the winner and the entire campaign gets rolled over to the winning design. So not only do you get to settle internal arguments with data instead of hunches and anecdotes, you can start building a comprehensive list of preferences and design choices that cause higher conversions among your subscribers.
So how do you bring together your email marketing team to start A/B testing towards success? It’s easier than you may think. The great thing about a properly planned and executed A/B campaign is that with every iteration of your design, things become easier and the process becomes more streamlined. The more information you learn about what your customers like or don’t like, the more your emails will begin to resemble a mad-libs, with most of the content and design already filled in, and just a few key details needed to be added.
When you first begin your campaign, your initial focus should be the design and layout. Start with one of the basic email templates available online or with the template you’ve been using, and make a small change to it. Maybe change the way you use your brand colors, or change what side of the email images show up on. Keep your changes small, and easy to track. Use everything you learn in your tests in all messages going forward, so that you are continuously improving. After some time – possibly a few emails later to a few years worth of testing – you will run into a situation where changes to the template no longer produce improvements. Though that’s a clear indicator that you’re doing something right, It doesn’t mean that you’ve necessarily found the perfect design, so you should still periodically test changes to the layout, just not as intensively.
Another component it is vital to test early and often is the subject line. Often, the subject line is the only part of your campaign that a customer sees before sending your message to its final resting place in the trash, or worse yet, the spam folder. Keep a close eye on the kinds of headlines that end up winning the tests. Is there a particular use of punctuation that seems to send open rates through the roof? Maybe a particular order of subject and object, or specific words that cause more people to mark you as spam? Pay very close attention to the winners, and use everything you learn going forward.
Time and lack of know-how is what keeps many marketing teams from implementing an intelligent A/B testing campaign. So how do you overcome those roadblocks? The solution is two-fold: first, set up a definitive email marketing editorial calendar and hold everyone accountable to it. Give your team time to meet the deadlines, and don’t let them miss a deadline without repercussions. The second part of the approach needs to be a demonstrable time benefit. Show your creative team how over time, running an iterative A/B campaign will actually make their job easier by allowing your customers to do all the refinement on the design work. Put both of those things together and your team won’t be able to help but to get on board with your A/B testing plan.
Now that we’ve planted the A/B bug in your ear, get out there and start testing. And after you get the hang of it, start looking for more things you can test. From web-pages to print materials to the pitches your sales guys make. Just remember, no matter how good you think you are, your decisions will always be better if guided by a healthy dose of research data.