Test your way to better e-mail response and targeting

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E-mail has many strengths, and one of the key attributes that excites marketers is the ability to track and report on subscribers' behaviors. Savvy marketers understand the importance of not only testing to increase performance, but choosing the right types of tests to run. They also understand that what worked previously or for another e-mail program may not work today or for your program. This is the reason that the answer to most questions is simply "it depends" and "test it."

One of the key secrets to successful optimization testing in e-mail is finding the right element to test. This element yields not only significant results, but repeatable and actionable results. Nothing can be worse than doing an A/B subject line test, and rolling the winning subject line out to your full audience, only to discover that you can't determine what about the subject line drove increased responses so you can't repeat it. However, using the right simple test can lead to big results.

Audience segmentation. While it is tempting to try to apply what works to every subscriber on your list, different segments often respond to different stimuli. Before making any changes to subject lines, calls to action, or offers, create segment groups of similar subscriber behaviors.

Subject lines. These are the main context for which subscribers decide to open the message, and the expectation is the more readers, the higher the conversion should be. There are essentially three main elements you should test in subject lines:

• Brand-specific subject lines (company or product name)

• Action-oriented subject lines (limited time only vs. shop now)

• Benefit-driven subject lines (promotions like "free shipping")

Marketers can add personalization to this and placement (front, middle and end), and you end up with an interesting testing matrix. Prominence and placement of each test are controllable variables and ones you can use to apply to future messaging.

Calls to action. A strong call to action has three key elements: the action you want the reader to take; the words you use to issue the call; and its physical appearance.

Even simple testing (A/B) can yield strong results, but these learnings need to be documented so they don't get lost over time. Testing should be a process of learning what drives your audience to respond at higher rates so you can optimize future messaging. Be careful not to test for the sake of testing, but to have an idea of the expected outcome, and test to validate your assumptions. Then apply what you have learned to future campaigns and you truly will have optimized your results.

Stefan Pollard is senior strategic consultant at Responsys. Reach him at spollard@responsys.com.

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