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Frank Remarks: Seven Easy Pieces to Email Marketing Success

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It's probably increasingly difficult to get recipients to open your email marketing pieces, unless your "From" line says "Regis Philbin." In this article, Frank Fiore covers the seven areas of your campaign that you MUST test before hitting the Send button.
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Here's a question for you. When you go online, what do you do first? Open your browser or check your email? If you're like most people, the first thing you do is to check your inbox. That's because email is the killer app of the Net. Hands down. No contest.

We spend more time reading our email than we do browsing the web. And email marketers have taken advantage of this behavior and used it as a successful marketing strategy.

How successful? According to a new DoubleClick study, 88% of people have made purchases because of permission-based email. Note: That's permission-based email, not SPAM. But there's another side to email marketing that makes it shine as a sales and promotion vehicle, and it's relatively cheap.

According to a 2001 study by New Century Communications and AdRelevance, the average costs per message were as follows:

  • Permission-based direct email: $0.20
  • Telemarketing: $1.00 to $3.00
  • Direct mail: $0.75 to $2.00

As you can see, permission-based direct email beats all other direct-marketing vehicles hands down because there are no production, paper, or postage costs.

But before you run out and buy an opt-in email list to cash in on this golden goose, you should be aware that there's a fox in the hen house—and that's the email message itself. Okay, I'm mixing metaphors here. But the point is this: Just because you send it, that doesn't mean your target recipients will act on it—or even open it!

So before you send out that mass mailing, expecting to make a fortune in new sales, do the test. No, not the cable TV program. Test your email message before you spend a lot of money on a potential campaign failure. The real gold in email marketing is found through testing. You see, the Internet is the perfect direct marketing medium, and those who were raised within the direct marketing profession understand this. They also understand the importance of testing any direct mail campaign before a full-blown launch.

Testing is the process of getting information about the marketplace from the marketplace—that is, discovering what the audience will really do, not what it says it will do. By testing multiple variables with small percentages of your list before you roll out your full email campaign, the message decisions of your email campaign can be made based on results instead of opinion.

Here's how to test your email message in seven easy pieces.

1: Test Your Subject Line

The subject line of your email message equates to an envelope. This is the first thing your recipients see. If it doesn't catch their attention, like a piece of junk mail it will quickly find its way to the trash bin. Your subject line must immediately grab the reader's attention and make him or her want to read the first few lines of your message.

The old adage in direct marketing is to hit the prospect with benefits, phrasing those benefits in a personal statement like this:

  • How to Be Financially Independent in 10 Years (used to sell financial services)

  • How to Increase Your Sex Life (used to sell Viagra)

  • What Doctors Don't Want You to Know About Prescription Drugs (used to sell homeopathic medicine)

  • How to Lose 30 Pounds in 30 Days for 30 Dollars (used to sell weight-loss products)

You can also rephrase these same subject lines as questions: "Would You Like to Be Financially Independent in 10 Years?" or "Would You Like to Lose 30 Pounds in 30 Days?" You get the idea.

For the test, try three iterations of the same question with your test groups and see which one pulls the best. Here's an example of three test subject lines for the same message:

  • How to Be Financially Independent in 10 Years

  • Would You Like to Be Financially Independent in 10 Years?

  • 10 Secrets to Financial Independence Your Broker Doesn't Want You to Know

2: Test Your "From" Line

Staying anonymous will quickly send your email to the dustbin. People want to know who's sending the message. I especially like to dump emails from my inbox that have a "From" line like h25840@hotmail.com or ptopost65@yahoo.com. I don't know who these people are and I don't care. They won't even provide the real domain name of their business.

Use your domain address in your "From" line. Or, if you can, use the name of your company (XYZ Promotions)—or even your real name and title (John Doe, CEO). In tests, the "name" part of the "From" line (the section that goes just before the sender's email address) indicates that this area is a very significant piece of real estate—maybe even more important than the subject line—to entice recipients to simply open the message.

3: Test Your Headline

If the recipient has gotten this far in your email message, you have a few short seconds to keep his or her attention. If you've succumbed to Mr. Gates and his traveling monopoly show—and who hasn't?—your recipients are most likely using Microsoft Outlook or Outlook Express. These programs allow the user to display a preview window. This window is only two or three lines deep, giving you less than three lines to grab the reader's attention.

What you say in the headline of the message body and the one or two lines that follow will dictate whether the rest of your message will be read. Your headline and the few lines of text that follow have to have punch! You have to sum up your entire offer and make the recipient read on. Your headline should be direct, personal, and supply a benefit to the reader.

And that, my friend, leads to testing your offer.

4: Test Your Offer

This is obviously the intent of your email: getting the recipient to buy or take some kind of action. Test up to three versions of your message with a small percentage of different recipients on your list. If you're selling something, offer three different discounts to three different groups of recipients. For example, offer one test group a "Save $10" discount. If this represents a 10% discount off your product or service, then test a different group with a "Save 10%" offer. Or you might even raise your price a bit and test a third group with "Buy One, Get One at Half Price."

On the other hand, if you're trying to get your recipients to take some kind of action, such as joining your Preferred Customers Club (from which you gather demographic information and interests for future marketing campaigns), test one group by offering a discount on their first purchase, test another with a contest, and another with a free sample if they sign up.

The information gathered from these test offers will help you focus on what kind of offer your recipients will respond to.

5: Test Your Response Options

Just because you send your offer electronically, that doesn't mean your recipient wants to reply by the same method. Provide several different ways to take advantage of your offer. Besides the option of hitting the Reply button, give an opportunity to respond via a toll-free telephone number, fax, even snail mail.

Test each of these response mechanisms in your test messages to see which response medium is preferred. Never make assumptions about your target audience.

6: Test Your Text Versus HTML

Though there are more users today than ever who can read HTML email, that doesn't mean that they want it in their email inbox. If you choose to present your message in an HTML format, keep in mind that the HTML can be formatted in many ways. You need to test the various formats to see which format brings the best results.

One caveat here. Just because you're creating an HTML message, that doesn't mean you're sending a web site—or even a web page. Nor should you format the message as a banner ad. Enticing images, stunning fonts, and even multimedia files can enhance your message—if not done to extremes. Keep in mind that most users cruise the Net at 56K. This limits the size and type of HTML message you can send.

One last thing. If you do send your message in HTML, be sure to include a link to the URL where the message resides, just in case the recipient can't view it.

7: Test Your Links

Sending an HTML email? You need to test what your audience will click on in response. Those pretty graphics that your designer has slaved over may look good, but if they can't illicit a click-through they're a waste of time. Test to see what links in your HTML email get clicked. Logos? Photos? Call-to-action text? And don't forget to flag links individually to determine where the click-throughs originated.

Finally, keep the following testing elements in mind. Successful email marketers have found these to be of great importance, regardless of the seven easy pieces explained earlier:

  • The time you send a message can affect the response to it. For example, messages sent on a Friday verse a Monday or at lunchtime verses first thing in the morning could pull dramatically different responses. Send your test messages out all at the same time and on the same day.

  • Though there are seven pieces to a good test, you should test only one variable at a time. Change the subject line in one test, the message in another, the "From" line in another. Also, designate one variable as a control—don't change it across all tests—and use it to measure the others.

  • Establish some success metrics. Will you be testing click-throughs, revenue per transaction, new customer registration? Decide before you start your tests.

Once your test results are in, it's easy to check the click-through rates and close rates on your test program. Pick the variables that tested best, launch your full campaign, and watch the money roll in!

Finally, remember that testing never ceases. It's an ongoing process. What worked several weeks ago may not work now. So build into each and every email campaign a testing process. It will pay for itself many times over with a successful, responsive campaign.

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