When you think about it, email marketing is a lot like professional wrestling. Just hear me out. While there may be less spandex, both rely heavily on gimmicks. A pro wrestler’s gimmick is his/her character—how they behave, the clothes they wear, their entrance music, etc. The more committed a wrestler is to their gimmick, the stronger reaction (be it positive or negative) they get from the audience. We, as marketers, try to accomplish the same things with our emails. We want to create a clear image of our company, brand, etc. in order to generate a specific reaction. Looking at my campaigns through this lens has helped me better commit to their gimmicks, which has thus far led to greater engagement levels.
The campaigns I work on are primarily for top-of-the-funnel leads—people who have, at best, limited exposure to my company’s offerings. At this stage, I’m just trying to get their attention. So I try to anticipate their problems and establish our salespeople as thought leaders by sharing collateral I think will be relevant to them. The gimmick is that these emails are designed to look like they’re coming directly from the salesperson. They aren’t supposed to look mass-produced; instead, they should look like they were written for this specific recipient by a real person. The footer at the bottom is an obvious tip-off that the emails are automated, but by the time the reader gets there, I theoretically have them hooked.
I thought I had a pretty solid gimmick, but when I ran the Campaign Analysis Overview report, the engagement rates were much lower than desired. I considered all the reasons individuals might not be engaging, and then a possible solution hit me. Out of sheer habit, I’d been inserting header images with my company’s logo at the top of the emails. But who takes the time to put header images in personal messages? Like a heel (wrestling slang for villain) signing autographs outside the arena before the show, I was conditioning my audience to question the reality I was trying to establish. Recipients immediately knew that these were marketing emails, and I don’t know about you, but I tend skim, or completely ignore, marketing emails. Not what I was going for from a strategic perspective, and it showed.
As I learned in the Engagement course, A/B testing is a great way to get more people to read your emails. It gives you the opportunity to test a variable, and see which version performs better. It seemed logical for me to start by concentrating on opens; after all, you have to hook the recipient before you can get to those precious clicks. So for my next campaign, I created two versions of each email—one with the header image at the top and one without—and using this blog post as a guide, I set up an A/B test on the campaign canvas.
The results backed up my assumption: the emails without the header image got approximately 5-10% more opens. Since the emails are sent so early in the customer’s buying journey, I don’t have any stats to share regarding final impact to the business yet, but my long-term goal is to achieve open and click-through rates that are 10% higher than the standard for my industry (~21% and ~2.5%, respectively).This is an aggressive target, and this single change won't get me there, but I’m optimistic that a barrier to engagement has been removed. And every little bit helps.
More generally speaking, another goal is to win the trust of our sales team, which is skeptical of email marketing's capabilities. They want to control every interaction with potential customers, and understandably so. After all, their paychecks are directly tied to the end results. In part, earning their trust comes down to expectation setting. I've found that individuals who don't do email marketing for a living tend to have unrealistic expectations when it comes to engagement rates, so communicating average open and click-through rates (both for my campaigns and our industry as a whole) on the front end is essential. However, if I do my job and maximize the effectiveness of my campaigns, those numbers will appear more attractive during those initial conversations. Especially if I'm beating the industry average by at least 10%.
This exercise helped me re-frame the way that I look at email marketing. Each email presents an opportunity to drive the recipient’s behavior, and if you’re relying on a gimmicky strategy (like I do), you can’t let any seams show. A/B testing affords me the opportunity to identify those seams, and increase the efficacy of my campaigns. That's important because successful email marketing could be a boon to my company, which essentially created the industry in which it functions. While we take pride in this heritage, it also limits our brand image to a certain extent. Potential customers tend to associate us with one service, while in reality we offer a wide variety of solutions. Email marketing gives us the opportunity to share our knowledge, which in turn can change people's perceptions of who we are and what we do. The potential benefits to the business are limitless—not only can we reach new customers, but we can inform existing customers of additional services in which they may be interested.