Bitter pill to swallow, but the craft of persuading folks is not a science -
there are no hard and fast rules. Principles, yes. Best practices, yes. But
anybody who says you just gotta do A, B and C to create a winner is blowing
smoke. When my friends at
for clients they dig deep into both quantitative as well as qualitative metrics
to evaluate 5 areas of your email messages:
1. The message - how clearly does the email communicate it?
2. The language - does it fit your audience and circumstances?
3. The structure - does it facilitate clear comprehension?
4. The process - how persuasive are your emails at driving action?
5. The long term - how effective are your emails at building
Your goal is to understand what works best for you based on your unique set
of circumstances. Low open rates and low click-through rates fundamentally
scream, "Danger, danger, Will Robinson. Conversion problem!" If your open rates
are regrettable, you gotta ask yourself, "Is my subject line capturing attention
and eliciting interest? Do other
encourage the recipient to open the email? Is the timing of my mailing optimal?"
If your click-through numbers are shabby, you need to ask, " Are my calls to
action clear and in the right places? Am I offering point of action assurances?
Do I have sufficient links (and are they working properly)? Is my copy engaging
As Claude Hopkins advised in his little book, Scientific Advertising,
published in 1923, "Almost any question can be answered, cheaply, quickly, and
finally, by a test campaign. And that's the way to answer them - not by
arguments around a table. Go to the court of last resort - the buyers of your
product." So do just that!
Prepare the best email message you can. Then start testing. Your don't have
to get complex; it can be as straight-forward as using an A-B split, where you
divide your list into two groups, varying only one element of your email, and
track the responses in both groups. It's important to remember you can
accurately test only one element at a time - so we suggest you begin with the
most powerful element: your subject line.
Prepare two separate emails, identical except for the subject line. The email
with the first subject line goes to half your list, while the email with the
second subject line goes to the other half. Compare the open rates between the
two groups. Once you find your winner, it becomes your control or benchmark.
Test it against another subject line, and so on, until you are convinced you've
found the best possible subject line for your messages. Even then, you should
always be working to improve results.
Those results may surprise you. In one such testing scenario, one subject
line generated an open rate 300% higher than its closest competitor. A
difference like that can have a major impact on your bottom line!
Once you've thoroughly tested your subject lines, test other elements in your
email: the bonus gift, the P.S. message, the guarantee, the opening sentence,
the From-field, and calls to action. Test personalized greetings against general
greetings. Test different type styles. Test various ways of stating your
guarantee. Test the effect of including graphic images. Test the times and days
your email will run. The key is to test one thing at a time, building on your
successes with each step.
More complex forms of cell testing let you test "robustly" across multiple
variables. In the example below, a list is divided into four groups to allow for
a test comparing the effect of two different email offers and two different
Measuring the conversion rate for each of the list segments (A, B, C and D)
determines which combination of offer and landing page produces optimum results.
To test well requires method, precision and patience. You can think of it as
a quick fix for the problems your email metrics are spotlighting, but the cool
thing about testing, over the long haul, is that you can develop a priceless
understanding that goes beyond knowledge or even wisdom.
Want to know what it means and what to do? Learning how to persuade folks
effectively may not ultimately be a science, but throwing a little objectivity
at the problem really pays off. All you gotta do is test!
P.S. To learn more about email marketing catch my friends from InBox Interactive webinar series titled "Creative
Content: Developing Powerful and Persuasive E-mail Promotions." The first
one presented by Kim MacPherson, Founder and President is
scheduled for Friday, April 19, 2002 at 2pm EST. Or email
Lynne to find out about their
other events on May 5, May 17 and May 31.
The Case Against Autoresponders
I've been a bit low lately. We've been watching our friend deal with the
death of her mom. She's been discontinuing services, closing accounts, doing all
the stuff that gradually reduces the material presence of a life. One of her
experiences got me thinking about our online efforts to build relationships, and
I decided to pass the thoughts along to you.
It's an offline experience, but there are some lessons I believe you can use
My friend had to discontinue her mom's AOL service. She called the customer
service number and got a lovely representative who completed the request
painlessly. The representative gave my friend a confirmation number and said to
expect a confirmation letter in the mail.
The letter came, ostensibly written by the Executive Vice President of Member
Services, saying how sorry AOL was "to lose a good friend like you,"
embellishing a useless sales pitch and promising they would "do everything we
can to get you back online." To encourage Mom to return, AOL was planning on
reserving her screen name, buddy list and preferences. All Mom had to do to
reactive was sign on.
You don't need me to spell out how this made my friend feel, do you? She
might have just let the bitter taste remain in her mouth, but she decided to
reply. She wrote:
"I am greatly pleased you consider my mother a friend of America Online
and appreciate you are keen to keep her as a customer, but her account was
not cancelled due to dissatisfaction. My mother passed away 15 January 2002.
I, quite naturally, was keen on keeping her as a mother. Sadly, we both lose
"The purpose of cancellation was made clear to the customer service
representative with whom I spoke, and she was sincere in her expression of
sympathy and efficient in her role helping me terminate services which my
mother is no longer in a position to enjoy.
"… I would suggest some remedial marketing strategies to prevent this
sort of faux pas from occurring in future. Short of being able to work
miracles, I'm afraid there is nothing you can do to get her back online."
Two weeks later, a personal reply from someone in Executive Escalations
arrived. In addition to offering condolences, the letter said, "Our billing
representatives now have a specific cancellation code to enter when they are
informed that the account holder is deceased that prevents the situation you
Happily, AOL redeemed itself and my friend feels much better about them
today. Even better for AOL, she didn't cancel her own AOL account and isn't
inclined to engage in negative viral marketing.
If you are in business online, you are, by default, in the
of building relationships with your customers. You apply this effort to your
Web site, your fulfillment and customer service, to your emails and your
system-generated responses. But sometimes you're going to lose a customer for
reasons completely outside your control.
When people bid you farewell for whatever reason, graciously let them go. You
might find they come back later. And if they go because they are permanently
vacationing in the Great Beyond, then take a moment to say goodbye properly, if
you have the option. Do you have any idea how much that means to those who
remain behind? My friend conscientiously sent emails to a number of online
businesses who regularly sent both email and snail mail to her mom, requesting
her mom's name be removed from their lists. Only one replied.
It's the compassionate, human touch. And yes, there is a self-serving reason
to do it. Guess who those left behind are going to remember the next time they
are thinking about your particular product or service? You would like to leave
them with a favorable impression, right?