3 steps to better marketing emails


As mentioned in a previous post about how we try not to annoy our customers, we really make sure we're not just going through the motions in complying with anti-SPAM laws. And it all has to do with how we regard customer relationships - they're valuable and we want them to be based on mutual trust and respect.

As a result, we pay close attention to what we say and how we say it because customer engagements are impacted by both content and delivery - whether it's initiated through search, by referral or as a result of one of our outbound messages. One of our most important outbound channels is email and we're not alone in that regard. Email was recently cited by MarketingProfs as the most-used digital marketing channel for 86% of respondents to recent research by Gigaom and Extole. That same report found that email was named the most effective channel for customer retention, building awareness, increasing conversion and boosting acquisition.

One key way for us to creating better marketing emails is using a tried and true method - through A/B tests.
Scott Calderwood and Becky Simanowski of the SAS Digital Marketing team.It seems like we're always testing something. And then we share our learnings among our colleagues and incorporate the new approaches across our different operating units. And with so many customer engagements happening online, it seems natural for us to ingrain testing as a standard marketing practice.

Two of our digital marketing team members, Scott Calderwood and Becky Simanowski, recently led an internal discussion that summarized 3 key findings from A/B tests we've done here at SAS and I thought I'd share them with you here:

Use a Hero Image
A "hero image" is a web design term for a large banner image, usually front and center in the email. It's big and hard to ignore, and ideally combines visuals and text that describe the content in the rest of the email. We tested using either a "floating image" (in the upper right) versus a hero image and the hero image won with a 22% increase in click-throughs and a 16% increase in conversions. That's a big impact for just changing the image!

One other thought about images that I don't think needs testing to prove is that the image should be relevant in some way. It should either magnify or illustrate a key point in the content so it draws you in without feeling like you've been bait-and-switched.

Add symbols to your subject lines ♠♥♣
We did a test of subject lines with and without symbols and emails with symbols in the subject line resulted in a 9% increase in open rate. These results were achieved consistently across several tests. Experiment with a choice of symbols, but try not to overdo it. Start with something positive and proactive like a mark and find what works best with your audience.

Manage the precious subject line real estate carefully.
We generally stick to 50 characters (including spaces) for our subject lines, but one key learning from recent tests was that offer types (i.e. "webinar") in the subject line had a minimal impact. In fact, our tests showed a .95% lower open rate.  Those were our results using the word "webinar," and results are not yet in for "white paper" or other offer types.

I encourage you to do your own testing because your own audience and the context of your business may point to different conclusions that are equally valid. For instance, the Hero Image is consistent with the style of the sas.com website and that may be a factor in our tests - your results may be different.

One other tip I can offer is for you to consider for an email delivery platform that is flexible, scalable and integrates into a broader customer intelligence strategy. We use SAS® Digital Marketing together with Marketing Automation and Marketing Optimization for better marketing emails that support a broader outbound marketing strategy. And along the way, we do lots of A/B testing. How about you? How do you strive for better marketing emails?


About Author

John Balla

Principal Marketing Strategist

Hi, I'm John Balla - a Digital Marketing Principal here at SAS focused on Content Strategy. I co-founded the SAS Customer Intelligence blog and served as Editor for five years. I like to find and share content and experiences that open doors, answer questions and maybe even challenge assumptions so better questions can be asked. Outside of work I stay busy with my wife and I keeping up with my 2 awesome college-age kids, volunteering for the Boy Scouts, keeping my garden green, striving for green living, expressing myself with puns, and making my own café con leche every morning. I’ve lived and worked on 3 contents and can communicate fluently in Spanish, Portuguese, Hungarian and passable English. Prior to SAS, my experience in marketing ranges from Fortune 100 companies to co-founding two start ups. I studied economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and got an MBA from Georgetown. Follow me on Twitter. Connect with me on LinkedIn.


    • John Balla

      Thank you, Mansoor! I hope these techniques work for you. As you make these changes, implement them one-by-one so you can know more quickly and clearly which change works better with your audience.

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