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Apr 08, 2010
How To

Less is More: 4 Tactics to Simplify Newsletter Design and Get Better Results

SUMMARY: Even without a major email redesign, there are always small changes that can be made to your existing template to improve performance.

See how the marketing team at a major media company optimized their weekly entertainment email with a series of small changes that made incremental lifts in key metrics. Includes four tactics aimed at simplifying the template and clarifying calls-to-action.
Since the launch of the streaming TV and movie site Fancast two years ago, Tom Carusona, Director, Marketing, Comcast Interactive Media, has been working to maximize the key performance indicators of his team’s Fancast email newsletter.

The weekly newsletter highlights content available on the site, so the team needs subscribers to open emails and click on links to take them to online videos. In October 2009, a website redesign that required changes to the email template’s colors and other elements became the catalyst for a series of ongoing tests.

"We said, ‘Let’s take a deeper look at the email, and see if there are ways to focus it a little bit more,’" says Carusona.

Rather than taking an aggressive redesign approach, the team tested smaller changes designed to create incremental lifts in KPIs. The process led them to gradually simplify and clarify their design.

Using less content, more white space and clearer calls-to-action (among other changes) has helped the team maintain its 18% click-to-open rate even as its subscriber base grew more than 300% year-over-year. This growth also led to a 244% increase in the volume of unique visitors coming to the Fancast site from email.

Here are four tactics the team has used to simplify, clarify and focus their email newsletter:

Tactic #1. Reduce content elements in each newsletter

Prior to the redesign, the team typically featured five elements in each newsletter:
o One main feature
o Three secondary features
o A list of that week’s popular content

To better highlight the content selected for each newsletter, they limited the available material to:
o One main feature
o Two secondary features

"Focusing on three features versus five got people more engaged," says Carusona. "They had more time to think about each of those things and their value."

Tactic #2. Move secondary images and additional calls-to-action above the fold

The main feature of each newsletter received a large hero image (typically a video screenshot) adjacent to a headline and brief text description of the video.

Highlighting one video as each newsletter’s main feature worked well for the team -- almost too well. The primary features tended to receive the majority of clicks.

The team made two changes to get readers interested in secondary content to distribute overall clicks more evenly:

- They reduced the size of the main hero image in order to bring the secondary features above the fold.

- They added a color banner between the primary content feature and the secondary feature that invited readers to "Watch Full Episodes and Movies Online Now." The banner includes a button labeled "See All" that took users to the Fancast site.

Tactic #3. Add a website-style navigation bar

Despite reducing the number of features to give each one more prominence, the team still wanted the newsletter to indicate the depth of content available on the website.

They tested a website-style navigation bar across the top of the newsletter -- below the logo but above that week’s primary feature. The navigation bar featured links to four sections of the Fancast site:
o Full TV episodes
o Full movies
o What’s on TV
o News and gossip

Adding the navigation bar lifted the newsletter’s click-to-open ratio 15%.

"It wasn’t distracting them, it was getting more engagement," says Carusona

Tactic #4. Modify subject line style based on continual testing

The team has tested subject lines since the launch of Fancast. Each week they A/B test different subject line treatments and record results in a spreadsheet that tracks:
o Open rate
o CTR for each feature
o Video starts

Then, by looking back at the data, they’ve been able to identify trends and modify subject line style(s) to match changing subscriber preferences. For example:

- Subject lines early in the program’s history had to help establish the brand and explain the Fancast service -- e.g. "Visit Fancast to watch your favorite shows."

- Once the brand was established, the team began to focus subject lines on programs highlighted as the main feature in that week’s email.

Not surprisingly, including programs or movies with larger brand awareness have delivered the best performance. For example, recent subject lines have focused on:
o The Simpsons
o Conan O’Brien
o Lost
o Survivor

If the team wants to include a lesser-known or new program in a weekly newsletter, they typically make it a secondary feature.

- Along the way, the team noticed subject lines that asked a question almost always received higher response. So they routinely write subject lines to read more like a question, such as:
o "And the Oscar Goes To?" (Academy Awards feature)
o "Who is right or wrong? Jerry Seinfeld decides" ("The Marriage Ref" feature)
o "How do I look?" (Promotion for the Style Network show of the same name)

Useful links related to this article

Creative Samples from the Fancast email newsletter

Members Library -- 4 Takeaways from MarketingSherpa's Newsletter Subject-Line Analysis

Members Library -- Exclusive Data: How to Design Your Newsletters - 5 New Action Charts

Acxiom: Provides the team’s email design and testing services



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