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May 24, 2011
How To

Campaign Analysis: Optimization expert lists 5 tweaks to boost an email campaign's conversions

SUMMARY: Not every email campaign is a blockbuster -- but every campaign offers valuable insights. Your ability to improve a program hinges on how well you're able to identify what worked, what didn't and how to move forward.

Check out five tweaks an optimization expert suggests to improve a campaign that had lackluster results. Her insights strike at the core reasons why some campaigns win and others fail.
by Adam T. Sutton, Senior Reporter

Every email campaign yields valuable data. Each can be studied to better identify the best messages and tactics to reach your audience. In the spirit of next week's sold-out Optimization Summit, this article will illustrate how an underperforming email campaign can be analyzed and improved.

Last week, we featured an email marketing campaign with good open and clickthrough rates but not many conversions. The campaign came from Slow Food, a global nonprofit organization that wanted to increase support for its Terra Madre network. Today, we're going to find out how this campaign can be improved and explore the problems that plague many struggling email campaigns.

We've tapped Gaby Paez, Associate Director of Research for the Conversion Group at MECLABS. Paez oversees a team of marketing research managers and has years of experience in marketing optimization.

[Full disclosure: MECLABS is the parent company of MarketingSherpa.]

Below are five tweaks Paez suggests to improve Slow Food's email campaign. Each suggestion is rooted in an optimization methodology MECLABS has identified through more than 10,000 marketing tests. Check out how your marketing can benefit from her insights.

Tweak #1. Emphasize the sender's brand

People receiving email need to be assured that they're dealing with a company they trust and have previous experience with. Otherwise, getting them to take action will be nearly impossible.

Slow Food's campaign was intended to increase awareness and support for the fourth meeting of its Terra Madre network, a group of influencers in the food supply chain.

The campaign's audience, Slow Food's members and subscribers, were familiar with Slow Food as an organization. However, the email featured Terra Madre more prominently.

Terra Madre was emphasized in the email's:

o Sender name (not the sender's address)
o Subject line
o Header
o Headline
o Footer

Slow Food was mentioned in the email body copy and with a small logo in each header. However, these elements were dwarfed by the larger Terra Madre branding.

Paez suggested reversing the roles of these two entities by emphasizing Slow Food and secondarily mentioning Terra Madre. This would show subscribers that they were receiving a message from a trusted organization rather than one they're unfamiliar with.

"Brand everything from 'Slow Food.' That's who the subscribers know," Paez says.

Tweak #2. Gradually increase subscribers' commitment

Every marketing email should have a single goal. Presenting too many options creates friction in the readers' minds and prevents them from clicking-through to the landing page.

This three-part email campaign did a good job of establishing a main goal for each message:

o Goal #1: Introduce readers to the Terra Madre network and event
o Goal #2: Encourage readers to share information about Terra Madre
o Goal #3: Request donations

However, the first goal was too vague, Paez says. Instead of asking readers only to learn about Terra Madre, the emails should also encourage readers to act in some way.

Paez suggested structuring the campaign into three phases that focus on three levels of subscriber commitment:

o Level #1: Follow Terra Madre in social networks / share content
o Level #2. Donate any amount
o Level #3. Donate at least $25 to become a member

Each email sent in the campaign should focus solely on one of these goals. Paez also emphasized that each email should be sent about one week from the next (two weeks apart at the most).

"A month between sends is too much time for related emails. Since there is a natural progression of the level of commitment, it is important the emails are close to each other," she says.

Tweak #3. Over-clarify all confusing topics

For readers to stay engaged, complicated topics must be simplified. Readers will not act on something that is unclear. It is the marketer's responsibility to provide this clarity. Readers will not work for it.

The connection between Slow Food and Terra Madre is one of these topics. The campaign needed to clearly explain this connection before Slow Food's subscribers could support Terra Madre.

The campaign's first email did not make this connection clearly enough, Paez says. She did not understand the connection until after visiting the emailís landing page and viewing a video and 24-page document there.

"Asking people to read 24 pages to understand Terra Madre is a lot to ask, especially if they don't know how they can help or what the value is of their effort," she says.

- Take time to reinforce the connection

Paez suggested using more than one email, possibly three, to explain the connection between Slow Food and Terra Madre. Any subscriber who acts on one of these introductory emails would not receive another.

Each introductory email should:
o Be clearly branded as from Slow Food
o Explain Terra Madre succinctly
o Explain why readers should follow online/share content
o Ask readers to follow or share by using the social buttons in the email

"I would use the video they have in the landing page [for these emails]," Paez says.

Also, to cut down on confusion, Paez suggested possibly explaining the Terra Madre network in a first email and explaining the Terra Madre event in a later send.

Tactic #4. Clearly connect emails and landing pages

When readers click an email, they have an expectation of what they will see on the landing page. The landing page should connect visually with the email's design and topically with the email's content. This continuity assures readers that they've arrived at the right place.

Landing pages that do not provide this continuity cause a disconnection in readers' minds. Something seems wrong because the landing page is so different. Readers have to stop and think to understand what is in front of them -- which is like placing a road block on the path to conversion.

Two places where Paez says the emails could have been better connected to their landing pages:

- Continue with the message

The content of the campaign's third email presents a "paradox" regarding worldwide food consumption and hunger. The email's landing page requests donations to "help raise Terra Madre's voice," but does not mention the paradox or how it's related.

"The email presents a compelling case, but the landing page does not present in simple terms how their programs can solve the paradox. There is no clear, easy connection between a donation and solving the paradox," Paez says.

- Consistent call-to-action

The goal of the campaignís first email was to get readers to learn more about Terra Madre. However, the only clear call-to-action on its landing page was to make a donation.

"Even though the [explanatory] document on the page is bigger in size, the red button to donate is what attracts the most attention and it is in the main eye-path, right below the video on the left side. This is a big disconnection."

Tweak #5. Prioritize a single call-to-action

As mentioned above, providing multiple options forces people to think. Thinking slows people down and makes them less likely to convert -- so do not provide multiple options, particularly on landing pages.

For example, the second landing page for this campaign has two equally weighted calls-to-action, Paez says:

o Become a Slow Food member
o Use the social sharing buttons

"Both actions are the same size and have the same weight, and they're presented one next to the other. Readers are left to choose between them," she says.

Instead, an email landing page should have a single, prioritized call-to-action. It should be directly related to the email's content and the reader's motivation for clicking the email.

To improve the page, Paez would emphasize one of the calls-to-action and greatly de-emphasize the second.

"Perhaps make one button the main call-to-action. The other one can be written in text below it with a text link as another way to engage ... It's very important to have one primary call-to-action."

- Two more button tweaks

One quick fix Paez suggested is to make the emails' and landing pages' buttons stand out more and look more "clickable." Their current, flat look makes them appear more like part of the design rather than a clickable feature.

Another quick fix, Paez says, is to use different words on the buttons.

"What we have seen in our testing is that words such as 'subscribe' or 'pay' remind people that they have to give money or provide a credit card. Instead, use something related to the value being offered maybe something such as 'help solve the paradox.'"

Useful links related to this article

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2. Email #2
3. Email #3
4. Landing page #1
5. Landing page #2
6. Landing page #3

Global Email Marketing: 3-part campaign sent in six languages averages 28% CTR

Optimization Summit 2011

Members Library - Members Library -- Email Marketing: Double-send strategy boosts donations 55%

Email Marketing Tests: What to do when a radical change produces negligible results
Email Marketing: Testing subject lines

Email Copy: Half the words, 16% higher clickthrough rate

Terra Madre

Slow Food




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