April 01, 2014
Case Study

B2B Email Marketing: Daring subject line gains 72 product launch email replies, 25% open rate

SUMMARY: In a crowded marketplace, companies can struggle for ways to make a memorable and actionable connection through email copy.

A new product launch email had the objective of showing how Influitive helps companies garner attention and testimonials from consumers, so the marketing team decided to infuse the copy with that spirit. In this case study, see how Influitive used humor in its copy and subject line to make a lasting impression on its email list.
by Courtney Eckerle, Manager of Editorial Content


Influitive, a cloud software platform company that helps marketers connect with and mobilize their fans to support marketing campaigns, developed an email campaign it hoped would inspire a little engagement.

Influitive's product asks people to write reviews, refer names and provide testimonials, and its platform "makes it easier to ask the right people and more enjoyable for your customers to actually say 'yes,'" according to Jim Williams, Vice President of Marketing, Influitive.

That thought process often informs Influitive's own in-house marketing, Williams said. With a small team of four marketers, they have to rely on creativity over manpower.

"You've got to know how to ask people to do stuff. It's a little bit more touchy feely. I try and have that reflected in some of our marketing," he said.

This campaign was the riskiest the team has attempted using that approach, according to Williams.

"We've had some experiments. We utilize email marketing quite a bit just like every other B2B company," he said, adding that their preferred tone is "casual and sometimes a bit more irreverent."


Surrounding a product launch, the email copy was a bit of a gamble — the tone was informal, from the subject line "So I'll pick you up at 7?" through the playful email body copy.

Williams and the marketing team wrote an email that played on earlier content and made an emotional connection to the product.

As a small team of marketers who have only been doing in-house marketing for one year, Williams and the team decided to test taking a calculated risk and tie in humor with the product launch email.

Step #1. Brainstorm a product-related email topic

The marketing team had previously written a blog post that focused on how to ask customers to take action.

The idea surrounding the post was that asking without warming customers up first was like "asking someone out on a date for the first time on Valentine's Day," Williams said.

When the time came to decide on general messaging for the email campaign — messaging that would emphasize the product features or a customer pain point — Williams said the blog post came up again.

The team's thinking was to "play that odd analogy a little bit more," he said, and link the email to a page that compares building a referral program to building a relationship.

At that point, Williams said Influitive's Customer Marketing Manager, Truman Tang, pitched the image for the landing page, which was also used in the header of the email.

The image immediately sets the quirky tone for how the marketing team was going to write the email copy. Featuring an unhappy looking woman in a date situation, it provides the funny and irreverent attitude Influitive had hoped to find.

"You have to laugh," Williams said, adding at that point, he knew that this was an idea the team wanted to continue.

Step #2. Write emotion-centric email copy

The Influitive marketing team enjoyed the tone of the previous blog post, and decided to model the product email's content after it.

"It was a funny analogy that everyone can relate to. Honestly, I think that's some of the best traits in marketing, too. If you can relate some arcane B2B pitch to some personal thing, like something in your personal life, then I think you've done a good job as a marketer," Williams said.

The "So I'll pick you up at 7?" email begins with a headline stating, "Don't make referrals awkward." The body of the content then states, "How awkward is that, [name]? We don't even know each other and I'm already planning to pick you up! That's how B2B referral programs come across. Too much, too soon."

It continues on to speak about Influitive's recently launched referral automation solution product, and concludes by stating, "Everybody needs leads, but nobody wants to appear needy. Check out this two-minute demo and let me know if we can chat about developing an advocate marketing program for you."

Williams encouraged working some emotion or tongue-in-cheek humor into B2B emails. Just make sure the analogy fits your brand voice.

Subject line

After writing the email, Williams said he was "literally about to push send" when he and his team began reconsidering the subject line.

"It was clever, but not engaging," he said. "When you execute a campaign that says as the subject line, 'So I'll pick you up at 7,' you risk a little bit of a backlash."

Williams explained that when people receive emails without totally clear subject lines, "they feel like they've been tricked."

Williams said the Influitive team decided to take the risk to grab attention because the subject line fit in with the analogy they were making.

"The email copy itself is this whole play on dating, like inappropriate, like asking too much, too soon. That's kind of the whole email analogy," he said.

The point of the email is to promote Influitive's referral marketing solution, and "most referral emails and referral programs of the B2B world are just that. They're asking too much, too soon from customers," Williams added.

The subject line was risking angering people who may feel tricked, but Williams believed Influitive should go all in.

"At first, I was very skeptical [of the subject line], but then I was like, 'Why the hell not?' I kind of view marketing as having to be a little bit riskier … you're just trying to get a slice of someone's attention," he said.

Step #3. Segment the email send

Williams' team began by sending the email to a "fairly narrow group" of a little more than 6,000 names in the database that had engaged with the company before.

Based on early positive feedback, the team decided to expand the campaign to a broader list that included around 17,000 names.

"Our database is not huge. We're a startup company. That represents, for us, a fairly broad based campaign," he said.

"We have names in our database that are titles that are not directly in our sweet spot. We didn't do that. We went to marketers, because I think marketers would appreciate the message more," he said.


With this campaign, the old business adage held true — big risk, big reward.

While this was Influitive's riskiest email campaign so far, it was also its most successful, according to Williams.

"It definitely hit a chord," Williams said, explaining that broad-based emails don't usually garner that many replies.

"I got like 10 times the number of replies I normally get. Most of the replies were like, 'Great email, had a chuckle, well done, great payoff, couldn't help but forward this,'" he said.

Even with the success of the campaign, it did elicit responses on both sides of the spectrum.

There was a negative reply from a CMO, but Williams said he considers it a success because the CMO wrote about how he and his team had sat down to discuss the merits of the email.

"Their consensus was it didn't really reflect well on [our] brand. It was too trite. It was pushing the line a little too much. He said there were mostly women on their team and they didn't like it. They didn't think it was that funny. But, he said, 'We all sat down and talked about the merits of it,'" Williams explained.

The results of this email campaign include:
  • 72 responses

  • 25% open rate (Influitive’s highest)

  • 2.3% clickthrough rate

"We never get open rates that high … I've just seen over the last year or two years the rates drop and drop and drop," he said.

The clickthrough rate is also higher than normal, he said, with nurture emails typically experiencing around 1.7%.

Williams said he was pleased with the engagement, but it was really the replies that he was blown away by.

"Again, we're a small company. We typically generate through all of our market content and nurture programs six, seven, eight opportunities a week sourced by marketing," he said.

This campaign generated eight alone without any offerings — just a simple, "If you're interested, call us."

Williams said his takeaway from this campaign has been about "taking risks."

"A company like us, we're small, and we're in a crowded market. That means there's got to be [one] hundred million vendors out there sending emails to marketers talking about how they can get better pipeline with this solution versus that solution, so you've got to really stand out,” he said.

Value proposition comes first

The lesson Williams took away from this campaign is "to continue to push the boundaries — a little bit."

For future efforts, he says the team is throwing around "some really zany ideas, some of which, quite frankly, I'm not willing to take the risk on."

It's fine to push the boundaries to stand out, he said, but there has to be a payoff to the product's value proposition.

"It can't be a tenuous connection to what you're trying to say in the email," he said. "The way to take risks in B2B is to try and connect to people personally, try to tap into an emotion with your email whether it's humor or something else."

Creative Samples

  1. Blog post

  2. Email send



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Case Study: Creativity vs. clarity in email subject lines

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