Lorna Lowery, Retention Director at Weiss Group Inc, a publisher of investment advisory newsletters, loves to test new tactics to boost subscription renewal rates.
Naturally she's tested email, but it's only had limited success. "Mail is still a more responsive media for us. Email blasts may return half of what my DM efforts do."
Partly that's because she's promoting mostly to men over 55 who may go online, but they don't spend practically all day long online at work the way younger people do. Also, the Weiss Group's new subscriptions are primarily sold through postal DM, so it would make sense that channel would be the best to renew them through.
Nevertheless, Lowery wanted to make email work, not just because it's less per piece to send, but mainly because it's so perfect for urgent news-driven messaging. If the market takes a sudden dip you can zap out a related promo in a few hours.CAMPAIGN
Last spring Lowery heard that USA Today was testing transactional emails to sell subscriptions with some success.
She wanted to run a quick test but discovered set-up took about 48 hours. While that's an super quick turnaround compared to postal delivery, it wasn't fast enough to take advantage of the newsy factor. "Saying the market just went up 30-points doesn’t work two days later."
So she held off until she had pre-planned news to talk about -- one of Weiss Group's publications, the Safe Money Report, was raising its subscription price on January 1st 2004, for the first time in 10 years, from $99-$149.
Lowery pulled out two test-cells of 10,000 names each from her subscriber file to run the test on. (She notes that for a DM test, she'd be content with a cell of 5,000 names, but for email with filters, etc., you're smarter testing 10,000.) She suppressed names using Web-based email services such as AOL, Hotmail and Yahoo from the test because they might not be able to use the in-email form.
Both lists received the regular series of printed promotions just like other names on the file. These included a direct mail package, inserts in regular series renewals, and inserts in issues. However Lowery held back her test cells from getting any regularly scheduled email promos so the test would be purer.
On December 10th, she mailed out the email tests to the two cells. She kept the creative as much alike as possible (link to samples below.) Both had the same subject and from line, both had the same headline, "Renew before December 31 to Avoid the Price Increase and Lock in the Old, Deep-Discounted Rate!"
Lowery notes, "Believe me, it wasn't stunning creative. It's our typical boilerplate creative we send for your blasts." That, of course, was on purpose, so she could get a truer read on test results.
Both included a personalized salutation, and the same, fairly-long, sales copy almost word-for-word. Both also looked the same visually… until the reader scrolled down below the fold to get to the order options. Both offered a phone number, a fax number and an online ordering links. However, one also featured an order form right there in the body of the email itself.
Lowery says that the transactional email vendor warned her that she might not get optimum results with the order form at the bottom. Apparently other publisher's tests have shown it can work better when the email is split into two columns, with copy at left and the order form at the right. However, she wanted to compare apples-to-apples for her first test, so it was critical to leave the form below.
The form was pre-populated with the subscriber's name and address so they didn't have to type. (Lowery notes she'd like to test this factor separately someday to determine how much pre-population affects results because, "As Dale Carnegie said, the most beautiful word in the English dictionary is your name.")
The copy was also tweaked in a few places at top and bottom of the creative to allay recipient's fears about submitting their credit card info via email form. "Your order will automatically, safely and securely be sent to us."
The test cell with the secure order form outpulled the control test cell by 20% total sales across all channels (phone, fax, online and emailed.)
However, the secure order form out pulled the control by 70% if you remove phone orders from the equation. So, a lot of customers who normally would call in an order rather than clicking to an order cart online, were convinced to take the plunge and use the email form.
Lowery notes that Weiss Group's online shopping cart is notoriously user-unfriendly, so this may have caused the call-in factor.
She is definitely going to keep testing transactional emails in future, but doesn't expect to see the 20% gain forever. "Any type of novelty initially gets you a higher response. As it becomes standard, it reduces a bit. My theory is this will level out to around 12%."Useful links related to this story:
Samples of the two emails sent (test plus control)
MarketingSherpa article: Can Transactive Offers Double Your Email Sales Results?
Transactis - the tech vendor Lowery used to power the
transactional email form:
Safe Money Report