February 06, 2014
Case Study

Email Marketing: Whirlpool lifts clickthrough rate 42%, creates testing culture

SUMMARY: Modifications to your marketing campaigns don't have to be earth-shattering or high maintenance to have an impressive impact. Tiny tweaks can breed big payoffs.

Dive into this MarketingSherpa case study to discover how Whirlpool's MarketingSherpa Email Awards 2014, presented by ExactTarget, honorable mention campaign boosted clickthrough rate 42% and helped to create a test-and-learn culture -- all beginning with one minor change to an email campaign.
by Allison Banko, Reporter


Almost one year ago, hundreds of marketers gathered within the stylish confines of the Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino. The occasion? MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2013. In the midst of marketers eager to learn, network and mingle was Thomas Mender.

By the close of last year's Email Summit, Mender was set to return to his Whirlpool offices with a souvenir that couldn't be zipped away in his suitcase — the inspiration for change.

"When I was there, [my takeaway] was centered around the fact we should a) be testing, and b) always be testing," recalled Mender, Senior Manager, Whirlpool. "It really has to be part of your culture."

As it stood, Whirlpool didn't have a true testing environment when it came to marketing. In fact, Whirlpool's existing process for building email campaigns wasn't incredibly collaborative.

Agency partners would put together a creative, present it to a Whirlpool brand manager who would give some minor tweaks to the idea, and voilà — a campaign is born.

While Mender was wrapping up in Vegas, this very process was finishing up back in the world of Whirlpool. The team was within just a few days of launching an email campaign marketing the company’s Ice Kitchen Collections. The email was already finished. The creative? Done.

The goal of this email effort was to drive consumers to a rebate landing page and, ultimately, to a retailer showroom where they could purchase Whirlpool Ice appliances. The project was centered on the idea that more calls-to-action equaled a better clickthrough rate. The current email version (drafted by an agency) contained four CTAs.

But from Summit, Mender learned that this wasn't the most optimal way of thinking. It was the quality of clicks that mattered.

"All four [links] sent consumers in a different direction," Mender said. "Only one of them actually aligned to what the goal of the email was."

This CTA was a button labeled "See Details," directing recipients to the rebate download page. The other three pushed to landing pages detailing Ice Kitchen Collection appliances' special features.

With lessons from Summit swimming in his mind, Mender didn't want to miss out on the opportunity to improve the campaign despite being so close to its launch. But, the clock was ticking.

"The backdrop here was the fact that we were really constrained with a time barrier," Mender explained. "So we had to be realistic."


To inspire more collaboration in this particular campaign, Mender challenged both the brand and the agency teams to craft a version of the creative focusing solely on the business goal — driving consumers to the rebate page— for testing.

Keeping the dwindling timeframe in mind, Whirlpool's first stab at testing would be relatively simple. The team would test two emails varying the amount of call-to-action buttons.

"This was our first rodeo so-to-speak, so we decided to just really understand the sheer number of call-to-action buttons on a particular email creative and how that aligns to what the overall goal of the email was,” Mender explained.

Step #1. Communicate the benefits of testing to brand managers to achieve buy-in

"The very first step was really educating the brand managers about this concept in general," Mender said. "Getting everybody in to say, well, you know what, even if we need to spend a couple of extra days here to set up a test, that would be time well spent."

Mender added he initially sensed some skepticism when introducing the testing approach to the brand team. They didn't think this would have a positive impact. After all, the mindset was the more clickable links, the more clicks and thus, a better clickthrough rate.

So why mess with the clickable links?

Through one-on-one discussions with each brand manager, Mender communicated the clickthrough rate should be focused on the clicks going to the primary call-to-action rather than just racking up clicks all over the email. Clicks should ultimately lead to conversions.

The brand managers soon bought into this idea, which was necessary to help drive the agency into collaborations with the project.

Step #2. Interview brand managers and agency partners to better understand business goals

Because the overriding goal of the campaign was to ensure the creative backed the business goal, it was important that the agency and brand managers had a clear understanding of what that business goal was. This was achieved through multiple interviews with both.

Through this, everyone desired to answer: How do we use email marketing as another marketing lever to help stimulate the sales of this new product line?

"The attempt there was to use us as a medium to drive people to landing pages where they could learn more about the product, download a rebate coupon, find retailers in their area, things like that," Mender explained.

Marketing team goals

While understanding that building upon the business goal, which was educating consumers about the Ice appliances and driving people to the rebate landing page, was key to the campaign, the marketing team had some specific goals of their own entering the testing process:
  1. Maximize email open rate

  2. Understand database segment performance

  3. Understand what triggers CTA engagement

Step #3. Identify a test plan and execute the test

Next up was utilizing all of the outlined goals to shape the test plan. For the first marketing goal of maximizing email open rate, the team planned on testing subject lines.

To understand database segment performance, the team tested specific segments.

And to see what trigged CTA engagement, Whirlpool tested the amount of the email's buttons — the CTAs.

Subject lines

Whirlpool first tested two subject lines against a few thousand recipients in its email base:
  • Savings end soon! Save up to $400 on select Whirlpool® Ice Kitchen Collections (Winning subject line)

  • Save up to $400 on select Whirlpool® Ice Kitchen Collections

"We let the [subject line] test run for 72 hours and then the winning subject line was used for the rest of the test," Mender said.


For the testing of the Whirlpool Ice email, recipients were divided into four segments:
  • Intenders, or those who had previously expressed intent to purchase another appliance

  • Current owners of Ice products

  • Owners of newer products

  • Owners of aging products

For each segment, Whirlpool would perform an A/B test varying the email's CTAs.

CTA buttons

The control for this test was the email originally presented by the agency, containing four CTAs.

Three buttons labeled with "Learn more" lined the bottom of the email, directing consumers to three different pages for information on either the Flex Power Burner, the In-Door-Ice Plus Ice Dispensing System or the PowerScour Option.

The fourth CTA was located in the middle of the page: a gold "See Details" button directing to the rebate that the campaign was designed for.

The treatment paralleled the control, minus the three "Learn more" buttons at the bottom of the page. Thus, the only CTA remaining was the gold button that aligned with the business goal — to drive consumers to a rebate download landing page.

"The theory was if you highlighted one call-to-action button that was the primary focus, you'd get more people to go to that landing page than the other creative, which sent people into completely different products," Mender said.


The treatment with the single, focused CTA achieved a 42% increase in clicks for Whirlpool.

"Basically, it took half of the content of the original email out," Mender explained. "That was really the extent of [the treatment] — a very simple change."

The test also verified that the "intenders" segment out-performed the other segments by more than 300%, suggesting the set should warrant special treatment in the future.

Mender added that he was pleased with the results from this campaign; however, he stressed his story is more about the path it paved for the company.

Whirlpool completely transformed the culture of its marketing department, shifting from one of little collaboration to one that fosters agencies working face-to-face with brand managers. Now the company utilizes a dedicated testing track for each email campaign which allows its consumers to unveil the best approach for the effort at-hand.

"There's a lot more interaction up front than there used to be," Mender said. "So that has lengthened the time a little bit, but it's been well worth it."

Mender honed in on the importance of not waiting to optimize, as it doesn't take complex changes to achieve impressive results. Something simple can make a big difference. He added that the quick, incremental wins, such as those from this campaign, have done more to gain buy-in from company leadership than trying to push it through PowerPoint decks over time.

In the past, Whirlpool's email marketing was a process of "check the box," where no one truly understood the importance of investing that scrutiny and time, Mender said.

"Now, the level of attention and amount of detail that goes into this is a 180-degree shift to what it was."

See Thomas Mender's presentation "Why One Test Triggered a 180-degree Turn in How All Whirlpool Brands Direct Market to Consumers" at MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2014, held February 17 through 20, at the Aria Resort & Casino Las Vegas.

Creative Samples

  1. Email control

  2. Email treatment



Related Resources

MarketingSherpa Email Awards 2014, presented by ExactTarget

B2C Email Marketing: Mobile accessories company boosts revenue-per-email 152% via customer appreciation promotion

Email Marketing: Dell lifts revenue 109% via GIF-centric campaign

Email Marketing 2013: The top 10 MarketingSherpa articles for your New Year's marketing resolutions

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