January 21, 2010
How To

Email Makeover: 7 Email Optimization Tactics to Boost Revenue

SUMMARY: Successful email marketing can sometimes entail tweaking a few key elements to create the best possible system. But with limited staff and campaign deadlines, marketers may struggle to find time for optimization.

See how a retailer managed several small tests and tweaks that -- despite the economy -- helped lift email revenues 72% in 2009. Tactics include:
o Subject line tests
o Segmentation
o Facebook integration
Erick Barney, VP Marketing, Motorcycle Superstore, and his team faced a conundrum all too familiar to marketers. They struggled to simply launch each campaign on schedule, all but eliminating their ability to optimize the messaging.

Still, they decided that continual improvement was too important a goal to ignore. "We have been looking for ways to stay relevant to our audience," he says. "We've really been striving for one-to-one merchandising."

Through testing and hard work they’ve succeeded well beyond expectations -- during an economic downturn, no less -- seeing their year-over-year email revenue grow 72% in 2009.

See how they did it with these seven major tactics:

Tactic #1. Mix it up

Barney and his team have learned to consistently tweak their creative messaging and style.

For instance, they might send HTML messages for weeks before delivering a text-heavy message that features long copy and fewer images. They aim to keep their audience interested in product offers by creating messages that catch their eye, he says.

"After a while, we decided to use different templates and not get stuck in a rut. An underlying base strategy is to keep things fresh."

Their approach goes against what some marketers accept as "conventional wisdom" -- that consistency in style is always an asset for an emailer. Audiences may react differently to the same message delivered in varied formats.

Tactic #2. Personalize subject lines

Part of the inspiration for an optimization push was declining open rates among their audience of 25-to-35-year-old male subscribers. They decided to test personalized subject lines by including the recipient’s first name in the copy -- a best practice according to many email professionals.

The A/B split test pitted a first-name approach against a generic subject line:
o Control subject line -- "Don’t be this guy, try Preferred Installer!"
o Test subject line -- "[First Name], is this you? Try Preferred Installer!"

o The personalized email achieved a 22% open rate
o The non-personalized email came in at 16.9%

The test convinced the team to use personalized subject lines as their standard approach. But their overall "mixing it up" tactic is applied to their subject lines, as well.

Sometimes they’ll send a non-personalized message. "We’ve discovered that overuse of the customer name in the subject line dilutes its effectiveness over time."

Tactic #3. Test days of the week

Next up was testing days of the week. Here’s how Barney describes their approach before the test:

"We are primarily dealing with weekend warriors, and the industry data told us to go for Mondays, so we did," he says. "But we thought we could do better."

The team tested sending messages on Thursdays. The result: Open rates went up.

However, they found that sales dropped significantly during weekends. In other words, sales fell for the Thursday email sends even though the opens were higher.

In the end, the test results provided key information about sales conversions -- not just about opens and clickthroughs. Mondays and Tuesdays once again became their send days.

Tactic #4. Segment according to behavior

Segmentation was not in the mix before the team's email program makeover. They implemented a now-irreplaceable tactic involving five key customer segments in their email list.

Barney and his team used the following criteria to establish the segments:
o Products abandoned in the last few weeks while in shopping cart
o Click activity in terms of products interaction
o Purchase history

They identified five segments:
o Dirt bikers
o Sport bikers
o Cruisers
o Scooter

Barney examined the impact segmentation has had and liked the results. "We experienced an average increase of over 25% per email directly related to these additional dynamic merchandising [segments]."

Tactic #5. Clean list regularly

Barney admits they were not diligent about scrubbing their list in previous years. But they have since changed that practice. Now, if an email subscriber has not purchased for one year, they are removed from the list.

"We saved $30,000 the first year in incremental spend by removing those people," Barney says. "When they aren’t responding to the most-aggressive re-engagement offers, well, it’s better to get them off the list."

Tactic #6. Optimize landing pages

Not surprisingly, landing page optimization also has been a core element of the team’s email marketing progress. They started doing A/B landing page tests to see which creative elements provided the biggest improvement.

Barney says this process was a major contributor to the 72% revenue lift in 2009. "The most important question is whether or not the landing page fulfills the expectations of the value proposition of the link leading into it."

Tactic #7. Use Facebook icon

Six months ago, the team had approximately 3,000 fans on their Facebook page. Now, at press time, they have 11,159 -- a boost triggered by embedding a Facebook icon in their email messages.

People who click on the icon are taken to a specific Fan page, where they can follow the brand's news and activity. Not only has email helped grow their Facebook Fan group, but Barney suggests that the association also has helped email conversion rates, as well.

"We are still in our infant stage with [social media]," he says. "We are learning what the benefits are. It’s definitely adding to our overall success. It’s a great interface for us to communicate with our fan base."

Useful links related to this article

Creative Samples from Motorcycle Superstore’s email program

Inspire Interaction with Promo Emails: 4 Tactics to Boost Clicks, Encourage Social Sharing

How to Grow Lists & Lift Response With Better Segmentation: 5 Simple Tactics http://www.marketingsherpa.com/article.php?ident=30545

ExactTarget: The team’s email service provider

Motorcycle Superstore:

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