August 20, 2008
Case Study

Test Shows Promotional Content Beats Informational: 89% More CTRs; 5 Times More Revenue

SUMMARY: B-to-B emailers routinely focus on relevant informational content as a way to gain trust with their audiences and keep the brand top of mind. But the harder-sell ‘B-to-C style’ for email messages shouldn’t be dismissed.

A small, cross-sector merchandiser tested emails heavy in information against messages heavy in promotion and saw 89% more clickthroughs and five times more revenue coming from the latter. Here are the 4 steps they took.

Serhat Pala, President, TestCountry, and his marketing team were searching for a way to lift response rates to emails that had leveled off. But typical of small departments, they had a shoestring budget and a small four-person team to work their magic.

Indeed, Pala had to be resourceful and creative to better target their 50/50 mix of B-to-B and B-to-C prospects for their drug and health testing kits. “From what we knew about our customers, we thought that they didn’t want to get overly promotional emails. So, we sent them content that was very informative and related to a featured product in the message.”

Pala’s strategy involved sending two types of emails regularly:
1. Messages stressing educational content to aid the promotion of a featured item.
2. Messages pushing a discount with strong sales copy for three or four products.

While refining that strategy, Pala wondered if there would be a clear winner if they pitted one kind of message against another on the same day.


Pala decided that the only foolproof way to find out which type of message was preferred by his prospects was to test them against each other. Here are the 4 steps he and his team took:

-> Step #1. Tailor product offers for optimal findings

Pitting two different messages against one another was tricky. If Pala and his team didn’t position the test fairly, the results could prove meaningless.

First and foremost, they didn’t want the item offered to their customers to throw off their findings. They chose top sellers from past marketing efforts:

o Drug testing kits for promotion-heavy offer
o Thyroid disease testing kit for content-heavy offer

The track records of these products indicated that each was an equally good seller. The drug testers performed well in past promotion-heavy emails; the thyroid disease kit did equally well in information-heavy offers. Plus, there are no good or bad seasons for the products.

-> Step #2. Keep email elements consistent

They didn’t tweak their email layout or copywriting in any way. Instead, they put together a campaign for each message that involved proven elements from past information-heavy and promotion-driven efforts.

They employed:
- normal brand headers
- established images and copy
- discounts for each sample

For the discount, the information-heavy email involved a $5-off coupon; the promotion-heavy one used a 5%-off offer. Pala says that each incentive was proven to get equally good sales results for the two respective messaging styles in past campaigns.

-> Step #3. Write subject lines that mirror the strategy

The subject lines adhered to the team’s regular strategies. Pala says that he wanted the subject lines to be representative of what was inside the email.

The educational email’s subject line focused on information: “Prostate Cancer: Are you at risk? Find out today.” The promotional email pushed the discount: “Save 5% on your next TestCountry order.”

-> Step #4. Send to equal number at non-seasonal time

In the final measure to get meaningful results, the two versions were sent to an equal number of subscribers – 20,000.

“This was a good approach in terms of seeing which of the two [strategies] worked best. We wanted to test it on fairly large segments.”

Each version went out to a segment that would most appreciate the offer. The thyroid test was sent to women over 40 years old. The drug-testing email went to previous purchasers and list members who had inquired about them.

Both versions were sent at TestCountry’s regular mailing time – midweek, midmorning – as well as during a time of the year (summer) that wouldn’t influence either product line.

Pala and his team learned that their customers preferred promotion-heavy email by a wide margin. It produced “five times more revenue per [delivered] email” than the information-heavy version.

It also got an open rate that was 200.6% higher than the educational email. For clickthroughs, the promotion-heavy email won by 89.8%.

Some B-to-C-only marketers may be knowingly nodding their heads. But Pala says that he didn’t expect such a differential between the two messages because of their business-consumer mix. “We were surprised.”

The conversion-rate numbers were much closer, though, as the promotion-heavy version was 6.9% higher. Because such a large number of people didn’t get far enough down the email sales path to convert in the information-heavy group, however, the major takeaway was a no-brainer, Pala explains.

“We now understand that people don’t want to read about the products as much as we thought. If you don’t have a really condensed and important message to communicate, then they don’t really care.”

The results have made his team alter their email strategy. Pala says they “will not completely abandon” educational content about items, such as the thyroid tester. But they plan to push the products and discounts much more in their new promotion-heavy strategy.

Useful links related to this article

TestCountry's Creative Samples: Content vs. Promotion Test
BlueHornet Networks, Inc. – TestCountry’s email services provider:


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