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Fresh Ideas

  |  May 7, 2001   |  Comments

The tried-and-true. It's hard not to stick with it. Problem is, that can leave you stuck in one place. Take some lessons from email marketers who stepped out of their comfort zones and upped their response rates in the process.

Keep it fresh.

Sounds easy, doesn't it? A no-brainer, in fact. But it's not always a simple mission to accomplish, especially for people who've found those "formulas" that work.

But here's the rub: Sticking with the tried-and-true might leave you stuck in one place. We say, "Hey, we're ultimately profitable with a 5 percent click-through rate and a 2 percent conversion. And we can get that each and every time with such-and-such style of copy and such-and-such setup of the landing page."

Sure, consistency is good... I can't argue that. But every once in a while, we really should (pardon this overused expression) "break out of the box" and see what some brand-new running shoes can do.

Yes, that means plenty of testing. Continue to test offers, copy, and the design of the email promotions themselves, of course. But also test things such as ordering processes and landing-page layouts. You may just surprise yourself with the results.

To give you a clearer picture, I've gathered a couple of brief lessons from email marketers who stepped out of their comfort zones and upped their response rates in the process.

  • Shorter is not always better. One consumer software marketer learned this by aggressively testing length in its email promotions. The test was set up as follows: Offer, products, and landing page/order form remained the same for each and every email. Three different copy lengths were tested: A) A tried-and-true version of about three very brief paragraphs; B) a slightly longer version, at about three-quarters of a printed page, that expanded on the offer details; and C) a one-and-a-half-page version that went into more detail on the offer, products, and company.

    All three were deployed at the same time in straight text to three equal-sized segments of the house list. Each segment had 50,000 names, which is a more-than-reliable figure, statistically speaking.

    Well, guess what? Test cell C was the clear-cut winner, garnering a 7.5 percent click-through rate and a 4 percent conversion rate (as compared to just under 6 percent and 3 percent, respectively, for second-place test cell B). And since this was a hard (paid) offer, it yielded a very nice margin -- bigger than this particular company had seen in a long time.

    An almost two-page email winner? Who woulda thunk it? (See what I mean...?)

  • Clarify, clarify, clarify. Whether you're collecting email addresses or cold, hard cash, take a good, hard look at how you're going about it. That's what the marketers for one nifty gadgets-and-gifts site did. And were they in for a surprise -- not to mention a huge lift in their subsequent campaigns once they corrected their almost invisible problem.

    For the record, this company creates beautiful emails, well written and well designed, and offers a good lineup of products. Click-through rates were consistently very high (in the 10 to 12 percent range).

    Sales-to-clicks conversion, however, was another story. With a conversion rate under 1 percent, the company was not quite profitable but was building a decent house email database with its prospecting promotions.

    And the marketers figured that this was the best they could do. Until someone had the foresight to analyze the landing page and ordering process.

    What they learned when they stepped out of their Web-savvy marketing shoes was that the ordering process was not that easy to follow. First problem: When a prospect clicked within the initial email on the product she was interested in and was taken to the landing page, she was besieged with a variety of choices. Several products were showcased, including the product that had elicited the click, and the page contained buttons to every single other (normal) page on the site and a search engine.

    Second, if the prospect clicked on the product she wanted, she was taken to an order form. Simple enough. Except there were no clear directions on this form, nor were there any scroll-down boxes to help the prospect along. Under "Quantity," there was a blank box. Under "Personalization," there was a blank box. Sure, you and I would know to type "1" (or another number) under quantity and our initials under "Personalization." But a lot of online-shopping newbies would not know what to do at this point. (So add directions if you don't already have them!)

    Last, if the prospect did actually get through this initial process and hit the "Submit Order" button, something strange would happen.

    In a word: nothing.

    The prospect was not taken to a shopping cart. And the prospect's order form was completely blanked out.

    However (and here's the kicker), at the top of this page, in very small letters, was the announcement "This order has been added to your shopping cart." In other words, prospects who didn't see this completely unobtrusive note would think their orders had disappeared into the ether. They wouldn't know that in order to see their orders, they had to click on the shopping-cart icon.

    So without that knowledge, what do they do at that point? Obviously, a majority of them chose to click away from the site. Hence, the terrible conversion rate.

    The interesting thing to note here is that once these simple problems were corrected (and it was really just a matter of giving prospects directions that were clear-cut to the nth degree), conversion jumped to over 2 percent... putting this particular company's email efforts in the black.

    Common sense? Yes. But sometimes things that make the most sense escape our attention. We take a lot for granted, especially those things that we, who live and work in this space, find so darned simple. Something to keep in mind.

And please keep me in mind if you've (ahem!) broken out of the box lately and want to share what you learned in the process.

I'm always open to fresh ideas!

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Kim MacPherson

Kim MacPherson is President and Founder of Inbox Interactive, a full-service email marketing agency specializing in promotional copywriting, HTML design, planning, and deployment/tracking solutions. Kim is also the author of "Permission-Based E-mail Marketing That Works!"

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