Strategic Experimentation Key to Success for LivingSocial and Refinery29

Content Takeover Email MarketingFor flash-sale and lifestyle sites, email is key in driving site traffic, so creating engaging, informative daily emails that keep subscribers clicking has become a science for brands like LivingSocial and Refinery29.

For LivingSocial, a perfect marriage of image and text is the main objective for the brand’s daily email, which reaches their 30 million subscribers. According to Danny Hsia, senior manager of email and CRM at LivingSocial, there are three basic tenets for a winning email.

“We have some simple things that we always put in front of a consumer for every deal they investigate,” Hsia says. “First, visual is important, so there’s always going to be an image of something that represents the deal. We also know that 50 percent of our users are engaging with us from mobile devices, so we keep basic titles pithy because of physical space on screen. Finally, we’ve found that it’s always best to show the price they would pay versus the price that the merchant has marked for the deal.”

And while LivingSocial has tested its basic email format to make sure the organization is consistent and optimal, lifestyle site Refinery29 has found that meticulously testing email content against website content results in higher click-through rates for the brand’s 1.9 million email subscribers. Though the brand has separate local email lists for major cities like New York and Los Angeles, Refinery29 puts all its lists through the same rigorous testing process to track reader response.

“We apply the same strategy in all of our emails,” says Jessica Novak, content strategist at Refinery29. “We look at what’s trending for each segment because they are very different, along with some tried-and-true winning concepts that we know do well in each market, and then we always include a little bit of strategic experimentation.”

Novak believes that strategic experimentation is what keeps Refinery29’s daily emails exciting for subscribers. “For example, for our Everywhere list, which is our largest list, we’re testing up to three different stories a day,” Novak says. “Not just subject lines, but actual pieces of content. We send out something we’re pretty sure is going to win, but we also send things to test against, and at least one that is an experiment so that we’re constantly optimizing to send our reader what she wants on the specific day she wants it.”

Refinery29 also uses headlines on its main site to test subject lines before email testing even begins. “We craft our subject lines very strategically,” Novak says. “We test up to three subject lines per story and oftentimes those are informed by testing that we also do on our homepage or somewhere else on the site. So we are putting a lot of thought into those. We’re testing on about 5 percent of our list a few hours before our final send goes out.”

But even after rigorous testing, Hsia says there’s no magic system to predict how many sends users will accept in a series or why some users suddenly unsubscribe. “I would be shocked if someone said they had figured it out because they probably never will,” Hsia says.

“But what we try and do is understand how particular types of people engage. If they engage differently we tweak our strategies to say, ‘OK we’re not going to send this guy this particular email every day.’ Or we may send people two emails a day because they convert at the same rate or higher. It really depends on each customer and at scale,” he concludes. 

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