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The Writer’s Dilemma: How to know which marketing copy will really be most effective

February 5th, 2015 1 comment

I’m staring at a blank page on my screen. There are several directions I could go with this piece of writing, and I’m not sure which will be most helpful to you:

  • How to improve the conversion rate of your email marketing
  • How to best understand and serve your customers
  • How to split test your email marketing

I’m sure you face this dilemma as a copywriter or marketing manager as well:

  • Which subject line will be most effective?
  • How should you craft the headline?
  • What body copy would be most helpful (and generate the most response) from customers?

So that’s what today’s MarketingExperiments Blog post will be about. Essentially, your product and offers likely have many elements of value, and there are many ways you can message that value, but what will work best with your potential customers?

To give you a process to follow, I’ll use an example:

We recently ran a public experiment to help answer the above questions for VolunteerMatch, a nonprofit organization with a unique funding model. It sells a Software as a Service (SaaS) product to companies to help fund its organization, which has generated close to $1 billion in social value each year through its work with nonprofits and volunteers.

Let’s take a look at the process we used for this public experiment and how you can repurpose it for your own marketing efforts.

 

Step #1: Get some new ideas

You think, breathe, eat, sleep and dream about the products and services you advertise and market. So sometimes it helps to step out of your box and get a new perspective.

For example, MarketingExperiments’ parent company, MECLABS Institute, uses Peer Review Sessions to foster idea collection and collaboration from new and unique viewpoints.

To get some new ideas for VolunteerMatch, we launched the public experiment with a contest on the MarketingExperiments Blog as well as on The Moz Blog where we asked marketers to comment on the blog post with their ideas for effective subject lines with a chance to win tickets to Email Summit and a stay at the event’s host hotel, the ARIA Resort & Casino. We received subject line ideas from 224 marketers.

However, this is only one way to step outside the box and get a fresh perspective on your products and services. You could also:

  • Talk to people in departments you don’t normally engage with (e.g., customer service, sales, product development, IT, accounting, legal … keep your options open)
  • Conduct surveys or focus groups with potential customers
  • Read reviews, feedback forms, forum conversations and social media to learn the language the customers use when talking about your products
  • Get on the phone and interview customers (and even people who chose not to be customers)
  • Read websites, magazines and newspapers aimed at your buyer and see what language they use and values they emphasize
  • Go to a museum, national park, art fair, farmer’s market, the symphony or some other creative endeavor to help spark some new thinking

My point is cast a wide net. Get a lot of ideas at this point.

 

Step #2: Coalesce these ideas around key points of value

Once you have all of these ideas, they will likely naturally fall into a few main categories of value around your products or services.

When conducting this public experiment with VolunteerMatch, we started with three elements of value (listed below) to help focus marketers who were entering the contest. When they entered, they would leave a comment on the blog post with their suggested subject line and which category of value that subject line was intended to communicate.

Defining the value upfront will help you know what elements of value you already consider important to your product or service when conducting Step #1.

However, it is important to stay open minded. When you assign the feedback you’ve received into different categories of value, you may find that all of the feedback doesn’t necessarily fit into the categories you’re using. You can find gold in these outliers — new value categories for your product that you had not considered before.

The three categories of value we focused on for VolunteerMatch were:

  • Category #1: Proof, recognition, credibility
  • Category #2: Better, more opportunities to choose from
  • Category #3: Ease of use

We also gave marketers an opportunity to come up with a category of value we may have overlooked.

From the suggestions we received on the blog post, I picked a new category to test along with the previous categories of value we had already identified. Suzanne suggested “I would argue that true volunteers are motivated by something more profound from within: dedicated volunteers are passionate about a particular cause.”

Based on this response, we added one more category of value:

  • Category #4: Passion

 

Step #3: Identify the best expressions of these categories of value

Now that you’ve identified a few areas of value to focus on, look through all of the messaging for the value from the suggestions you received and identify a few examples of wording that you think is the most effective.

I read through each and every subject line suggested in the comments on the MarketingExperiments Blog, and Cyrus Shepard, Head of SEO and Content, Moz, read through all the subject lines proposed by marketers through The Moz Blog.

We settled on these seven subject lines:

Category #1: Proof

  • Attention Business Leaders: How to Increase your ROI through Employee Volunteer Initiatives
  • Volunteering matters. We have the proof.

Category #2: Network size

  • CC Your Boss: 1,000+ Ways To Make A Difference (Inside)
  • Does your company care? Thousands of ways to prove it.

Category #3: Ease of use (app)

  • The volunteer app your coworkers will talk about
  • The One App That Can Change The Way Your Company Gives Back

Category #4: Passion (no feature)

  • Spread the Only “Good” Office Virus
  • Spread the Only “Good” Office Virus (I’ll tell you why this subject line is listed twice in the next step)

 

Step #4: Test with your audience to see which value and messaging combination is the most effective

In this case, my colleague, Jon Powell, Senior Manager, Executive Research and Development, MECLABS Institute, ran a split test with VolunteerMatch’s email list to see which subject lines would be most effective and which value is most appealing to potential customers.

Testing with your potential customers is another way to break down that fourth wall with customers and discover what is really most valuable about your product to inform and improve your copywriting.

Here was the email that was sent. (Note: The last, bolded line was changed for different treatments to correspond to the value expressed in the subject line that was tested.)

 

I listed the “passion” subject line twice because Jon used it as a double treatment. Essentially, this is a way to make sure the results that you see from an experiment are valid.

There should not be a significant difference between those two treatments since the subject line was the same. If there is a significant difference, it could be an indication of a validity threat, and you must question your data even further before trusting it (an issue we fortunately did not have with this test).

Read more…

A/B Testing: How to improve already effective marketing (and win a ticket to Email Summit in Vegas)

January 5th, 2015 183 comments

Editor’s Note: This subject line contest is no longer accepting entries. Check out “The Writer’s Dilemma:How to know which marketing copy will really be most effective” to see which entry won, why it won and what you can learn from that to further improve your own marketing.

This blog post ends with an opportunity for you to win a stay at the ARIA Resort & Casino in Las Vegas and a ticket to Email Summit, but it begins with an essential question for marketers:

How can you improve already successful marketing, advertising, websites and copywriting?

Today’s MarketingExperiments blog post is going to be unique. Not only are we going to teach you how to address this challenge, we’re going to also offer an example to help drive home the lesson. We’re going to cover a lot of ground today, so let’s dive in.

 

Give the people what they want …

Some copy and design is so bad, the fixes are obvious. Maybe you shouldn’t insult the customer in the headline. Maybe you should update the website that still uses a dot matrix font.

But when you’re already doing well, how can you continue to improve?

I don’t have the answer for you, but I’ll tell you who does — your customers.

There are many tricks, gimmicks and types of technology you can use in marketing, but when you strip away all the hype and rhetoric, successful marketing is pretty straightforward — clearly communicate the value your offer provides to people who will pay you for that value.

Easier said than done, of course.

How do you determine what customers want and the best way to deliver it to them?

Well, there are many ways to learn from customers, such as focus groups, surveys and social listening.

While there is value in asking people what they want, there is also a major challenge in it.

According to research from Dr. Noah J. Goldstein, Associate Professor of Management and Organizations, UCLA Anderson School of Management, “People’s ability to understand the factors that affect their behavior is surprisingly poor.”

Or, as Malcom Gladwell more glibly puts it when referring to coffee choices, “The mind knows not what the tongue wants.”

This is not to say that opinion-based customer preference research is bad. It can be helpful. However, it should be the beginning of your quest, not the end.

 

… by seeing what they actually do

You can use what you learn from opinion-based research to create a hypothesis about what customers want, and then run an experiment to see how they actually behave in real-world customer interactions with your product, marketing messages and website.

The technique that powers this kind of research is often known as A/B testing, split testing, landing page optimization or website optimization. If you are testing more than one thing at a time, it may also be referred to as multivariate testing.

To offer a simple example, you might assume that customers buy your product because it tastes great and because it’s less filling. Keeping these two assumptions in mind, you could create two landing pages — one with a headline that promotes that taste (treatment A) and another that mentions the low carbs (treatment B). You then send half the traffic that visits that URL to each version and see which performs better.

Here is a simple visual that Joey Taravella, Content Writer, MECLABS created to illustrate this concept: 

 

That’s just one test. To really learn about your customers, you must continue the process and create a testing-optimization cycle in your organization — continue to run A/B tests, record the findings, learn from them, create more hypotheses and test again based on these hypotheses.

This is true marketing experimentation, and it helps you build your theory of the customer.

 

Try your hand at A/B testing for a chance to win

Now that you have a basic understanding of marketing experimentation (there is also more information in the “You might also like” section of this blog post that you may find helpful), let’s engage in a real example to help drive home these lessons in a way you can apply to your own marketing challenges.

To help you take your marketing to the next level, The Moz Blog and MarketingExperiments Blog have joined forces to run a unique marketing experimentation contest.

In this blog post, we’re presenting you with a real challenge from a real organization and asking you to write a subject line that we’ll test with real customers. It’s simple; just leave your subject line as a comment in this blog post.

We’re going to pick three subject lines from The Moz Blog and three from the MarketingExperiments Blog and run a test with this organization’s customers.

Whoever writes the best performing subject line will win a stay at the ARIA Resort in Las Vegas as well as a two-day ticket to MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2015 to help them gain lessons to further improve their marketing.

Sound good? OK, let’s dive in and tell you about your client:

Read more…

Responsive Design: How Fathead gets out of the way of its customers

December 1st, 2014 No comments

Responsive design.

It’s more than just a buzzword. It’s an optimization challenge.

After all, what responsive design really means is that you need more than one optimized design.

It is a marketing challenge not to be overlooked. After all, it’s hard enough to discover one effective design for a website that is optimized for conversion. With responsive design, you need three, four or maybe more designs to present optimized experiences for customers on many different devices.

To help you overcome this and other mobile marketing challenges, I interviewed Michael Layne, Director of Internet Marketing, and Jen Rademacher, Chief Information Officer, both of Fathead.

Michael and Jen discussed how the maker and seller of life-sized, precision-cut vinyl wall graphics transitioned from an “m-dot” website – a mobile-optimized website with a specific subdomain (usually “m” is in the subdomain, for example, m.fathead.com) that mobile users are automatically redirected to – to a responsively designed site and used two years’ worth of discoveries from multivariate testing to inform this redesign and relaunch.

 

When asked about their biggest testing discoveries, Jen said that “colors of buttons really affect what people do.”

Read more…

How to Improve Conversion of Your Online Ads

November 10th, 2014 1 comment

From pay-per-click advertising to display ads, all online advertising is a micro-yes, a step in the process to the ultimate conversion.

To help you improve conversion of this micro-yes, Flint McGlaughlin, Managing Director, MECLABS, created the MECLABS Online Ad Sequence based on online advertising experimentation for both B2B and consumer marketers.

How can you improve conversion of your online ads? Focus on the three factors identified in the sequence:

 online-ads-conversion

 

Let me explain the elements in the sequence in a little further detail.

 

Effectiveness of the ad

This isn’t an equation to be solved. This is a heuristic, or thought tool (kind of like checklist) to guide your thinking as you look to optimize your online advertising.

The more you improve the elements to the right of the equation side, the more you will be able to increase the effectiveness of your ad.

  Read more…

Email Marketing: Compliance-related re-engagement campaign messaging increases conversion 49%

September 4th, 2014 1 comment

A name in a database does not a customer make.

You need customers and potential customers who actually want to receive email from you. To do that with your current email list — either for legal compliance reasons, like the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL), or to win-back unengaged subscribers (like CNET did) — it may make sense for your company to run a re-engagement campaign.

We recently ran a re-engagement and reconfirmation campaign for our Canadian subscribers of MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa. The challenge for me when writing these emails was finding which messaging would be most compelling to subscribers.

At MECLABS, a challenge like that is a great opportunity to run a test, and then share the results with you on the MarketingExperiments Blog to help with your own campaigns.

To the splitter!

 

Treatment #1. Value of subscribing to the list only

Treatment 1 offered a reminder of the value our newsletters provide before asking the recipient to continue receiving these emails:

 

Treatment No. 1

  Read more…

Landing Page Optimization: 5 factors that lead to (and prevent) conversion

August 18th, 2014 1 comment

Anytime we share research about overall conversion rate benchmarks, I give the same caveat – while it’s helpful to understand conversion rates for your peers, the bigger question you must ask yourself is how to improve conversion rates on your own landing pages and in your own funnels.

 

Is there a methodical way to increase conversion?

While marketing has tended to be dominated by the marketer with the “golden gut” or the star direct response copywriter, other disciplines in the enterprise – from manufacturing to IT – have developed methodological processes to improve quality and consistency.

The MECLABS Conversion Sequence Heuristic is an attempt to bring the same discipline, rigor and sustainable success to the marketing department. It is part of a patented repeatable methodology (patent number 8,155,995) developed by Flint McGlaughlin, Managing Director, MECLABS (parent company of MarketingExperiments), based on years of testing and research of real product and service offers presented to real customers.

conversion-sequence-heuristic

 

For long-time MarketingExperiments readers, you might be very familiar with the Conversion Sequence Heuristic and have, hopefully, been using it to improve conversion in your own tests. (If so, let me know. We’d love to share those results to inspire other marketers.)

But since the Conversion Sequence Heuristic helps more new marketers discovering it for the first time every year, it helps to occasionally revisit this fundamental approach to marketing every now and again.

Read on for a cursory look at the factors that affect conversion, and if you’d like a more in-depth understanding of how you can apply this heuristic to your own landing pages and marketing efforts, you can take the Landing Page Optimization Online Course.

 

Probability of conversion

The Conversion Sequence Heuristic is not an equation to solve. Rather, it is a heuristic, or thought tool (i.e., really cool checklist) to use as you work on landing pages and other marketing offers.

You can never guarantee conversion, but by making (sometimes subtle) changes to the right areas, you can increase the probability of conversion. This heuristic helps you identify those key areas.

 

Motivation of user

The numbers in front of the different elements of the heuristic indicate how much they impact the probability of conversion. All of the elements are not equal.

The motivation of the user is the single most important factor affecting conversion.

To see why, let me give you a simple example using myself as the customer. I am a huge Pearl Jam fan. If Pearl Jam came to Jacksonville, Fla., I would find a way to be at the concert, even if their ticket selling process, sales funnel and landing page were not optimized. I am highly motivated.

The motivation of the user is also the only element of the Conversion Sequence Heuristic that you cannot change. It is intrinsic in your potential customers.

You can, however, gain an understanding of your potential customers’ motivations to better tap into those natural motivations and better serve your ideal customers while improving conversion.

Read more…