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).