What if Everything You Thought You Knew About Marketing was Wrong?

As marketers we pride ourselves in our exceptional marketing instincts. We are studiers of behavior and masters of persuasion. We understand the psyche of our customers and donors and can conjure up the perfect messaging cocktail that always gets killer results…or so we think.

Dr. Flint McGlaughlin, Director of Marketing Experiments, shared a startling fact during the Marketing Sherpa Email Marketing Optimization Summit: the majority of the time, marketer intuition is dead wrong. To prove this point, Dr. McGlaughlin put three different versions of an email up on the screen. Each version was designed by a different agency, and each version was visually stunning. Then he asked those in attendance—all top email marketers in their own right—to vote for the version of the email that they thought would get the best response. About 4% got it right. In reality, every single version of the email that was designed by a competent design agency underperformed the control. So, in actuality, it was really a trick question—every version of the email stunk—some just stunk worse than others.

This illuminates a very important principle when it comes to email marketing: if you are not testing your creative, if you are just going with your marketing gut, you are most likely leaving a lot on the table. You need to be constantly testing and optimizing your email campaigns to ensure that you are making the most of every opportunity. By the way, this is a Biblical principle. It’s called stewardship. We need to think of every campaign as a resource entrusted to us and we need to use every tool available to ensure that we are not wasting what has been put in our hands to manage.

So, What Do You Need to Get Started Testing and Optimizing Your Email Campaigns?

  • First, you need a way to quickly and efficiently measure email response. Personally, I like to use Google Analytics with eCommerce tracking enabled coupled with a custom Google URL. This gives me clear insights into exactly what each email campaign is doing in my key metrics of clicks, conversions, and average gifts.

  • Next, you need an optimization methodology. Dr. McGlaughlin often puts it this way, “Best practices are not enough—you need a rigorous methodology.” We use a methodology that helps us to focus our thinking on what truly matters when it comes to optimizing an email campaign. This is best represented by the following heuristic:

  • Finally, you need to be committed to testing. For instance, we do not let an email campaign leave our shop without testing something. Start small with subject line A/B spit tests. Carve out a sample group from your email file and break it into two segments. Send the email to the two different segments with two different subject lines between 24 and 48 hours before your actual send date. Based on your open rates, roll out with the winning subject line. It may take a little while to get going, but once you are able to see the fruit of testing and optimization, you’ll be hooked.


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