Wearing White Before Memorial Day (Or, Why Marketers Need A/B Testing)
I think of my parents every Memorial Day. My father served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. My mother trained to be an Army nurse. And like all of the people I’ve known who served our country, I honor their memory … and their service.
But you know what’s funny? Their military stints aren’t the only reason I think of them during this time of year. I also recall that Memorial Day weekend, like clockwork, they both brought their white clothes, shoes, and accessories out of the back of the closet. It was an annual tradition.
I remember watching as my mother switched from a black purse to a white purse, and black shoes to white (or gold sandals, if it was a fancy occasion). It never made very much sense to me, since we lived in Southern California where the weather was pretty much the same all year round. But when I asked her why, she said it was just the way things were done, and that was enough for her.
And so, even now, when this weekend rolls around, I have the urge to ditch my black purse without really understanding what for. It’s a habit, it’s tradition, and it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that it’s simply the right thing to do.
Questioning Your Belief Systems
As a marketer, I realize, I have often done the very same thing when running email campaigns. I can hear the voice in my head saying: Don’t send email on a Monday. Never use “free” in subject lines. Animations are pointless distractions. I know that these ideas have some good reasons behind them, but usually I can’t remember what they are. Maybe I just read them somewhere, or heard them from a marketer I trusted, and now they’ve become rules, not guidelines.
The marketing team here at Act-On is in the business of questioning a lot of the supposedly hard-and-fast rules of selling. After all, we’re data-driven marketers. Going with a gut feeling isn’t a part of our playbook. And you know what? We’ve uncovered a few surprising things along the way.
Here are five marketing myths that didn’t really make that much sense when we started to look into them.
Myth #1: Don’t Send Campaigns on Holidays
This discovery was actually kind of an accident. The email marketing team had set up an automated drip campaign, and as it was running, one of the messages went out on Labor Day. Uh-oh… it was a Monday, and a holiday. It’s the email marketing equivalent of wearing horizontal stripes and socks with sandals, all at the same time! But a funny thing happened when the team took a look at the results. They were astounded – the email had a 40% open rate, which was much higher than the average. This is a perfect example of why it pays to test your theories.
And indeed, once we started to think about it, this behavior made perfect sense. People have time to actually read emails on holidays. Sure, maybe they’re at a baseball game, but mobile devices make it easy to scan the inbox between innings. Which brings us to the next marketing myth…
Myth #2: Never Send Email on the Weekend
We used to send our blog roundup email on Fridays. There were usually five to seven posts a week, and on Friday we could send an email featuring everything that had appeared during the previous four days. When the marketing team began testing send times, they were surprised to find that weekends received higher-than-average open rates. In this test example, you can see that emails sent on Saturday produced higher open and click rates.
The roundup has been going out on a Saturday ever since, and the results have continued to be good. (If you want to start receiving it every Saturday, you can subscribe using the Subscribe via Email box at the top right of this page.)
Myth #3: Animations Don’t Make a Difference in Email
This is just a personal preference on my part. I don’t like emails with a lot of bouncing banners and flashing “click now” buttons. But I have to admit, they can get results. Act-On marketers tested static images vs. animated gifs and achieved nearly double the clickthrough rates. As you can see, in the image on the right, the toolbox slowly increases size within the magnifying glass. For us, it’s clear that animated images can significantly increase audience engagement.
The team also conducted a head-to-head test using a static green button versus a gray button with multicolored, animated arrows. In this test, the open rates were identical. However, since the focus was on getting clicks, the animated button proved to be the winner with the higher clickthrough rate.
Just remember, flashy rainbow colors might work for a call to action button, but as a fashion choice, they may not be the best idea. (Then again, what do I know? I’m the one who will still be walking around with a black purse in the middle of July.)
Myth #4: Don’t Use the Word “Free” in a Subject Line
While it’s often been true in the past that “free” in a subject line has been seen as a potential sign of spam, it’s not really the case anymore. Spam filters have gotten a lot smarter than that. Of course, if you do it, you might want to keep an eye on deliverability rates to see if there is any impact. The marketing team decided to set up a test to determine the best subject and header from the following options:
“Free SEO checklist for your website’s homepage”
“Demystifying SEO: A Practical Audit Tool for Marketers”
“SEO Audit: A Practical Tool for Marketers”
“How to Tackle SEO – No Consultants Required”
Out of the four messages tested, the first email (featuring “Free”) was the winner. It was good to know that this list segment responded well to an offer for a free service. But we still had more to learn.
Myth #5: Newer is Always Better
The thing is, the team already had an email promoting an SEO whitepaper that was performing quite well. What would happen if we tested the winning SEO audit message against the current SEO white paper champion? Would we get more conversions? The answer was, to our surprise, no.
At the end of the test, we discovered that the current email promoting the white paper won based on the total number of opens, clicks and conversions. It was a valuable lesson about marketing programs. If it’s not broken, you don’t have to fix it… but it pays to keep testing it.
Results like these make me want to test every assumption I have about marketing (and about the rules of fashion, too!) I think most of us tend to get stuck in the habits of the past at one time or another. What worked before has often worked since, and we tend to rely on the “tried and true” method, even though we don’t remember what we actually tried, and whether or not it’s still true. And that’s something I’m going to try to remember, every day of the year.
What marketing myths have you debunked recently? Share your thoughts in the comments. And if you want some tips on testing your email campaigns, be sure to check out this eBook, The ABCs of A/B Testing, to get even more real-world testing case studies.
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