War Games for the Email Marketer


Marketers are in a ruthless and increasingly challenging battle with one other to attract the attention of prospects — from marketing channels, to beginning a conversation about their organization’s offer, to continuing communicating the value they deliver to the prospect.

The battle for consumer attention in email is particularly competitive in 2019 as consumers begin their days performing a daily email triage, trying first to identify which emails they can delete before granting any consideration to the value being offered inside the email.

We can’t all win. Consumers will receive 5% more email in 2019 than 2018 according to technology market research firm The Radicati Group. As consumer attention gets further diluted, so will the performance of some email marketers. Therefore, the question becomes, “How can I increase my own email performance relative to other email marketers competing for the same consumer attention?”

By thinking of A/B testing and conversion optimization as email war games.

Simulating [Email] Battle through Testing

In the military, war games are performed to evaluate strategies without actual combat. This serves to ensure combat readiness of deployable forces from home base.

For the email marketer, simulating or testing a campaign prior to the full send can result in improved open, click and conversion rates. It can also protect the relationship you have earned with your customer by validating that the value you are communicating in the email is relevant and important to them, resulting in lower unsubscribe rates.

I use send time as an example, but there are other elements of the email funnel that can be optimized before they go live to your full audience, like the opt-in form for example.

Prior to sending an email to your full list and potentially missing out on leads or sales for your business (or even worse, having elevated unsubscribe rates where you can never communicate with that person again) there are a variety of ways to “war game” your campaign.

  1. Evaluate from the list below, the largest potential areas for improvement in your email program to boost your final conversions (sales)
  2. Develop a research question and hypothesis for making the change
  3. Take your control and treatment(s) to an internal focus group for feedback
  4. Get qualitative feedback from external users (I like usertesting.com)
  5. Send the control and treatment to a portion of your list to evaluate performance (I recommend starting with 20% of your list for 6+ hours before sending to the remainder of your list)

Benefits of Email Testing:

By testing and optimizing your email program, marketers can maximize:

  • Email database size and quality by optimizing capture forms
  • Open rates by testing email subject line value and minimizing the perceived costs (both material and mental)
  • Click through rates by testing arresting headlines, building connection in the email body copy, and transferring momentum from the email to the landing page
  • Email landing page continuity by validating that the email and corresponding landing page are relevant
  • Final (macro) conversions: the goal of the email is to attract attention to the landing page and ultimately to get the prospect to convert. By increasing the perceived value and decreasing the perceived cost through the process we will increase our ultimate conversion rate
  • Retention by testing to ensure the value we are communicating in the email and landing page matches the product or service being delivered to make sure we are matching or exceeding customer expectations

Re-enacting Old [Campaign] Battles

Modern day military exercises, or war games, grow out of the military’s need to study warfare and to reenact old battles for learning purposes. For the email marketer, create space in your calendar to do a retrospective review of campaign performance; not just in terms of numerical results, but ask yourself the question, “what did we learn about our customer in that test that we can apply moving forward?”

Related Resources

Case Study: Email Marketing – How focus on value proposition in testing led to a 66% increase in event registrations from email.

Email Messaging Course: Learn to test and optimize your email campaigns with real case studies and proven techniques.

UF Graduate Certificate: Get 12 credit hours in communicating value and web conversion.

MECLABS Partnership: For two years, I studied under the guidance of MECLABS Institute and learned about increasing conversion rates through online testing. In that partnership, we achieved an 82% increase in revenue attributed to email for The Global Leadership Summit.

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