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Nov 12, 2008 | 2 minute read

Should Retail Email Sell or Inform? An A/B Split Test Case Study

written by Linda Bustos

Marketing Sherpa recently published an email marketing case from Drs Foster and Smith which tested the impact of mixing educational content with product promotions, whereas in the past their emails were either informative or sales-oriented.

The results of mixing content were 7% boost in click through rate, 6% lift in conversion and 15% increase in sales (meaning average order size was higher).

The campaign involved segmenting the "dog owner" customer, and performing an A/B test using email creative that offered products and discounts comparable in value proposition. As you can see, both emails below include an offer for a free pack of BioSpot and an article about protecting your home and pet from fleas. The difference is which call to action appears first (and more than double the size) in the content area.

Week 1:

Week 2:

The winning design in both tests was information more prominent, offer less prominent. Remember, the informational call to action translated to a 15% increase in sales over the promotional offer.

The all-important landing page used shorter copy with a top image hot-linked to a product page where readers could purchase products relevant to the information. In a sense, readers were being pre-sold on an item with expert advice which further motivated the purchase.

Marketing Sherpa summed up the key takeaway as "Their audience responds better to relevant content than to a heavy-duty sales pitch."

This is a perfect example of what Marketing Experiments' Flint McLaughlin recommended in the recent web clinic Ecommerce Holiday Playbook: 13 Ways to Maximize Revenue and Beat the Downturn. If

If you skip to slide 31, Flint explains that the goal of the landing page is to sell (or in this case, pre-sell) the product. The goal of your email (or PPC ad) is not to sell, but to generate interest. A mistake is to try to sell in the email then sell again on the landing page.

Offering educational content within emails is a great way to generate interest -- it's non-committal and it builds trust and long-term loyalty. Even if the customer doesn't buy from you today, he or she is more likely to open your email expecting to receive valuable knowledge in exchange for their time.

Two additional takeaways noted by Marketing Sherpa:

  • Wisely placed educational articles may heat up sales in a blue economy. With consumers tightening purse strings, Web shoppers are not likely to be in as much of a hurry as they used to be. Therefore, holding people’s hands with educational content can be worthwhile for your brand.
  • Educational content can create a comfort level for Internet shoppers who don’t have the luxury of physically assessing products the way brick-and-mortar shoppers do. Hence, relevant content can help bridge that gap between the product and the shopper.

Here's an action item: McLaughlin suggests you look at your last 5 emails you sent, or the next 5 you plan on using for the Christmas season, print them out and lay them on the table. Look at the messaging and ask yourself if the email was written to get a click, or to sell something.

Also, take a couple hours to watch the replay of Ecommerce Holiday Playbook: 13 Ways to Maximize Revenue and Beat the Downturn. There's a lot of valuable information here.