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Break Email Best Practices. Add 200%.

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Why turning email best practices on their head may be a good idea

 

The idea of “best practices” has become something of a crutch in business. Email best practices, for instance, suggests that someone else has already figured out what works in email, so you don’t have to. “Good thing,” many will say, “I don’t have time to figure stuff out. I just have time to do.” Uh oh.

In our testing over the years, we’ve found a certain approach to email that has outperformed more traditional approaches by a factor of 200-300%. A few weeks back, we were presenting our approach to a large, well-regarded digital marketing house, when I heard a sudden intake of air. “What’s the matter?” I asked. “Well, you’ve just broken every email best practice there is,” was the reply. “Exactly,” I said, “if you want to break through, you have to do things differently. No?”  The campaign we ended-up running outperformed their best practices approach by over 500%.

Here’s an example of three campaign executions we sent to online retailers on behalf of a client. Can you guess which of the three approaches has consistently outperformed the others? I’ll share the results at the bottom of this post.

Standard HTML Email Best Practices Standard HTML Email (click to enlarge)
Text HTML Email Best PracticesText HTML Email (click to enlarge)
Billboard HTML Email Best Practices Billboard HTML Email (click to enlarge)

The winner? In case you didn’t guess, it was the Billboard HTML approach. Why? A few reasons, I think:

1. It looks different. Like a billboard by the roadside, it’s easier to absorb because it’s simpler. The approach is also not very common in the world of email, so it garners more attention. As the clickthrough results below support, it also directs the reader a little more aggressively than typical email.

2. Standard HTML email signals “I’m selling!”  Most recipients expect that a standard HTML email, no matter how beautiful or well-crafted, is selling something. As a result, this approach is a whole lot easier to overlook in an inbox.

3. Text email has shown great promise. You may be surprised to learn that the text HTML was the second best performer overall. We’ve actually had more success with text email (or, more accurately, HTML email made to look like a text email), than the results below suggest. A short, personalized text email that comes from someone reasonably senior in your company can produce outstanding results. A recent text email campaign we ran (which came from the client company’s CEO) generated open rates of over 40%. This can probably be attributed, in part, to “standard HTML” email fatigue. You may want to note the clickthrough rate of the text email:

Email Performance Comparison

Results from the email campaigns shown above. The base was 4,730 mailings.

So the next time you hear the term “best practices” applied to anything, consider it a big, waving red flag. That may be the perfect time to kick the crutches out and and see if you can’t turn some best practices on their head.

About Drew Williams

My name is Drew Williams. I’m an author and marketing entrepreneur. “A what?”, you say. I call someone who’s passionate about building businesses a marketing entrepreneur. So that’s me. Full Profile | Google+

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