February 19, 2015 | John Goethert

A/B Testing Marketing Emails Using Buyer Personas

A/B Testing with Buyer Personas

Over the last few years, I’ve developed a new hobby… email subject lines (not quite as fun as my other hobby, mountain biking). It’s strange, I know, but I’m really interested in the psychology of what catches people's eyes and why.

After taking over inbound marketing for a particularly email-heavy client, I have been reading anything and everything about subject lines, open rates, and email marketing best practices. I am bound and determined to get my client’s emails opened, and get people clicking into the their online store.

A/B Testing Variables in Emails

Step one was to look at what has been done, and what’s working. I built an elaborate spreadsheet mapping out every conceivable variable, most importantly which subject lines had the highest (and lowest) open rates.

As I tested different “best practices,” I saw nothing that was yielding consistent positive results. For instance, many case studies say personalization will help with open rates. Yes, our best open rate for a promo email included the recipient’s name, but strangely so did some of the worst.

I tested times of day, days of the week, times of year, numbers of words, proximity to last sent email, highlighting the promo amount vs. playing on the reader’s curiosity. No real “Ah Ha!” findings.

During this time, I was also working on increasing the usage of promo coupon codes in the client’s online store. We wanted to constantly remind people of the code, so they would never leave the store to find it. So I tested adding the code to the CTA button, both in the email and blog posts. That way, the code would be the last thing they saw before arriving in the store.

These CTAs were neither succinct nor action-oriented like our usual “SHOP NOW” buttons, but for some reason, “Click to Redeem Coupon Code XYZ” did much better. I tested a few more CTAs with passive wording, and they too had better results. For example, “Visit the Online Store” had a 2% higher click-through rate than “SHOP NOW.”

What was going on? Why was a less direct approach performing better? I believe that the explanation lies in the client’s buyer persona.

The Persona Was the Key

A large part of their customer base is female, with limited education, limited income, and limited opportunities. Based on data we have, it looks like this persona often faces a series of “have-tos” rather than getting to make choices. So, “SHOP NOW” could come across as a command—just another have-to. The wording of the CTAs, along with other copy, needs to be empowering and respectful of their decision to click.

Since realizing this, we’ve changed the wording of our email subjects (and the CTAs within) to be more persona-based. We remind people that purchasing from our client will involve no games or surprises, just simple savings. Since this epiphany, our open rates have been consistently over 15%. The older “command” approach often ran 2-3% less.

Now that we have a better understanding of our client’s buyer persona, our A/B testing is much more about fine tuning. I’m fully confident that I can increase their open rates by a few more percentage points. Today, I encourage readers to open emails rather than tell them to with subject lines like “Reminder: Savings Still Available” rather than “Don’t Wait or You’ll Miss the Savings!”

The point of this journey is that knowing and using buyer personas is essential in the everything you do to promote your business, including not only your emails, but your A/B testing process.

If you have any examples of how you changed you’re A/B testing based on your personas, A) TELL ME TODAY or B) Share the Love.

Don't have buyer personas? Better get on that.

Crafting Effective Buyer Personas-Click Here to Download


John Goethert

John Goethert

John Goethert served as VIEO’s senior inbound marketing project manager for many years and enjoyed using his varied expertise on behalf of our clients.

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