How to Double Your Email Open Rate: ✔ It Out!

This is a guest post by Judy Gern, Vocus’ and iContact’s expert on acquisition and conversion marketing.

Have you noticed symbols in your inbox lately?  Maybe you’ve received promotional emails from your favorite retailers with subject lines like:

✈ Relaxation…Beach Playcation! Up to 55% Off

☀When summer’s gone, so are these deals: only 3 days left!☀

New styles you’ll ♥

A recent article by MarketingProfs, “Using Subject-Line Symbols to Get Noticed”, talks about this new phenomenon, an underused tactic to help your emails stand out in the crowded inbox.

When I started seeing symbols in my own inbox this past summer, something other than the symbols grabbed my attention:  only retailers were using this approach.  On any given day, I receive an almost equal number of consumer-oriented emails as I do business-oriented emails, but in my admittedly limited research (consisting of my Trash folder which hadn’t been emptied since August) not one B2B marketer had used symbols in their subject line.

Now, most people wouldn’t find this very interesting.  But being a marketing geek myself, I wanted to understand why B2B marketers hadn’t jumped on the symbols bandwagon.  Everyone wants their emails to get noticed, right? Perhaps B2B marketers are worried it could impact credibility with customers and prospects?

B2B buyers are people too!

Let’s consider for a minute about how consumer expectations have changed B2B purchasing behaviors.  As consumers, we can go online to purchase just about anything.  And the same is true of many B2B products – just think Salesforce, Staples, Moo.com, and – to be self-serving for a just a moment – iContact.

B2B e-commerce is characterized by many of the same experiences consumers demand from online retailers:  easy to navigate, sophisticated search capabilities, simple check out and superior customer service.  As Andy Hoar, a Forrester Research analyst who covers B2B e-commerce, says, “We’re seeing the b2c-ifying of b2b”.

We ♥ testing

Armed with a new hypothesis that B2C approaches could be effective with a B2B audience, we decided to try it ourselves – symbols and all.

The campaign was a promotion during the notoriously slow summer months, encouraging businesses to upgrade from a trial account to a paid subscription.  For the email, we tested our best performing subject line to date against a new version that started with a symbol.  Using open rate as the best measure of subject line effectiveness, the symbol version generated a 97% lift in open rate.

We also tested a highly graphical email with a distinctly retail-esque design against our traditionally text-heavy email format.  Using click-through-rate as the success metric here, the graphical email generated click-through rates 3X higher.

Try it yourself

With a good testing methodology, you can experiment with new approaches without risking an entire campaign.  When we tested the retail approach I described above, we realized it might crash and burn.  But we would never know unless we tested it.  And the results – including conversion to purchase – were beyond our best expectations.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you consider if B2C approaches can work for you:

  • Is your target audience diverse?  If your company sells only to engineers who design components for mobile phones, B2C tactics are not likely to be effective.  But if your customers are small businesses, or are distributed across many industries or different levels of an organization, you need to appeal to a wide variety of people.
  • What’s your brand personality?  Don’t veer too far outside your brand’s established voice in an effort to relate to your audience – you may risk sounding insincere or forced.
  • Do you sell online?  If some or all of your products can be purchased online, you’re probably a good candidate for integrating B2C tactics.  Companies that sell exclusively through a team of highly skilled sales reps may not benefit from consumer-based marketing techniques.

For more tips on increasing your open rate with subject line symbols, check out the iContact blog.

Image: kirugi (Creative Commons)

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