Counting E-mails Not Calories This Holiday Season
Starting the day before Thanksgiving (Nov. 27), I received 423 e-mails asking me to, among other things, buy, give, not to miss out on, urgently read, save XX percent (all the numbers you can imagine) and to HURRY! I stopped counting at 10 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 1. That's right — five days, 423 e-mails (and that doesn't include all that filled up my inbox on Cyber Monday).
Honestly, even as a marketer and fundraiser (translation: I should understand this digital-marketing dynamic), I was shocked at the number of promotional e-mails from both for-profit and nonprofit companies. In addition to the fact that I'm a Gmail user and all of these went into specific tabs in the new layout, trying to figure out what to keep and not keep became quickly overwhelming. So, like everyone else I talked with in an unscientific, unvalidated, do-it-yourself focus group, I just started skimming the subject lines. If this quantity in five days sheds any light on what we can expect for the rest of December, those subject lines feel even more critical than before.
I was reminded of this fantastic article from MailChimp, "Subject Line Data: Choose Your Words Wisely," which includes study data about subject lines. It does a great job of not just reporting out what some of us already know, but it really breaks down the data by industry, and what works (and what doesn't), as well as providing the percent of negative affect (and positive) when comparing certain words to other words. I urge you to read the entire article and really think through the data it provides. This is based on looking at 24 billion delivered e-mails with subject lines composed of approximately 22,000 distinct words. The authors had a very specific methodology and criteria to ensure this analysis would pass all the sniff tests and the scientific questions.
Here is a summary of what they found:
- We should stop questioning this one — personalization works. Including the first and last names in the campaign subjects and bodies increases open rates. In fact, using it in the subject has the largest positive impact on open rates. And as you can imagine, full name is better than just the last name or just the first name. However, it does vary by industry. The article breaks it down so you can see where it matters the most and the one industry (legal) where having the personalization in the subject line is actually a negative.
- "Free" might cost you. When they looked across all the industries, it did not help. But for some industries it really did have a statistically significant increase. However, the word "freebie" blows "free" out of the water.
- The indication of "urgency" in the subject line is really a mixed bag. Words like "urgent" and "breaking" resulted in open rates that were much higher than normal. "Important" and "alert" were not as high but still had positive impact.
- Variations of the word "announce" (i.e., announcement, announcing, announced, etc.) show positive impact on open rates. However, "reminder" and "cancelled" had negative impact. But you have to pay close attention to the details of the study: Readers were more OK with "reminders" (plural and less personal) than with "reminder" (more personal). The word "cancelled" had significant impact on open rates for every single industry except for one, Restaurant & Venue.
- Big bummer for nonprofits — or perhaps let's just say it is an important insight for us — throughout the analysis, words related to charitable actions and donations had a negative impact on open rates. "Donate" had the worst impact, but other words like "helping" had lesser negative impact. Take a look at the words they looked at including "raffle" and "charity," etc.
- The use of word pairs (i.e., "thank you," "last chance," "sign up," etc.) is an interesting find. As you'll see, current events and being thanked are viewed as positive, but being told they're missing out on something — not so positive.
Take some time and glance at this study to see where your industry falls on specific elements. Luckily we've got an industry player like MailChimp willing to really take the time and provide some of this data to help all of us.
Vice President, Strategy & Development
Eleventy Marketing Group
Angie is ridiculously passionate about EVERYTHING she’s involved in — including the future and success of our nonprofit industry.
Angie is a senior exec with 25 years of experience in direct and relationship marketing. She is a C-suite consultant with experience over the years at both nonprofits and agencies. She currently leads strategy and development for marketing intelligence agency Eleventy Marketing Group. Previously she has worked at the innovative startup DonorVoice and as general manager of Merkle’s Nonprofit Group, as well as serving as that firm’s CRM officer charged with driving change within the industry. She also spent more 14 years leading the marketing, fundraising and CRM areas for two nationwide charities, The Arthritis Foundation and the American Cancer Society. Angie is a thought leader in the industry and is frequent speaker at events, and author of articles and whitepapers on the nonprofit industry. She also has received recognition for innovation and influence over the years.