Let's dive into the second installment of our Email Marketing series! Today, we're taking a look at how you can improve your campaign emails (and your campaigns in general!) with a little bit of personalization and A/B testing. Want to know more?
Email still proves to be one of the most effective marketing resources in both B2B and B2C communication. Based on 2019 data, email marketing has an ROI that shines around 3,800%!
Kentico Email Marketing gives you full control over anything you need to run successful campaigns: email templates, email components, content personalization, A/B testing, statistics… You name it, Kentico has it. But it’s up to you to put it all to good use!
Let’s see a simple proof-of-concept scenario with personalization, spiced with a pinch of email A/B testing.
A Recipe for Success: Send Emails People Will Read
Your Dancing Goat Coffee Club membership is growing nicely, and new members are joining regularly. From a short survey you send out, you learn that many of them struggle to make tasty coffee at home, mostly because they’re not sure about the right brewing processes. You can definitely help them with that!
Given your resources, the simplest way is to send new members your “Proven Coffee Beverage Recipes” article using an email campaign.
But wait — how can you make sure everyone will read your emails? Given how much time (read: money) you are going to spend on the campaign, this is not off-target thinking, right? And why not use this opportunity to verify some common assumptions. Plus, you can learn a lot from this simple campaign to fine-tune your overall email strategy.
Industry-Wide Hypothesis: Personalized Emails Work Better
You’ve surely heard that personalized emails perform better, so you decide to:
- Send the email only to new club members who have told you about their difficulties with home brewing.
- Personalize the text of the email using their first name.
- Make sure users only see the preheader in their inbox without previewing the email’s body — this ensures the email “pops” in the gray sea of other emails.
- Personalize the plain text variant of the email.
Reality Check: Plan an Email A/B Test
Anytime you start changing something in your processes, it’s good to see how your audience responds to your improvements.
Kentico’s A/B Testing Emails feature can test your assumptions against how your customers behave in real life. The hard data will help you separate what’s actually working from “it looks like it’s working.” And it’ll give you grounds to make informed decisions and strategically plan your next steps.
Here’s your test hypothesis for the first email: By showing your customer’s first name in their inbox using the email preheader, you expect 20% more email opens within the first week of the email campaign.
Roll Up Your Sleeves: Build Your Marketing Campaign
Kentico gathers all campaigns within a marketing email feed. Your CoffeeClub Brewing recipes campaign configuration is quite basic. To see how this campaign performs compared to other email marketing campaigns, you’ll track individual emails with UTM parameters.
The Email Builder has been around since Kentico 11, so here’s just a bit of what the email feels like.
Pro tip: Check out this post about the Kentico 11 Email Builder to get a refresher on how this email got built, or brush up your email-building skills using Kentico Training Courses.
You can also inspect the campaign email more closely in the attached resources, but more about that later.
Kentico Hint: Preview vs. Preheader
Though often used interchangeably, the preview and preheader are very different parts of an email.
Preview: A widely-supported feature across most email clients.
Email clients take the first HTML text from the email’s body and display it after the email’s subject line. This text includes alt properties of images (e.g., “banner image” or anchor texts such as “view online”), which display the email in a browser. Sometimes, even an HTML code sneaks in.
Preheader: A specific text in the email that comes before the email header (body) and displays after the subject in an inbox’s list view.
If supported, the preheader can be hidden when a user opens the email in their inbox.
Craft Your Email’s Preheader
Modern email clients display preheaders in the email preview after the subject in a list view. Once the email opens in preview, email developers can hide the preheader when looking at the body of the email.
As expected, you can create preheaders in Kentico Email Marketing. They can even contain macros to make your emails more appealing in an inbox. However, you need to make sure your email template contains a macro expression that displays the preheader within the email’s HTML code.
Make the Preheader Speak to Your Club Members
Let’s see if your email opens improve when a user sees their name in their inbox.
You are about 90% sure that you have the first names of all your club members. To make 100% sure your preheader doesn’t contain blank spaces (like “Hey ,”), you can use the following macro expression:
<!-- Dynamically adds recipient's first name to the email preheader --> ｛% Recipient.FirstName == "Check " ? "" : "Hey " + Recipient.FirstName + ", check"%｝(...preheader text continues)
The macro condition checks for the recipient’s first name using a ternary operator. If you don’t have their first name (i.e., the First name contact field is empty), it sidesteps the macro and instead begins with preheader message without personalization. This is a much better scenario than a broken attempt at connecting with your club members. Read the Kentico documentation for other macro expressions you can use in your emails.
Fine-Tune Your Preheaders with the ‌ Email Hack
If a preheader is supported, each email client will display a different number of characters from the preheader (or the email preview). As a result, email clients often truncate the preheader in the inbox — or they display it and take the missing characters from the email’s body, which can lead to some embarrassing errors.
The Kentico Email Builder allows you to use the ‌ email hack (a non-breaking space followed by a zero-width non-joiner), as popularized by Litmus.
Create your preheader, and if it’s short, follow it with a string of ‌ characters.
<!-- HIDDEN: Adds a white space to ensure the HTML text of the email's body doesn't run into the preview if there's a short preheader --> ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌
This ensures the email client fills the remaining characters with empty spaces, and your preheader will look exactly as intended. (Bonus: The extra white space after the preheader can help make your email stand out among the others.)
Kentico Hint: For Your Developers
Your developers can also add the following code directly to your email template so you don’t have to do this manually for each email you send.
<!-- HIDDEN: Adds a white space to ensure the HTML text of the email's body doesn't run into the preview if there's a short preheader --> <div style="display:none !important;visibility:hidden;max-height: 0px; max-width: 0px; opacity: 0; overflow: hidden;"> ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌</div>
Remember: This solution is a “hack”, so before you start using it, we recommend running an A/B test to see whether it influences your email deliverability or not.
Different email service providers constantly battle email spammers and introduce new rules to filter out spam. If you want to ensure the preheader performs well in all email clients (e.g., by displaying different variants based on the client), you’ll need to update the email template. For example, using ‌ didn’t work in Outlook 2013 or earlier versions because those clients used ‌ to check for spam. However, it’s been fixed in current Outlook clients and office365.com.
Even if the “hack” works well in the first test, you should regularly make sure it isn’t hurting your email marketing efforts.
The Extra Mile: Make Sure Everybody Can Read Your Message
Not everyone likes fully formatted HTML. Maybe they check their personal emails on the go using smartwatches that don’t support HTML formatting.
Kentico supports multi-part MIME messages, meaning you can send an email and a text message as a single email.
The Plain Text feature adds a section to your email code with a content-type text/plain header. This header instructs browsers and other clients to display black-and-white, text-only data without any HTML styling.
If you want to make your plain text message stand out, you can:
- Use macros to personalize the text-only email variant
- Insert white space to style the email in a visually pleasing way
- Add === or *** to separate individual sections of the email message
- Create bullet points with dashes or other characters
- Track plain text performance using full web links with UTM parameters for your CTAs in < > (arrows)
- Avoid spammy text content, such as multiple exclamation marks (!!!!) or longer blocks of TEXT IN ALL CAPS, etc.
Take a look at what your email’s plain text variant could look like:
Did you know that espresso is used a basis for many drinks? Espresso basics =============== Espresso is a simple method of coffee preparation that creates a swift and concentrated cup. It is brewed by forcing a small amount of nearly boiling water through firmly ground coffee beans. The pressurized process helps emphasize flavors and chemicals from 7 g of coffee into a 25 ml espresso cup (including cream) within 25 seconds. ( === some content skipped, see the email in the import package === ) Try flat white from Colombia Carlos Imbachi <a href="//Product/473e9cf0-055a-44c3-bb5f-224ccfb13289/Colombia-Carlos-Imbachi" target="_blank">
The first macro performs the same check as in the preheader. The second macro takes the property of the Kentico MVC site SitePresentationUrl, combines it with the site’s current culture, and creates a direct link to the product, then tags it with UTM parameters. In this case:
<a href="http://localhost/Kentico12DGMVC_3_DancingGoatMvc/en-US/Product/473e9cf0-055a-44c3-bb5f-224ccfb13289/Colombia-Carlos-Imbachi?utm_source=cc_brewing_recipe1&utm_campaign=cc_brewing_recipes&utm_medium=email" target="_blank">
Note: You can always copy-paste the product’s URL from the URL field to the email’s CTA button widget.
It’s Show Time: Run the A/B Test
Remember that your contact group contains users who belong to your Coffee Club and expressed their concerns about brewing through a survey.
In this example, you decide to run your A/B test on half of the users so that the other half will eventually receive the more successful variant. You can select the winner manually and determine which metrics are important for you.
Leveling Up: Learn from the Results
Your A/B test finishes, and you see your hypothesis was correct: Emails with a personalized preheader do perform better.
You can now send the rest of your users the email and investigate the final email report.
The report here shows that a personalized preheader worked nicely.
Pro tip: You can use PowerBI to get more detailed statistics in a visual format. Check out the free Kentico PowerBI reports to get started with more in-depth email analysis.
You are now ready to leverage what you’ve learned from the email A/B test and send another email to the same contact group with all the personalized pieces that work.
With fresh data collected from the second email, you can start analyzing what else isn’t performing. Do email opens significantly drop on a specific weekday? Do you see a peak in opens at a specific time of the day? Are the clicks on CTAs not showing good results?
Piece by piece, running different A/B tests on emails will help you put together the large email marketing puzzle of what works and what doesn’t. Test by test, getting new insights into your customers’ behavior, you’ll fine-tune your strategy.
Hands-On: Inspect the Sample Emails
Do you want to try the process we’ve discussed in this article? Download these files (here and here)
- Sign up for a trial version of Kentico.
- Go to the Sites application and use the Import sites or objects button.
- Use the default values in the Wizard and import the whole email feed into your trial website (and make sure DancingGoatMvc is selected in step 2).
- Repeat for the package with the media library .zip.
- In the Email Marketing application, check the structure of the emails and the email widgets, email preview or plain text variants, the Email template (2 zone) itself, or feel free to experiment with anything you like.
(Note: Built on Kentico 12 MVC hotfix version 45.)