Answers to E-Mail I.Q. Challenge

December 14th, 2004 by Bob Bly

The subject line ?Free Direct Mail Encyclopedia? outpulled ?Boost Sales, Increase Profits, and Expand Market Awareness? by 25%.

Three lessons we can learn from this:

1. Just changing the subject line can dramatically increase e-mail response rates.

2. You never know which subject line or headline is the winner until you test it. (The reasons some of you gave for why A would win seemed to me equally as valid and strong as the reasons others gave for B.)

3. The increase in response from the pulling power of ?free? more than outweighs any decline in response that may occur from ?free? triggering spam filters.

To download your free bonus prize ? my $29 report on improving online marketing results — go to and click on Reports.

By the way, this is a classic example of A/B split testing: test two approaches, and see which works best.

Don?t debate the merits of copy by arguing around a conference table. Test it and learn definitively which headline works best.

This is the basic philosophy that separates direct marketing from general advertising ? and by the way, it?s completely in keeping with the Cluetrain and blogging philosophies of marketing as conversation:

Don?t tell the market what you think sells. The market will tell YOU what they will buy.

P.S. If you guessed B instead of A, don?t feel bad. I often guess wrong on these challenges myself ? which is why I encourage clients to test more than one approach.


This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 14th, 2004 at 9:46 am and is filed under Online Marketing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

11 responses about “Answers to E-Mail I.Q. Challenge”

  1. Shelle Castles-Melton said:

    Notice how no one thanked you yet Bob?? Hmmm… maybe no one has been here yet though. Thanks for the test quiz. I would have flunked if it had been a real test and not a test of the emergency broadcast copywriters system. Blessings!

  2. Shelle Castles-Melton said:

    OMG! Thank you Bob! I really hope that no one has stopped by yet and that’s why you haven’t received any thank you’s yet. BLESS YOU! Now I have some awesome reading to go through over the holidays! YAY!

  3. Jay Lipe said:

    Great stuff. Looks like your blog is a good way to fine tune testing alternatives for headlines. The feedback you received on both headlines seemed to be well worth the 10 minutes I’m guessing) it took you to generate the blog post. But you’re right, we marketers can’t ever forget that the market is the final decider…

    Thanks for a fun exercise.

  4. RichW said:

    I’d imagine that response rate could have been much higher. Using the word *FREE* is a tricky one to use in context given the sensitivity of many spam filters. Granted ER uses opt-in lists, but even then, since they’re mailing primarily to corporate settings with sophisticated filtering, you can bet that not all messages with that offer are reaching the inbox. For that reason alone I’d have bet even money on B, so I’d say A is even more powerful than Bob suggests.

  5. Brett Cooper said:

    Another thought: not only is A more specific but it’s clearly substantive and different. Though many of us may have a direct mail encyclopedia, we know that it is a valuable resource that you usually pay money for. It has a definite implied value. B, on the other hand, is vague and so you’re liable to assume the worst about it. Personally, I would assume that B is either a standard sales pitch (I get enough of those, thanks) or a standard website advertisement. Neither of these is exciting, unusual or implying immediate value to me. So I’ll click where the value is…

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  8. Morgan said:

    Just make sure you take the word “free” out of your e-mail subject line.

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