Offers and promotions are the bread and butter of email marketing. Give subscribers a reason — any reason — to act, and it’s all but inevitable that your campaign will become an occasion for brand glory and killer business outcomes, right?
We all know it’s not that simple. At Yes Lifecycle Marketing, my employer, our latest research shows that all email offers aren’t created equal — and in some cases, the most appealing emails are the ones with no offers at all.
Consumers are getting burned out on subject line offers
In 2016, 30 percent of all marketing emails and nearly half (44 percent) of all retail marketing emails featured subject lines containing an offer, according to the recent study we conducted, “What’s the Big Deal: A Look Inside 6 Different Types of Email Offers” (registration required).
The popularity of offers and promotions in subject lines demonstrates the competitiveness of today’s email marketing landscape. To achieve opens and clicks, marketers feel pressure to outdo competitors with offers their audiences can’t refuse.
But consumers aren’t nearly as impressed by subject lines offering free shipping or a percentage off as they used to be. The sheer quantity of offer-based emails has diluted the pool, making it more difficult for marketers to leverage subject line offers for increased clicks and conversions.
Although specific categories of offers still have value, the presence of an offer is no longer guaranteed to capture subscribers’ attention. In fact, the wrong offer can serve as a disincentive for action and engagement.
Which email offers are most effective?
More than ever, email marketers need to understand which offers are most effective and how to properly integrate offers and promotions into campaigns.
Our study evaluated several categories of offers commonly found in email subject lines: loyalty incentives, BOGO (buy one, get one or similar offers), % or $ off, free shipping and free gifts. We also evaluated emails that contained no offers in their subject lines.
Here’s what we discovered:
- No-offer subject lines have high open and click rates.
Emails without an offer in the subject line enjoy an average open rate of 15.6 percent, outperforming nearly every offer-based email. Click rates and CTO rates were also near the top of the range at 1.5 percent and 9.4 percent, respectively.
In the retail sector, no-offer emails have similar open, click and CTO rates. However, the conversion rate for these emails is just 1.8 percent.
By omitting offers from subject lines, marketers can boost open and click rates. But when conversions count, it may be beneficial to amplify the visibility of certain types of offers in the inbox.
Examples of these high performers include referencing the subscriber’s purchase or browser history, personalized content based on the subscriber’s location and sharing new ways to use the line of products.
- Loyalty incentives outperform all other categories for opens and clicks.
Loyalty incentives were the only offer category to outperform no-offer emails for open (17 percent) and CTO (10.5 percent) rates. But in the retail sector, loyalty incentives reported the lowest conversion rate, at a meager 0.3 percent.
Why are conversion rates so low for loyalty incentives? Well, it makes sense. Loyalty offers aren’t typically used to incentivize a purchase. Instead, they’re designed to strengthen the relationship with the brand through point redemptions, reviews or other actions.
But despite their lack of conversion power, it’s clear that loyalty incentives get the attention of subscribers more than any other type of offer.
It’s also important to note that this category of email offer works well among loyalty program members: the subscribers who are already likely to be engaged with a brand. They shop at the brand enough to sign up for the program, so it makes sense that they’d be more engaged with the brand’s emails overall.
- Percent discounts and free shipping generate the best conversion rates.
Conversions (purchases per click) are especially important in retail, where the success or failure of an email campaign is often judged by its ability to generate instant sales. But while loyalty incentives and no-offer subject lines perform admirably for open rates in retail emails, at 14.6 percent and 15.6 percent, they are much less impressive when it comes to conversions.
From a conversion standpoint, the most effective retail offers are percentage off (7.9 percent) and free shipping (7.6 percent) promotions. Compared to BOGO, loyalty incentives, free gift and no offers, these promotions result in higher conversion rates because they are most relevant to subscribers who are ready to purchase.
Meaningful emails always outperform emails that aren’t relevant to individual subscribers. No-offer and loyalty incentive emails create opportunities for marketers to appeal to subscribers using relevant messages that incentivize a wider range of actions — that’s why they benefit from higher open and CTO rates.
But for subscribers who are ready to buy, % off and free shipping generate the highest conversions because they are the most relevant messages for consumers at that stage of the buying process.
The big takeaway? Understand your audience, know what you are trying to accomplish, then structure your email campaign in a way that gets results — with the offers and messaging that are most important to your subscribers.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.
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