One of the staple techniques of e-mail marketing is the special offer. It can be a lot of different things, including a percentage discount, a limited time rate, or it can be something free you offer as part of the policy.

The purpose of the special offer is to get more recipients to take an action, such as clicking on a link to your Web site or calling you for an insurance quote. Yet it’s often tough to determine ahead of time which offer will deliver the best response. There’s nothing worse than sending an offer to your entire prospect list only to find it resulted in few or no responses. (“4 tips to a better e-mail campaign“)

This is where insurance advisors can learn a lesson from the big consumer products manufacturers. Before they send out that coupon or product offer to everyone on their list, they use a technique called A/B or split testing. It’s a way to gain a little “hindsight” ahead of time.

If you have a good e-mail marketing application or service, creating an A/B test is simple. Just follow these steps and you’ll find your e-mail marketing campaigns will generate better and more consistent results.

If you have your e-mail list segmented by type of policy, you might want to work with one policy type at a time in this exercise because your content and offer might be very different by category. So, if you segment by policy type, start by picking one type and use the following steps:

  1. Take your mailing list and pull a representative sample from it. If you have one main list with no divisions, that’s easy – just take 10% of it. If your list is further divided into sub-groups, such as by gender, age group, where they live, income, etc., take random names from each applicable segment until you reach about 10% of your total mailing list.
  1. Now that you have a small list for testing, divide it in half. Again, if the list is segmented take half from each segment and place them in group A. Then place the rest in group B. If there’s no segmenting involved, simply divide it in half.
  1. Prepare your e-mail using your e-mail campaign service and include the first offer in it. Then perform a “save as” and create a second e-mail and substitute the second offer. It is very important that the only thing that changes is the offer. There should only be one variable. If you change the offer and the color, or the offer and the body copy, you won’t know for sure which change drove the better performance, which could lead to a misstep.
  1. Once you have the mailers ready, send one to half of your pre-divided list, and the other to the other half. They should be sent around the same time on the same day.
  1. After the e-mail A/B test is sent, use your e-mail campaign service’s reporting tools to see which was opened more quickly, which was opened most often, and what actions were taken (if any) for each. If you are asking customers and prospects to call instead of click, be sure to track how many calls you receive for each offer.
  1. If you have a virtual phone service with unlimited extensions, consider tracking phone responses. Assign a different extension to each e-mail marketing offer, and then track how many calls come to each extension using the service’s reporting tools. Just be sure to change extensions for each new test so your response numbers remain accurate.

Once you have this data, see which offer achieves the best results. Now you can then roll that e-mail marketing offer out to your full list (except the people who have already received it, of course) with a high degree of confidence that it will be a success.

If one offer is effective with a certain group in a segmented list, and the other offer is effective with a different group, you can adjust your marketing efforts accordingly while gaining insight for future mailings as well.

No matter what you discover, you will have real-world feedback that will help you maximize your responses while minimizing the risk of customers and prospects asking to be removed from your list (also known as opting out).

Building a habit of A/B testing can really help you improve the success of your e-mail marketing campaigns. By investing a little more time upfront, you’ll gain that 20/20 hindsight everyone talks about – but you’ll have it before you launch your full campaign.

Wendy Lowe is director of product marketing for Campaigner (www.campaigner.com), an e-mail marketing solution that enables organizations to have highly personalized one-to-one e-mail dialogues with their customers, measure how they respond, and analyze those responses to interact in a more intelligent, automated way – resulting in more profitable relationships. Wendy can be reached at wlowe@protus.com.