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How to test creative versions of content in email marketing

An argument can be made for top of funnel marketing resembling the dating game. In many cases, your prospects are seeing your brand for the first time when you email them. First impressions are very important in this scenario.

It’s very similar to a blind date when appearances can make all the difference. If your email fails to capture the attention of your target audience, you’ll be shunned by them. People don’t want to waste time sorting through emails that fail to “wow” them.

That’s why you need an email structure that excites your audience. You want people to feel enthusiastic when they see your content so they feel motivated to click and further engage with your brand.

But you can’t just snap your fingers and craft an email that automatically generates engagement. You need to test what content generates the best responses coupled with the tone and positioning of your message. You can do this by testing:

  • The content you use in the header

  • How many visuals to include in the body

  • The impact of motion format content in your email

  • Click-throughs on branded vs. non-branded content

  • Impact of lifestyle vs. product-focused content

  • And many more

Results-driven digital marketers are very happy to A/B test all of these creative nuances until they find a formula that works. You should follow their lead until your emails start delivering the results you expect. Stick to your working formula once you find it because visual consistency is the secret to your brand’s story.

What to test in a hero creative asset

Testing a hero image in email marketing

The content at the top of your email is typically the first thing that draws your audience’s attention when they click to open your message.

You need this content to make an impact. Studies have shown that the human brain processes and interprets visual content within 13 milliseconds. Related research determined that it takes only half a second to make a first impression about a piece of content.

The content needs to present a bold, unique, and exciting opportunity for your audience. It needs to reflect your unique brand visual identity while subtly informing your recipients that there’s more to discover within the email body. You need to visually convey the language of your target audience based on their interests, and measure the engagement and click-to-open rates to determine your success.

Select a credible size of your target audience and run your tests.

Some of the items you can test include the use of color and lighting within the content. You may find that people respond better to light, bright, and natural uses of color as opposed to dimmer or cooler shades.

Similarly, you can test the impact of a fully branded visual as opposed to a lifestyle-oriented piece of content. Many articles discuss the impact of branded visual content on brand development and audience engagement, which could incline you to use branded imagery as a default. But don’t simply follow the lead of others. If the numbers paint a clear picture stating non-branded trumps branded content, follow the road-map from your data and go lifestyle.

How much content to use in the body of an email

Once you’ve tested different versions of hero imagery, you can shift the focus of your test to the body of the email. One of the questions you need to answer is how much content is too much, or too little, to include within the body of the email.

This is a question that you can answer by running multiple versions of your emails that contain various amounts of content. For example, if you send out one version with one piece of content, test it against another version with two creative assets. Similarly, test against three, four, and more different email bodies until you can draw logical and rational conclusions on how much content to include within the communication.

Identical to your tests with the hero image, you should test multiple types of content within the emails themselves. Comparisons of branded vs. non-branded, lifestyle vs. product-oriented, light vs. dim, and other creative variables should all factor into your test.

What about motion format content

Diverse styles of visual content should be central to your A/B tests. Among the variables to test is the type of content itself, and whether more dynamic or motion format content influences the engagement rates with your emails.

Suppose you include a Gif or a cinemagraph as the hero image in your email. Test that version against another email with still photography, and compare the performance of the two formats.

Run a similar test on the body of your emails. Test one version that contains one or more motion format examples against another version with static imagery. Review the numbers on your test and standardize the format for your email marketing campaigns.

Create email content that consistently performs

Once you have all your test results and build a logical case for producing your emails, you need to create the content that will live on those emails.

Think about the header and the body of the email as two separate entities. Look at the results of your tests for both sections of the email, and make a judgment call on what types of content to include in those sections.

Are static or motion format creative assets the best option to drive conversions? What about branded or non-branded content? Product or lifestyle? You should have creative insights from each of your tests to make rational decisions.

Now that you have data to build emails that convert, you need to scale creation of the content to build up your content library. The next generation of content creation is about empowering creative marketers to manage content and use it for their audiences. That’s what we do at Shutterstock. Book a demo and speak to one of our representatives to learn more about the types of creative assets you can license or customize to your unique brand visual identity in order to pump out emails that convert.