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Test Your E-Mail Marketing I.Q.

December 11th, 2004 by Bob Bly

Edith Roman Associates, a mailing list broker, uses e-mail marketing to promote their services.

In a recent e-mail offering free list recommendations and a free catalog of mailing lists, they split test two subject lines:

A. Free Direct Mail Encyclopedia.

B. Boost Sales, Increase Profits, and Expand Market Awareness.

Which do you think was the winner — and why?

Choose correctly, and you win a FREE special report on how to improve online marketing results (list price: $29).

(I’ll tell you how to get your free prize when I announce the correct answer.)


This entry was posted on Saturday, December 11th, 2004 at 10:46 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.

113 responses about “Test Your E-Mail Marketing I.Q.”

  1. Joel Heffner said:

    I would think that B would be the winner. If you want to make money…I’d put my money on something that appeals to the viewers wallet. The A choice about the encyclopedia appeals more to a general brain interest. Money usually beats brainy stuff. 🙂


  2. Brett Cooper said:

    I’m guessing A. First of all, because FREE is a magic word. Secondly, because A is specific. Do you need a free direct mail encyclopedia or don’t you? If you do, you’re liable to click through. B is more general and sounds like ordinary spam. Most spam promise the world. Big deal. We tune out and hit delete.


  3. Richard said:

    It’s (B).

    Put them on the Scales of Benefits. Which entices you more–sales, profits, and awareness–or an encyclopedia?

    (B) comes out punching with three hard-hitting verbs. With (B) you’ll get to “boost”, “increase”, and “expand”.

    Also, as handy as the word “free” may be, using it in the subject line of an e-mail gives your message the not-so-distinctive flavor of S*P*A*M.

    On the other hand . . .

    It’s got to be (A). (B)’s promises are empty. There’s nothing concrete backing them up. I wouldn’t open the e-mail with (B)’s subject unless I respected the name in the “from” field.

    And I just might look at the message with (A)’s subject if I’m in the direct mail business. By specifically calling out who the message is for, and then clearly telling that audience they can get something they will want–for free–(A) seems to be the winner.

    Perhaps the “from” field is more important than the “subject” field. If I received an e-mail from, I’d open it even if the subject line said “Buy our bodacious boobie balm because we’re #1”.

    I dunno. This situation calls for either a Ouija board or a split run test.

  4. Gerold Braun said:

    I go with B)

    A) is a not very attractiv offer to DM people. Almost ervybody owns one Direct Mail Encyclopedia.

  5. Shelle Castles-Melton said:

    I’d have to say B is the winner. Although FREE is considered a hot button word, there’s been extensive tests done on giving away free money and no one took the bait. B is wordy, but more attractive to the potential reader and it uses more of the hot-button words.

    BUT – Then again…

    The A subject line has it’s benefits too.

    I give. Which one was the winner?

  6. Steve Slaunwhite said:

    I vote for A: Free direct mail encyclopedia.

  7. Steve Slaunwhite said:

    Gerold — Almost every DM pro may own a DM encyclopedia, but this crowd LOVES information. If you’re a dog trainer, and your income depends on knowledge and skills, wouldn’t you want to get your hands on all the dog training information available? Even at the risk of duplication?

  8. Justin Hitt said:

    There is a lot more than a subject to consider when doing any campaign — without knowing the audience we don’t know which message would be most relevant.

    For now, let’s assume winning is getting the message opened.

    If (A) went to a list of experience marketers already familiar with Edith Roman, then it would win.

    But …

    If (B) was delivered to first time contacts who haven’t used Edith Roman for list services, then it would win.

    Subject (A) eludes to an added value that familiar customers would use to get more from what they already understand Edith Roman to provides. It doesn’t say anything to new customers who may not already know the benefit of using a mailing list broker.

    Subject (B) helps new or infrequent customers understand what else Edith Roman can do for them. It shows them some benefits targeted mailing lists may bring their company.

    There is an assumption that the receipt knows the message came from Edith Roman (i.e. From:) and they are familiar with their general services. Both subject lines are likely to be caught by spam filters for “free,” “sales,” and “profits.”

    Of course, if winning is getting a response then (B) is more likely to get people to request free list recommendations. This subject says something to the value of the action requested in the message.

    We could speculate for years, at least Edith Roman took the step to run the test because that is the only want to know the real results.

    After a proverbial coin flip, let’s say (B) is the winner.


    Justin Hitt
    Strategic Relations Consultant

  9. Steve Slaunwhite said:

    I’m astonished at the amount of people choosing “B”. The benefits featured in that subject line are so general that they’re almost meaningless. The “A” subject line, however, offers a specific benefit.

  10. Yvonne DiVita said:

    My vote is for B. It’s more expressive and direct. It induces me to think I’m getting something worthwhile. I can get a “Free” directory (of sorts) in lots of places.

  11. Michelle Robin said:

    I think A would win. The word Free is the key, as well as direct mail. I know the message is specifically for people like me. Plus, the encyclopedia could very well offer information to boost sales, increase profits and expand awareness.

  12. Scott Thorne said:

    I go along with those that said A. B is pretty general. I delete a dozen headlined like it ever day. B is specific and has the magic word “Free”.

  13. Scott Thorne said:

    Whoops! I meant A is specific and so forth.

  14. Jay Lipe said:

    I’ll go with B.

    Although there’s a specific benefit in A of a free item, I don’t completely see how that item is going to make my life easier. Plus, if I already have a go-to resource that does what this encyclopedia does, I may just skip over it.

    Sure, B’s benefits are more general but who in their right mind doesn’t want all of them…?

  15. Debbie Weil said:

    Well, Dec. 11th is my birthday… so I gotta win, right?! (Sorry, wasn’t online over the weekend so I didn’t see the contest.) And the answer is… A. Although neither subject line is very good. Here’s why: the word “free” always pulls but make it stronger by being more specific and tangible. “Download your free copy of our Direct Mail Encyclopedia” That’s assuming the From line indicates the message is from Edith Roman… which is a recognized name among list brokers… so the word “our” tells you this free guide has value. The second choice sounds good but it’s vague… doesn’t tell you *how* to boost sales. If I was running this split test, I would have used something like this for “B” – “Boost profits with your free copy of our Direct Mail Encyclopedia” I still think “A” (the way I’ve worded it) would win. No one (and I say this from experience as an e-newsletter publisher), absolutely no one, can resist the words “Free download” if it’s something relevant to their business needs/interests. And putting “Download your free… ” at the beginning of the Subject Line guarantees that everyone will see at least that much, no matter what their email client. Just my two (birthday) cents… 🙂

  16. Dana said:

    This is just a response to an earlier post of yours. You said that Fortune 1000 companies don’t do blogs. Well, Mark Cuban (multi-billionaire who hosted the show “The Benefactor”) has his own called So while the overwhelming majority do not, just a few of them do.

  17. Walter said:

    I’d say it has to be “B” because the benefits of responding are clearly laid out. That benefit-laden headline has more appeal to the target market than any free offering because that’s what that market segment values as businessfolk. They want to “Boost Sales, Increase Profits, and Expand (their) Market Awareness.”

  18. Steve Slaunwhite said:

    Walter. I want to save time and make more money. Bit a subject line that says that will NOT get my attention. Why? Because those benefits are too general. They don’t cut through the clutter and engage me emotionally. (Or even logically, for that matter.)

  19. Steve Slaunwhite said:

    Bit. But. You know what I mean!

  20. Xpymc said:

    interesting… 🙂

  21. Gerold Braun said:

    Debbie and Steve: Your opinions convinced me that A will win over B. (And of course the “hard proof” split-test data by Bob).
    Very interessting discussion here.

  22. Joanne Miller said:

    I think A is the right answer because it is a concrete way to do everything that is mentioned in B which leaves a a person in limbo with no real direction.

  23. conicsection said:

    A wins. I know nothing is free, I will still check it to see what conditions apply and see if I want the ‘free’ item. B is someone else’s ideas of making money, marketing, methodology – I have to sort through all that, make choices, decide, weigh value……And all that in nanoseconds of Consumer Desire Marketing Response [Consumer Desire Marketing Response and CDMR ((C)) 2005 by]. A will win every time.

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    They call it spam. How’d you convince them?

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