There are two subjects that I don’t write about or discuss outside of my family and closest friends: politics and religion. There are even some family members that I won’t bring up those topics with because I already know how adamant they are in their beliefs.

I’ve recently started engaging in a political activity: polling before making a decision. How many presidential or congressional candidates have called their opponents flip- floppers, or been accused of setting policy decisions based on polling results? There’s a nasty connotation to that process, and perhaps for our leaders it’s a justified taint. But when it comes to marketing, I think early polling makes perfect sense.

What is split testing?
For every email marketing campaign, there are two primary goals you should focus on accomplishing: getting your target to open the email, and getting them to respond to your call to action (CTA). It’s a very linear process and one where if you don’t succeed with the first, the second doesn’t really matter.

It’s the same type of formula for door-to-door sales people. If you can’t get the homeowner to open the door, it doesn’t matter how beautiful your brochures are or how great the products and services that you offer.

I have a good friend whose business, Green Market Dairy, harkens back to the early 1900s, when the milkman still delivered milk and butter right to your door. Ryan Richter, owner and president, is successful delivering high-end milk and dairy products to middle- to high-income families, but he builds his business by knocking on doors every day.

Richter says “People have a preconceived notion about door-to-door sales. The minute they feel pressured to make a decision, they are gone.” The key to his success is his “no pressure, no long-term commitment” approach. He focuses on the emotional response people have to the memories of farm-fresh, home delivery; he takes the business out of the equation.

“While I have a top-notch delivery process and state-of-the-art online ordering system, that’s not what we talk about,” Richter says. Which, from my perspective, just reinforces my conviction that it’s never about the technology, no matter what you do, it’s about the results. Even for Apple and Steve Jobs, it was never about the technology but rather what the consumer could do with it.

Email marketing door-to-door
There is a lot of correlation between the door-to-door salesman and the high-tech marketer: both must get their target’s attention and both must have that person take some kind of action. I know some of you are saying, “Yeah, the action most take is to shut the door in my face.” But isn’t that preferable to someone not even opening the door or clicking on the email?

Someone saying “No” is someone taking action and making a decision. You may think it’s the wrong action, but now you can cross them off your list and continue on or put them into a drip campaign (I’ll discuss that in a future column) and wait for the timing to be better.

Keep the message simple
Have you ever received an email from some business that has lots of bright colors flashing all over the screen, different sized fonts and animated GIFs, and your eye is so overwhelmed with the input that you really don’t have a clue as to where to look or what they want you to do?

Sacrificing the message for the visual impact is a mistake. It’s my corollary to “It’s not the technology, but what you do with it,” but in this instance the rule to remember is, “It’s not the delivery of the message, but what the message says.”

Split testing in practice
For every email marketing campaign, focus on accomplishing two primary goals: getting your target to open the email, and getting them to respond to your call to action (CTA). It’s a very linear process and one where if you don’t succeed with the first, the second doesn’t really matter.

It’s the same type of formula for door-to-door sales people. If you can’t get the homeowner to open the door, it doesn’t matter how beautiful your brochures are or how great the products and services that you offer.

Split testing creates an email marketing campaign in two different ways. Create two different subject lines and even have different content, images and CTAs for the sole purpose of testing different approaches. An email marketing system that allows you to split test will automatically send the alternative campaign to a small percentage of your targeted database.

Let’s imagine that your bi-monthly e-newsletter includes items on safety for teen drivers,  a piece on the value of conducting a homeowner’s inventory, and something about your agency’s recognition of its success from a large carrier.

You create one version of the newsletter that highlights as the top article the safe driving piece for teenagers, because the timing coincides with when a lot of high school kids will be taking drivers’ education. Then you create a second version that kicks off with the agency’s award recognition, and both have subject lines that target the primary article.

The typical split test marketing might send the first version to 10% of your list and the second to a different 10% of the list. The system would automatically send whichever version has the greatest open rate to the remaining 80% of the contacts on the list.

Subject lines
Unfortunately, there isn’t a “one subject line fits all” answer. Some studies find that including the company name or the individual’s first name elevates the open rate. Others say that using words like “free” or “huge savings” prompts opens.

Another school of thought looks to the length of the subject line, recommending you keep it on the short side. I have even seen a study that found—in spite of its association with spam—using all caps in the subject line grabs attention from subscribers

So, like the politician, you poll your constituents to see what focus will better earn their attention. It’s important to know your intended audience. By having that understanding, you will be better able to craft a subject line that will get more people to open it more often. And keep testing. Don’t expect to hit on the right approach the first time out. The more you can test with more than just two options, the better your results and the more you learn.

Then once they open it, you can try different methods for engagement and getting them to activate a call to action, whatever it might be. Remember, getting your emails open and read can sometimes be more art than science and practice will definitely make perfect. Someone saying “No” takes action and makes a decision. You may think it’s the wrong action, but now you can cross him or her off of your list or wait for better timing.