Project Open Robe 8: email follow-up and promotional defense barriers

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Doug Kessler

05. 11. 2010 | 5 min read

Project Open Robe 8: email follow-up and promotional defense barriers

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One of the experiments we ran in our B2B Marketing Manifesto campaign was to send a simple, quirky text email as a follow-up to our sexy HTML email announcing the Manifesto. In the spirit of Project Open Robe, here’s what we’ve learned.

What we did
To announce the publication of the B2B Marketing Manifesto, we sent an HTML email to two segments of our database: people who downloaded our previous eBook, the Content Marketing Workbook, and people who didn’t. That’s normal for us.

Then, a week later,  we sent a simple but quite personal text email to everyone who didn’t open the first email. (Neil automated this flow using Marketo but he’ll tell you more about this in another Open Robe post).

We wanted to test two things: the value of a follow-up and the value of a more personal, text-only approach (the body of the email is below).

What we found

1) It’s definitely worth doing a follow-up email to non-openers
29% of people who previously downloaded our last eBook, the Content Marketing Workbook, opened the first Manifesto (HTML) email. That’s about par for our e-newsletter shots.

A week later,  2o% of those who did not open the first HTML email opened the next email.

So just sending another mail earned us an extra 29 opens on top of the 50 from the first mailshot.

For the rest of the database (people who did not get the Content Marketing Workbook), the numbers were similar. The second email got an extra 85 opens (bigger list).

So even though the second email was hitting a less receptive subset of our database (the cold-hearted bastards who ignored the first email) and even though it was a second attempt, the open rates were not nearly as dire as you would expect. The follow-up was definitely worth doing (especially as we got no unsubscribes from either mailing).

The text-only converted better!
The ‘clicked to opened’ ratio results held a surprise: people opening the second, text-only (but quirky and more personal) email were MORE likely to click through and download the Manifesto than people who opened the HTML promotional email.

This was true of both lists but most pronounced for the previous Content Marketing Workbook downloaders: 56% clicked through from the HTML mail while a whopping 69% clicked through from the subsequent text email. (They all hit the same landing page and download rates were the same, so think of these as downloads).

Hypothesis: Promotional Defense Barriers
This is just a scrap of data and not even a proper A/B test (the mailshots were sequential not simultaneous) but we never let that stop us from leaping to a hypothesis (if not a conclusion):

Maybe text emails, especially quirky, more personal ones, often do better than slick
HTML emails because the slick stuff triggers the recipient’s Promotional Defense Barriers.

Neil suspects that the answer is probably to combine both types of email in any given campaign. He’s probably right (annoyingly, he usually is). But would you do things differently if you found that simple, compelling text emails performed as well or better than colourful, well-designed HTML mailshots?

The relationship of less to more
I remember, back in the days of meatspace marketing, the simple sales letters would often out-perform the expensive, glossy brochures (gloss was in back then).

Neil says, “Yeah, but if you didn’t do the glossy stuff, the letters might have flopped over time.” (Will he EVER shut up?)

It’s a good point, actually. Remember the insurance company (the one that wants to ‘Quote Me Happy’), that cut its TV advertising because its online marketing was doing better — only to find that online returns dropped fast without the related air support? (Me either but Neil does).

This is not just about extracting the text
Remember: the text-only mail was not the same text as the HTML one. It was written differently (see below). Next time, we might try using the exact same text to really isolate the HTML variable. This time we were testing writing style and content as well as presentation — which is quite a muddy thing to do.

What do you think?
Does anyone out there have any experience with text-only versus HTML emails? Or with the power of follow-ups?


The text-only email copy:

Subject: The raving lunatics of B2B


Hi Doug

Do you suffer from hairballs?

We do.

As we go about our day-to-day B2B business in the Velocity office, we find ourselves accumulating little frustrations. It’s not always with clients, it’s with ourselves and our suppliers too.

And it usually comes down to the nagging suspicion (or complete conviction) that we’re all still doing things the old-school, pre-Internet kind of way.

As these frustrations build up, they become a kind of hairball in our throats.

And every once in a while we have to inhale deeply and cough the suckers up.

Well, we just had a major hairball and it’s called “The B2B Marketing Manifesto: five imperatives and six staples for winning the battle of attention”.

It’s a big, fat, in-your-face ebook that tries to make sense of all the changes that are buffeting B2B marketers – plus some concrete advice about navigating through it all.

The reason I’m telling you this is that our sophisticated data analysis tools and real-time modelling engines tell us that you, like us, are a B2B marketer. So you’re facing the same challenges and opportunities that we face every day.

And that’s why we thought you might like to download the free eBook now.

You won’t have to fill out any forms but we would ask one favour: come back to the landing page and leave a comment for us.  Read the Manifesto and you’ll see why.

Want the full Open Robe picture? Say no more:

Project Open Robe Part 1 – the one where we commit ourselves in public (Planning)

Project Open Robe Part 2 – the one where it all kicks off (Thinking)

Project Open Robe Part 3 – the one where confidence starts to rise (First results)

Project Open Robe Part 4 – the one where the trick shots start (Cross-promotion)

Project Open Robe Part 5 – the one where we share the first month’s results (Reviewing)

Project Open Robe Part 6 – the one where we toughen up (Soul Searching)

Project Open Robe Part 7 – the one where we find the world’s best marketers (Segmenting)

Project Open Robe Part 8 – the one where we show that design isn’t everything (Style v Substance)

Project Open Robe Part 9 – the one where lead nurturing proves its worth (Marketo)

Project Open Robe Part 10 – the one where the form fights back (Form v No Form)

Project Open Robe Part 11 – the one about autoDMs in Twitter

Project Open Robe Part 12 – the one about re-purposing and atomising your content

Project Open Robe Part 13 – the one with an early peek at the outcomes

Project Open Robe Part 14 – the one where it ends (before it starts again)

Photo by Amy Loves Ya: Creative Commons

Published in:

  • B2B Content Marketing

  • B2B Email Marketing

  • digital-marketing

  • lead-generation

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  1. Dennis Moons

    November 5th, 2010

    Interesting results!

    I had a very similar experiment with text vs HTML emails, wrote it up at

    In both our cases it is indeed a bit of a mess. There is no clear A/B testing of the same e-mail in text and HTML form.
    But it offers a direction to think in. One of the possible explanations I came up with was the forwardability of the e-mail. Apparently people in our list weren’t the decision makers themselves. And while the HTML stopped there, the text version got forwarded to the person responsible for the buying decisions.

  2. Doug Kessler

    November 6th, 2010

    Thanks Dennis.
    Looks like our evidence supports your earlier post.
    I hadn’t thought of forwardabaility but that does make sense.

    Also, the different subject lines clouds things even further.
    Still, there’s something going on here…

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