3 Email Marketing Experiments That Work

One of the best places to get inspiration is from real-life email marketing experiments.

Taking a data-driven approach to your email marketing is important. We’ve been talking a lot about what to test in your email marketing campaigns lately. You won’t find the magic approach by guessing alone. But you can get ideas for campaigns, sales promotions, design changes, copy tweaks, and other things you can optimize for based on what worked for others.

Here are three success stories from data-driven eCommerce marketers who dared to test the waters with a fresh approach.

1. Heirlume’s Personalized Product Recommendations Drive 3% Lift in CTR

Heirlume is a jewelry retailer founded by a simple premise: one wife was sick of telling her husband what jewelry she wanted for every birthday and holiday.

At first, the company assumed it was mostly men browsing the site and subscribing to emails. However, a sophisticated email address analysis revealed that many subscribers were actually women browsing the site for themselves, and therefore the messaging of the emails was completely off.

The team realized they needed to change their approach.  They segmented their lists by gender and began sending females more frequent newsletters and updates about new styles. For the men, they focused newsletters on holiday-centric promotions, the idea being that those subscribers were buying for others during those times of the year.

Building off of this strategy, the company looked for other ways to optimize their emails. To increase click-through rates, they decided to test the inclusion of product recommendations in their emails.

For the female subscribers, they pulled in product recommendations based on past buying and browsing behavior.


For male subscribers, they presented product recommendations differently and emphasized the “gift buying” perspective. As you can see in the example below, they remind subscribers about timeframes for ordering custom gifts in the product recommendations at the bottom of the email.


The result of the test speaks for itself: Heirlume averaged a 9% increase in open rates and a 3% lift in click-through rate from the campaigns.

The key takeaway: To get the data you need to take your personalization to the next level, you may need to think outside of the box. In this case, Heirlume had to use a proprietary algorithm to figure out the gender of the their email addresses. But the extra effort was well worth it.

2. Case-Mate’s Flash Sales Drive 236% More Revenue

Case-Mate sells premium smartphone cases. The team had seen flash sales work successfully for other companies, so they decided to give it a try for their own online store.

The promotion turned out to be such a success that they ended up reorganizing their marketing calendar to do a second flash sale two weeks later. Here’s how they planned their flash sales, ran their email campaigns, and learned from the first one to make the second sale even better than the first:

For the first flash sale, the Case-Mate team carefully planned just how they’d time the sale and promote it.

First, they figured out the right day and time for the flash sale based on when they got the most traffic and conversions. They noticed they got a lot of traffic on Sundays, but more conversions on Mondays. So they went with Monday, December 7th, as the date for the first flash sale.

Next, they looked back at past promotion performance to figure out their discount “sweet spot” for highest conversions. It turned out that 30% off was the number, so they moved forward with that.

On the flash sale launch day, the team sent two emails to promote the sale. The first one was sent at 11 a.m. to announce the sale, which would take place from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. that night. The second one was sent at 7 p.m. to indicate the start of the sale. Social media postings were sent out in the morning to coordinate with the timing of the first emails.

Subject line: Holiday-Flash-sale: Our Flash Sale Starts Tonight!


This first sale was a huge success, generating a 51% increase in traffic, a 50% increase in conversion rate, and a 236% increase in revenue. Given this success, they decided to follow up with another one just two weeks later. This time, they fixed a few things though:

  • They switched the timing of the flash sale from 7 p.m. – 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. They did this to accommodate the availability of their customer success team, who actually ends work at 7 p.m.
  • They changed the email timing to 1:30 p.m. for the announcement email, and then did a “last chance” send at 6:30 p.m.

The second sale also performed amazingly well, enough for the team to plan to add flash sales as a regular marketing practice. Here were the results:

  • 5% increase in traffic
  • 105% increase in conversion rate
  • 78% increase in revenue

The key takeaway: Take calculated risks. Case-Mate found ways to use past customer data like site visits and conversion rates to approach this sales promotion in an informed way, and it paid off big time.

3. Airbnb Scores 600 Bookings With Non-Promotional Email

Every December, consumers’ inboxes are flooded with Black Friday sales, religion-neutral “Happy Holidays!” messages, and various other types of wintry greetings. Thinking of a way to stand out from the crowd is no small endeavor, but Airbnb did this in a big way in 2012.

Rather than focusing on an end-of-year promotion, they focused on doing something that would connect the Airbnb users to each other. They created a tool that enabled subscribers to send holiday greetings to hosts they had stayed with or guests they had accommodated that year.

The idea for the campaign came up last minute, so they had to pull together this tool quickly and alert their users of the campaign to generate interest.


The team worked fast to pull together an interface where Airbnb users could browser from five templates, select recipients from a pre-populated list, and use a standard message or write their own.

The email messages didn’t include any promotional content whatsoever. It was purely a community-focused promotion. The team was happy, and somewhat surprised, by the results. The emails had a 52.3% open rate, and they usually get about a 30% open rate on marketing emails. The emails had a 26.5% click-through rate, and the team usually gets up to a 12% click-through rate on emails. According to Marketing Sherpa, the Airbnb team was most impressed with the number of reservations driven by the campaign – over 600 bookings – since that’s more than the team would typically see for email campaigns even dedicated directly towards driving conversions.

The key takeaway: Know your business model! Airbnb is a marketplace, and a travel company, and they were perfectly positioned to keep themselves top of mind during a busy travel time. Because the sales are made between people, the call to action to connect the people to one another makes perfect sense.

What did you learn from these email marketing experiments? What were your key takeaways? Let us know in the comments.


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