If you use email marketing to boost your sales, you're constantly learning how to yield strong response rates. What subject lines work best? What times of day or week work best? How should you segment your email blasts for the best results?
For entrepreneurs, the art of boosting open rates and growing sales leads is Marketing 101. Now entrepreneurs have company. According to a recently released report, the White House is becoming increasingly sophisticated about its own approach to email marketing. And the results have been impressive.
Last year, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) established the Social and Behavioral Sciences Team (SBST), a cross-agency group of experts that applies methods from the social and behavioral sciences into improvements in Federal policies and programs.
In plain English, that means the White House, too, is getting smarter about how to send emails that actually get opened and result in action. In business terms, it's the equivalent of lowering your average cost of customer acquisition.
Here are some of the more interesting findings from the recently released report from the SBST:
Retirement planning. To promote participation in the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), a workplace savings plan for Federal employees, SBST and the Department of Defense (DOD) launched an email campaign. About 720,000 employees not yet enrolled in TSP received one of nine email variants, telling them about the chance to enroll. In one month, these emails led to 4,930 new enrollments and $1.3 million in added employee savings.
Several features were keys to the success of these emails. One of them was framing the decision to enroll as a choice between two options: "Yes, I want to enroll" or "No, I do not want to enroll." Another was the use of an infographic that visually displayed projected financial returns to investing in the TSP.
Education affordability. To boost awareness of income-driven repayment (IDR) plans among student loan borrowers, SBST and the Department of Education's office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) sent informational emails about IDR plans to 841,442 borrowers who'd fallen 90-180 days behind on payments. In 20 days, these emails--timed in accordance with behavioral insights about the borrowers--more than quadrupled applications for IDR plans (the total was 4,327 applications).
For these emails, the keys to success were listing the benefits associated with IDR plans--as well as the costs of not using one. The emails also included the proper links and FSA contact information. Just as important, there were two waves of messages: A first one, then a follow-up 20 days later.
Cost-efficient programs. To increase response rates to a workplace survey, SBST and the General Services Administration (GSA) used behavioral insights to strategize about the timing of the emails announcing the survey. They found that email click rates were highest at lunchtime, with 15.3 percent of emails sent at 11:55 a.m. resulting in recipients clicking through to the survey, compared with 13.3 percent at 8:55 a.m.
None of these findings will seem surprising to business leaders long accustomed to using these methods. But it's encouraging to see the government experimenting with techniques which have proven effective in the business world.
The SBST's report may even be part of a pattern of the government crediting and incorporating effective techniques from the private sector. In August, an executive order issued by President Obama made the Presidential Innovation Fellows Program (launched in 2012) a permanent part of the government. Obama has credited that program--through which 96 entrepreneurs, technologists, and designers have teamed on projects with government employees--for several achievements.
"Veterans have enhanced access to the care and benefits they've earned. Families have greater access to their own electronic medical records. Police departments are making their data searchable online. More of our students gain access to high-speed internet in their schools every single day," he noted.
Obama also referenced the now-familiar problems with HealthCare.gov as a reason an upgrade to the government's online presence was "sorely needed." In making the year-to-year program a permanent one, he cited the experimental ethos that informs so many innovation initiatives. "What began as an experiment," he said, "is becoming a success."