Case Study: WNYC Subject Line Testing

March 10, 2014

Most email systems today allow for easy creation, management and analysis of tests. Launching test elements is a healthy business practice because it raises your level of knowledge about what inspires donations and leads towards better results in the future.

Because the first step in any successful e-fundraising campaign is to get your email opened, New York public radio station WNYC, and sister classical station WQXR tested subject line treatments during the 2013 year-end campaign. Several of these tests were specifically designed to challenge the common assumption that a tax-deduction message is the strongest year-end idea.

Here’s what happened:

EMAIL 1: Important News VS 2013 Tax Deadline Just a Few Weeks Away

  • RESULT: 33% more opens for Important News (Note: the station did receive some complaints from recipients who expected hard news.)

EMAIL 2: Claim Your Calendar Before December 31 VS Just Two Weeks Remain

  • RESULT: 21% more opens for the action-oriented bonus

EMAIL 3: Things We Love VS Tax Deadline Just Days Away

  • RESULT: 20% more opens from the lovers

EMAIL 4: Urgent Deadline VS Tax Deadline Just Days Away

  • RESULT: 20% more opens for the urgent, now-focused idea

EMAIL 5: Urgent: John, Just Hours Remain VS Just Hours Remain

  • RESULT: 8% more opens for the “now” coupled with the personalization

Classical WQXR saw similar results, with these winning subject lines: #1 Classical Music for Your Life; #2 Claim Your Calendar Before December 31; #3 Things We Love; #4 Urgent Deadline; and the cheeky #5 Procrastinators Unite, delivered on New Year’s Eve, which received a 25% better open rate, and an incredible 250% better click-through rate (although click-through rates are often so small that it is difficult to determine true statistical validity.)

Overall, the station had a 51% increase in year-end online revenue over 2012, which means that this aggressive email schedule coupled with expanding knowledge and strategic thinking about donor motivations paid off and will continue to pay off in years to come.