It is difficult to overstate the importance of headlines. A good headline can entice and engage your audience to click, to read, and to share your content. In many cases headlines are the thing that is shared rather than the article. So you knew that. But do you know what makes an engaging headline?

To help answer this question we analyzed 100 million article headlines. We have set out below our findings from the research including the:

While there is no magic formula for creating a viral or popular headline, there are many lessons we can learn to improve our content engagement. We shared our findings with a number of content experts to reflect on the implications of the research for writers. We have included their expert thoughts and advice at the end of this post. We have also included a section on how you can analyze headlines yourself using BuzzSumo.

Note: This research looks at the most shared headlines on Facebook and Twitter which tend to be dominated by major publishers and consumer content. Thus the insights will be particularly interesting for publishers. We are undertaking separate research on engaging headlines for business to business content which we will publish later this year.

Most Engaging Headline Phrases: The Data

In our survey of 100m headlines published between 1st March 2017 and 10th May 2017, the three word phrases or trigrams that gained the most Facebook engagements (likes, shares, comments) were as follows.Most engaging headline phrases by Facebook Engagement

Why The Data Will Make You Think Again About Headlines

In our sample the most powerful three word phrase used in a headline (by some margin) was:

  “Will make you … “

This phrase “will make you” gained more than twice the number of Facebook engagements as the second most popular headline trigram. This was a surprise. When we started out looking for top trigrams, this one wasn’t even on our list.

So why does this particular trigram or three word phrase work so well? One of the interesting things is that it is a linking phrase. It doesn’t start or end a headline, rather it makes explicit the linkage between the content and the potential impact on the reader.

This headline format sets out why the reader should care about the content. It also promises that the content will have a direct impact on the reader, often an emotional reaction. The headline is clear and to the point which makes it elegant and effective.

Typical headlines include:

  • 24 Pictures That Will Make You Feel Better About The World
  • What This Airline Did for Its Passengers Will Make You Tear Up – So Heartwarming
  • 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person
  • “Who Wore It Better?” Pics That Will Make You Laugh Out Loud
  • 13 Travel Tips That Will Make You Feel Smart

See the most shared “will make you” headlines from the last year.

Emotional Headlines Drive Facebook Interactions

In our analysis we found that emotional phrases were consistently effective on Facebook as measured by the number of interactions. For example:

  • Tears of joy
  • Make you cry
  • Give you goosebumps
  • Is too cute
  • Shocked to see
  • Melt your heart
  • Can’t stop laughing

Many of the top performing posts with emotional headlines had image or video content although there were also story posts. Below is an example video post.


Despite the strong performance of emotional posts, content writers increasingly have to be careful in using emotional and sensational language. In May 2017 Facebook announced it will demote “headlines that exaggerate the details of a story with sensational language” and which aim “to make the story seem like a bigger deal than it really is.”

Curiosity and Voyeurism Also Gain Facebook Engagement

Headline phrases that provoke curiosity and a sense of voyeurism also gained a high level of engagement on Facebook. For example:

  • What happened next
  • Talking about it
  • Twitter reacts to
  • Are freaking out
  • Top x songs

Readers are often curious about what is being talked about by people, what the top items are in a league table, or what is being said by people on Twitter about a topic or event. This type of content appeals to a reader’s sense of curiosity and voyeurism. If you are curious, here are the most shared posts in the last year that have “are freaking out” in the headline.

We would caution writers to avoid ‘what happened next’ style headlines. While they have previously performed well, Facebook now categorises headlines that withhold information as clickbait and demotes them. In my personal view this is a good thing and I hope we will see an end to such clickbait headlines.

Other Engaging Headline Phrases


  • This is why
  • The reason is

These phrases are also linked strongly to curiosity. For example:

  • And this is why women live longer than men…
  • This is why you should be sleeping on your left side

We all want to feel that bit smarter after reading a piece of content. Explainer articles promise you an extra nugget of insight. In some ways they are similar to the “will make you” phrase headline as they make a promise about what you’ll gain as a result of reading the article.

Here are the most shared ‘this is why’ headlines of the last year.


  • Can we guess
  • Only x in

These phrases are used in popular quiz headlines, for example:

  • Can We Guess Your Real Age?
  • Only 1 In 50 People Can Identify These 16 Grammar Mistakes. Can You?

Quizzes remain an engaging format on Facebook. The first of these headline types is a quiz variation, it challenges you to answer to questions and to see if the quiz can then predict your age, level of education, job etc., based on your answers. These quizzes appeal to our desire to know more about ourselves and to prove we’re smart, we did grow up in the 80s, we are living in the right city, or whatever it might be. These quizzes are like mirrors, it’s hard to walk past with out looking at yourself. They are hard to ignore.

Tribal headlines

  • X things only

These popular headlines appeal to a sense of tribal belonging for example:

  • 25 Things Only Teachers Will Understand
  • 17 Things Only Moms of Twins Understand
  • 9 Things Only Girls Who Grew Up With Older Brothers Will Understand
  • 10 Things Only Night Shift Nurses Understand

Here are the most shared examples of ‘things only’ headlines in the last year.

We have seen a significant growth in tribal headlines, particularly politically partisan headlines. It is almost as if there is a duty on the tribe to share posts that support their viewpoints. We saw this in the US elections and we have seen something similar in the recent UK elections. These tribal headlines tend to gain a lot of engagement and shares, which might be encouraging sites to use polemical headlines more frequently.

 The Worst Performing Phrases

We thought it would also be interesting to examine the commonly used phrases in headlines that receive the lowest Facebook engagement.

Worst performing headlines phrases on Facebook engagement

Note: We only looked at phrases or trigrams that were used on a minimum of 100 different domains. There will be worse performing phrases than those used above but these are the worst performing commonly used phrases.

It was interesting to see how poorly phrases like ‘on a budget’ performed on Facebook. While some individual articles did well, the average Facebook engagement was very low. By contrast the phrase ‘on a budget’ appears to work really well on Pinterest for DIY topics. See the examples below.


This highlights the importance of context. It may simply be that Facebook is not a place where someone is actively looking for tips to save money and that the Pinterest DIY context is better suited to this content. This reinforces the need to research what works for your audience, your topics and specific social networks.  A headline may perform poorly on Facebook but work very well with a different audience on a different social network. The same is true when writing for different sectors, for example a phrase like ‘need to know’ may work well in say health but work less well in a different context. The key is to research what resonates with your specific audience and to test your headlines.

Phrases That Start Or End Headlines

The most popular phrase “will make you” is a phrase that clearly sits in the centre of a headline as it connects two elements. Thus it creates the structure by linking something to an emotional reaction.

This was partly a surprise as previous research has suggested the most important part of a headline is the first three words and the last three words. It may be that using a linking phrase such as “will make you” actually emphasizes the importance of both the beginning and end of the sentence.

We thought it would be useful to look at the top three word phrases that start headlines and the phrases that end headlines.

Below are the most popular phrases that start headlines by number of Facebook interactions (x represents a number).Top phrases starting headlines by facebook engagement

Below are the most popular phrases that end headlines by number of Facebook interactions (x represents a number).

Top Phrases Ending Headlines by Facebook Engagement

Finally, below are the most popular first words that start headlines by average Facebook interactions.

Top First Word in headlines Facebook


Two word phrases

In our analysis we also looked at the most shared bigrams or two word combinations. Often these were part of longer three word phrases or trigrams that we have previously identified, for example:

  • ‘Make you’ – part of ‘will make you’
  • ‘Is why’ – part of ‘this is why’

There were, however, a few exceptional two word phrases that gained a high level of average engagements. These included:

  • ‘goes viral’           9,746 average engagements
  • ‘most beautiful’    3,921 average engagements

Both of these align with the high engaging headline types we found when looking at three word phrases. The first is a form of voyeuristic content which provokes curiosity for example ‘High School Seniors Paint Their Parking Spots And Their Art Goes Viral On Twitter’.

The second is a form of emotional content with often an explicit promise of exceptional content. For example ‘Clementinum In Prague Is The Most Beautiful Library In The World’. This particular example, was picked up and reused by Bored Panda with a similar headline ‘The World’s Most Beautiful Library Is In Prague, Czech Republic’. Both posts got over 250,000 Facebook engagements.

Here are the most shared posts of the last year with ‘goes viral’ in the headline.

The Power of List Posts and the Number 10 in Headlines

Many of the most engaging phrases contain numbers, and many use a list post format i.e. headlines that start with a number. It is well known that list posts gain above average social shares. We were interested to see if there was any variation between the performance of different numbers, for example a list post starting with 10 or say 4. The table below shows the average Facebook engagements for different number list posts in our sample.Top numbers to use in headlines by facebook engagement

We can see that the number 10 was the highest performing headline number, which confirms previous research in this area. Our research found that the next three best performing numbers in headlines were 5, 15 and 7.

Many marketers have advocated using unique numbers or much longer numbers for comprehensive articles. Buzzfeed have had a lot of success with the number 23 for example, but on average 10, 5, 15 and 7 are the top performing list posts.

How Many Words Should be in your Headlines? More Than You Think

Let’s look at the length of your headline. Experts such as Jacob Neilson have argued that the best headlines for news sites are very short. Jacob argues for as short as five words or less than 40 characters. Buffer’s Kevan Lee wrote a comprehensive post which suggested blog post headlines should ideally be six words or less than 50 characters. By contrast, research from Outbrain looking at 100,000 posts, suggests that 16 to 18 words and 80 to 110 characters is optimal for driving engagement. When it comes to email subject lines, research by MailChimp suggests that it doesn’t really matter how long subject lines are.

We decided to test these assumptions. with our sample of 100m articles published between 1st March and 10 May 2017.  We analyzed the number of words in article headlines and plotted this number against the average number of Facebook engagements for all headlines in our sample. The results are shown on the chart below.



We can see that posts with twelve to eighteen words in the headline receive the highest number of Facebook engagements on average. As headlines get longer or shorter the average number of Facebook engagements decline.

Twelve plus words may sound like a lot, though if you’re going to make clear the topic, format and use an effective trigram you will need them. Here are some examples:

This Infographic Shows How Only 10 Companies Own All The World’s Food Brands

E-Cigarettes Found to Have 10 times More Cancer Causing Ingredients than Regular Cigarettes

We also looked at the relationship between the number of characters in a headline and average FB engagements. Our findings were as follows:



Not surprisingly the number of characters has a similar relationship to average Facebook engagements as the number of words. In essence 80 to 95 characters appears optimal.

Thus our research findings would tend to support Outbrain’s previous research that longer headlines work better when it comes to engagement.

Headline Phrases That Engage On Twitter

Will a headline that works on Facebook work equally well on Twitter? Not necessarily. We found the headline phrases that gained the most engagement on Twitter were quite distinct from those that gained high engagement on Facebook. The main exception was the powerful “will make you” phrase which was the top phrase on Facebook and also the fourth most shared phrase on Twitter.

What is particularly interesting is the lack of emotional phrases in the top headlines that resonate on Twitter. This is very different to our findings for Facebook.

Top Headline Phrases on Twitter

The top Twitter phrases have a focus on newness such as “for first time” and “is the new”.

The top trigrams shared on Twitter also focus more on explanations and analysis for example:

  • The truth about
  • The rise of
  • Things to know
  • This is what
  • What we know

You can test the impact of different headlines on Twitter by trying different text in your tweets.

B2B Headlines

Update: 18th July 2017. We have now completed our analysis of the best B2B headlines where we reviewed the 10 million most shared posts on LinkedIn in 2017. We found significant differences between the best headline phrases, structures, numbers and lengths for B2B headlines compared to B2C headlines.

You can read the full analysis and post here: The best B2B headline phrases, words and formats based on 10 million posts shared on LinkedIn.

The top phrases in headlines shared on LinkedIn were as follows.


We also found a significant difference between optimum headline lengths for B2B and B2C content. The optimum number of words in B2B headlines was much lower as we can see below. The red line is average LinkedIn shares and the blue line is average Facebook shares.


The key point is that there is no simple formula or approach when it comes to popular headlines, you need to research and understand the headlines that resonate with your audience and industry.

Expert Reflections and Advice

We shared our research with a number of content experts to get their thoughts, reflections and advice for content writers. Here is their take on the findings.

Ann Handley
Ann Handley

“I love research that quantifies content marketing success. But at the same time, I will be gutted if businesses take this information and conclude that the best headline to use forever and always is something like 10 Ways That Will Make You a Better Headline Writer (and You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!)

That’s a facile (and ridiculous) interpretation. Instead, the broader messages here are:
  1. Spend as much time writing the headline as you do an entire blog post or social post. Why? Because the headline matters. (Really matters.) (I do this, by the way.)
  2.  Test what resonates with YOUR audience. (Not mine. And not your co-working neighbor’s. And not your dog sitter’s uncle’s audience. YOURS.)
  3.  Burn some brain cells getting a little creative with your headlines. This research hopefully inspires you to rethink headlines, because it tells you what kind of headlines have worked for 100m posts in the past. But of course, it’s just a measure of what has worked, not what will work. Think more deeply: What does it suggest? What might it inspire? Use this data as a kind of guidepost to inspire your own, new, never-before-trodden path.”

Andy Crestodina

andy_crestodina“I’m sure that some marketers will take this research as prescriptive advice and cram every top trigram into a 15 word headline. “This is why these 10 stunning photos will make you cry tears of joy!” I’ll admit, I’d probably click that.

But think for a minute about the cause behind the correlations. This research is telling us to give readers stronger reasons to click.

Every time our readers see a headline, they do a split second cost-benefit calculation. It doesn’t matter if they’re in an inbox, a social stream or a search results page. The psychology is the same. Is this thing worth two seconds of my time?

The headline’s job is to answer this question. Here’s how:

  • Take as many words as you need to make the case that the click is worth it
  • Be specific (this is why, this is how, the reason is)
  • If it’s not emotional, it better be useful (work for you, x simple tips, you should use)

This research holds some very powerful insights. I’m sure it will change how many marketers craft their headlines. For me, the big takeaway is to maximize the perceived benefit of the click. Because that’s the game we’re all playing: we only click when the likely benefits exceed the cost of 2-seconds of our attention!”

Heidi Cohen


“The B2B research reveals an opportunity for marketers and content creators to stand out not by following the pack but by applying the emotional elements that work for posts in general. B2B content and marketing has come a long way thanks to Joe Pulizzi and Ann Handley but it can go further by tapping into the human voice and connection.”

Michael Brenner

michael-brenner“There are three important things to note from the research.

Headlines matter. Maybe that sounds obvious and most of us know this. But do we all spend as much time as we should on headlines? I suggest spending nearly as much time on the headline as on the article itself!

Curiosity drives shares. Captain obvious here again. But the trick is to find a way to spark that curiosity in every headline. It’s why headlines that start with “Here’s why…” or “The one thing that will make you…” work really well. Because they spark instant curiosity. They make us feel compelled to read.

Tell stories. Yes, you can tell a story in a 15 word headline. Hemingway did it in 6 words with his “For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.” We tell stories to convey emotion. To bring people into our frame of the world. To forget where they are for a moment. To make them the hero on a journey to a better place.”

Larry Kim

Larry Kim “I’m blown away at how hard people work on producing content only to slap on a crappy headline as an afterthought. If you have a great article, don’t sabotage yourself by using a weak hook – there’s nothing wrong with using these catchy phrases. Stop fighting them! Like it or not, click through rates play an ever increasing role in the organic search and social news feed algorithms that essentially determine if your content is seen or not. Why produce content if not to be consumed? Stop shooting yourself in the foot and use this research.”

Headline Review Questions

The danger of this type of research is that people simply look to reuse the most shared phrases or words in their headlines. However, the real value of the research is a better understanding of the formats and principles of the headlines that resonate with readers. The research suggests that the characteristics of engaging headlines typically include one or more of the following:

  • A focus on why the reader should care
  • Clarity and promise
  • Emotional hooks
  • Provoke curiosity
  • Provide explanations
  • Appeal to a tribe

The research also reinforces the importance of context and of understanding what works in your specific context, such as your audience, your industry, your topics and your social networks.

With these points in mind here are some questions that may be useful to ask when formulating your headlines:

  • Why should the reader care about your content?
  • Can you make a promise or claim about the impact of your article on the reader?
  • Can you include an emotional element – especially if looking to gain traction on Facebook?
  • Are you tapping into a trending topic, if so can you call it out in the headline?
  • Can you make it a quiz or challenge?
  • Could you position it as an explanation or answer post?
  • Who’s your tribe – what headlines resonate with them?
  • Will a more partisan or controversial headline appeal to your tribe?
  • Are you aiming for 12-18 words in your headline?

How Did We Decide On The Headline For This Post?

We brainstormed a range of possible headlines including ones such as ‘Headlines That Engage: Insights from 100m Posts.’ When we did further research using BuzzSumo, we looked specifically at large research projects in the marketing sector and found that ‘we analyzed’ and ‘we learned’ worked really well as a structure. For example:

Thus after much deliberation and discussion we decided on using this format for the post headline.

Methodology Note

We looked at the headlines of 100m articles published from March 1st, 2017 to May 10, 2017 and analysed those that gained the most social shares.

We specifically looked at top trigrams (three word phrases) used in headlines. We started by ignoring trigrams that were topics such as  “Game of Thrones”.

We were conscious that popular sites can skew the results, therefore for this analysis we only included one headline trigram example per domain. For instance, “can we guess” is a very popular BuzzFeed trigram thus we would only have included one “can we guess” headline from BuzzFeed in our trigram analysis. From the subsequent list we then removed the three most shared examples of each trigram to remove potential outliers, such as a post that got say 100,000 shares.

For our analysis of the optimum number of words and characters in headlines we included all 100m posts.

How To Analyze Headline Phrases Using BuzzSumo

If you want to do some analysis of headline phrases yourself, you can simply put a phrase in double quotes into BuzzSumo such as “can we guess”. The search will return the most shared articles with that phrase in the headline and display the share counts from each network and the number of linking domains. Here is an example of the most shared posts for “the future of.  You can further refine your search by adding additional words after the phrase in quotes, here is an example: the future of” Elon Musk. This will return the most shared headlines with the phrase “the future of” and Elon Musk. You can do this for multiple phrases or phrases and topics.

The various BuzzSumo paid plans allow you to review the most shared headline phrases over the past five years and to export up to 10,000 examples of each phrase with share and link data for further analysis. You can also:

You may also be interested in our previous post on how to create viral headlines.

Though many marketers label direct mail costly, they recognize its value — often noting its ROI. About 69 percent of marketers continue to use it, according to Target Marketing’s newly released study, “Marketing Mix Trends 2010-2016.”

In 2016, that 69 percent figure was joined by a single-digit response of marketers cutting back in the channel. Six percent of marketers responding to the survey cut back on direct mail spending in 2016 — which notably doesn’t include eliminating the channel from the marketing mix.

The research touting those numbers is the result of Target Marketing analyzing years of “Media Usage Survey” data. This “Direct Mail” section of the report is part of a benchmarking of marketing media channels, technology and tactics included in the Target Marketing/NAPCO Research study. Both Target Marketing and NAPCO Research are NAPCO Media brands.

Direct Mail, Marketing’s Workhorse

This is an excerpt from Target Marketing’s research, “Marketing Mix Trends 2010-2016.”

Related story: The Marketing Mix 2010-2016: 6-Year Study Reveals Key Budget Trends

Findings from the "Direct Mail" section of the “Marketing Mix Trends 2010-2016" study

Findings from the “Direct Mail” section of the “Marketing Mix Trends 2010-2016″ study

Direct response marketing’s workhorse continues to work, with 69 percent of respondents either increasing or maintaining their use of it during 2016, a level comparable with results from the past five years. In 2016, granted, more marketers kept their level of use steady and fewer increased it than in years past. Of note, however, is that only 6 percent cut back on it — the lowest such level in half a decade.

Apparently the mid-year postage rate increases, which fell heavily on First Class letters and flats, weren’t enough to deter marketers, especially given the drop in First Class Metered Mail rates. The continued strength of direct mail is also reflected in personalization’s continued use: Recipients react well when offers are clearly tailored to them.

In October 2016, we asked 2,400 consumers: “In general which type of advertising channels do you trust more when you want to make a purchase decision? Please sort the options into ‘Ads I trust’ and ‘Ads I don’t trust that much’ categories.” Below you can see the results for the “Ads I trust” category.

Prints ads most trusted, online pop-ups least trusted

With the digital marketing industry abuzz about ad blocking, it’s not surprising that online pop-ups were significantly less trusted than other advertising channels we asked about — only a quarter of Americans (25%) indicating they trusted these ads when making a purchase decision.

However, if you believe the latest chatter about newspapers and magazines, you might be pretty shocked by the most trusted advertising channel — prints ads. The conventional wisdom after the 2016 election would have us believe that the majority of Americans no longer trust the mainstream media in general and newspapers in particular.

But the overwhelming consensus of the 2,400 U.S. consumers we surveyed paints a different picture, at least for advertisers and marketers. While we have no data about their trust of newspaper journalism, consumers do trust newspapers and magazines more than any other advertising channel at the point in time that matters most to marketers — when they are making a purchase decision.

Prints ads were the top advertising channel according to our survey, with four out of five Americans (82%) telling us they trusted newspapers and magazine ads. In fact, there was a clear schism between traditional/offline advertising and digital/online ads.

The five most trusted channels were all traditional channels while the bottom eight channels were all digital. Search engine ads led the pack for digital advertising, garnering the trust of 61% of consumers, and online pop-ups fared the worst.

Why are print ads the most trusted?

There are likely many reasons for these results, and feel free to share your own analysis while sharing this article on Twitter or LinkedIn.

In my opinion, print’s scarcity and standards make it more credible. While that online pop-up is annoying in and of itself, when it’s popping up over low-value online content, it becomes even less trusted. While the vaunted New York Times features “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” digital content pretty much just stops at “All.” There’s very high value online content (like MarketingSherpa, natch), and even most print publishers publish online as well, but that real value is drowning in a sea of mediocrity (or worse), and as a whole, it damages customers’ trust.

Then, of course, there are the privacy, virus, and data hacking issues introduced by the online environment, as well as that fact that print ads are much less obtrusive than many other forms of advertising. As one respondent said, “Print ads only. DO NOT TRACK ME. NO, NONE, ZERO PHONE CALLS!”

And print ads can provide real value to customers. For example, there are forums and Facebook groups online dedicated to the topic of buying the Sunday newspaper simply for the coupons. As one respondent said, “I really like to read ads in print such as in newspapers. Coupons are great for advertising products!”

I asked Louis Gudema, President, revenue + associates, for his take on the data. He told me, “It is interesting to see…traditional advertising channels — print ads, TV ads, mail catalogs, radio ads and outdoor ads, such as billboards — are the ads that people trust the most.”

“Many marketers are different from their customers, and probably assume that customers see and trust digital ads, but that is not the case. Marketers need to get out of their digital bubbles to understand what people are really reading and viewing,” Gudema said.

And those pesky online pop-ups

With all the talk of ad blocking, I’m sure it won’t surprise many readers that online pop-ups are the least trusted form of advertising. Online pop-up ads are the digital equivalent of trying to have a serious conversation in a coffee shop with an old friend while a toddler who just ate too much sugar is sitting on your lap. “Dad. Dad! DADADADADADAD!”

Respondents simply told us that “Pop up ads are annoying” and “I don’t like pop-ups. I generally prefer print, radio, TV ads due to threat of viruses and being hacked through electronics.”

How to use this data in your media buying

This isn’t to say that you should only buy print ads or avoid online pop-ups entirely. Each channel can have its place. Just know that advertising in newspapers and magazines will tend to add credibility to your product or service, while an online pop-up add will reduce the credibility for your product or service.

Just the ad placement itself.

But there are many other factors — from the message to the execution to the product to the offer — that will affect consumer trust.

So if you do choose to use online pop-ups or another less trusted channel, keep those factors in mind. If you have a pop-up on a credible site that is delayed enough for visitors to absorb what’s on the website that includes a relevant or timely offer in a non-garish (FLASHING NEON!) way, you may still find success with the tactic.

Consider how customers perceive the channel itself, and then look at what else you should do to enhance credibility and trust.

Customer-first marketing

This chart is from the MarketingSherpa Customer Satisfaction Research Study which explores the factors that influence customer satisfaction.

“It’s gratifying to see the results of the study since they validate a more sophisticated approach to marketing,” Gudema said. “Many people confuse marketing with advertising and promotion, but marketing starts with understanding the customer and creating products and services that address [his or her] needs and wants. This is what customer-first marketing is all about.”

The amount of data in a marketer’s hands can sometimes be overwhelming, especially while trying to keep that data clean and current. Oftentimes, marketers believe that in order to make room for new data, they must first remove old data that may not be completely clean.

Unclean or unstructured data consists of data sets with duplicates, incorrect addresses, incorrect phone numbers or addresses that have opted out of the list. Using these irrelevant types of data in your marketing strategy often leads to poor results and a lower ROI. Meanwhile, a clean database is accurate, up-to-date and serves as the foundation of numerous successful data-driven marketing campaigns.

But purchasing new data doesn’t always have to be the answer for businesses looking to clean up their data sets. Instead, marketers have an opportunity to salvage old data sets by using the right data hygiene and appending technology processes. These services and strategies can make bad, unclean data as good as new.

The Costs of Bad Data

By now, all marketers should see the value in big data, but those who fail to use a data hygiene solution to separate the good from the bad are left with ineffective campaigns. Nearly half of B-to-B marketers don’t use third-party solutions to clean prospect data before it enters their system, making their so-called “targeted” and “personalized” marketing campaigns nothing of the sort. This is a waste of both time and money for marketers.

In fact, The Data Warehousing Institute reports that faulty customer data costs $611 billion each year for U.S. businesses, largely due to wasteful postal expenses, sales representatives spending time following incorrect leads and the opportunity cost of missed sales.

What’s more, unclean data can have overall soft costs on the company too. With every error in data that reaches a customer, the company risks a loss in brand reputation. Additionally, internal customer service teams are forced to deal with the fallout, leading to a loss of employee morale.

How to Take Action

Cleanse: Today, data can become out-of-date very quickly. Simply because a record is accurate now doesn’t mean it will still be six months or a year from now. Let’s say within the last year, a company called ABC, Inc. changed its CEO and moved its offices to a different address. If the business targeting this company failed to update its database, it would send mail to the wrong place and likely miss an opportunity to address the decision maker. Marketers must have a process in place that reviews records to make sure they’re always accurate, standardized and recent.

De-Duplicate: It’s important to make sure you’re not using two different records for one lead. Marketers should be working with services that are able to identify and consolidate duplicate records to eliminate wasteful marketing expenditure. Returning to our example of ABC Inc., let’s say that the CEO of the company is also the chairman. Furthermore, let’s say that his name is William, but he goes by Bill. Without de-duplicating, marketers targeting ABC, Inc. might send two pieces of mail, one for William the CEO and one to Bill, the chairman.  As you can see, it’s both costly and risky to a brand’s credibility to send more than one piece of the same direct mail — or any piece of marketing content — to a prospect.

Analyze and Enhance: By analyzing trends within the data, marketers can get a better understanding of the market and better target customers.  For example, a marketer could take advantage of demographic and psychographic trends from businesses similar to ABC, Inc. and gain insights such as employee count or sales revenue. This enables marketers to alter and personalize their messaging even further, thus targeting more effectively. Without clean data, executing this successfully is nearly impossible.

Append: Another strategy is to add new data to existing records. New nuggets of information such as email addresses or date of birth can create a fuller profile record. For instance, when targeting ABC, Inc., it would be helpful to know information about who makes purchasing decisions within the company, or perhaps about the company’s email structure so sales representatives can target the right person through the most effective channel. Another creative way to append data is by discovering pieces of new entries from your other existing datasets. Perhaps you already have a customer’s email address or date of birth in a customer database but not in the marketing database. In this case, you just need the right technology to merge the different bits of information that create a more holistic prospect.

Data hygiene and appending processes ensure that marketing resources aren’t being wasted on unclean or unstructured data. Maintaining up-to-date and accurate database records should always be a key objective of all marketing departments. With greater accuracy and depth to enhance your existing customer records, data-driven marketing can more effectively drive sales and lead to higher ROI.

Many financial marketers assume that Millennials don’t like, don’t open and don’t read direct mail pieces. Not true.

Direct mail still resonates with every age group. This is among the findings from a study by InfoTrends and Prinova. And it doesn’t just work (or work less than it once did), the response rates for direct mail remain high for all demographics.


Some might find the response rate for Millennials particularly surprising, since they are by far the most digitally-savvy generation in history. According to another study fielded by Experian, nearly every Millennial (ages18-35) owns a smartphone, and 43% say that they now access the internet more through their phone than a computer, compared with just 20% of adults ages 35 and older. However, despite their hyper-wired digital connectedness, Millennials as a group report that the last time they responded to direct mail campaign was within 2.4 months. That’s less than the average response time for all respondents. Similarly, Millennials open the direct mail they receive at the same high rate of 66% as recipients overall.

Even more significant, the InfoTrends research found that 63% of Millennials who responded to a direct mail piece within a three month period actually made a purchase.

A study by the USPS reached a similar conclusion about Millennials’ interest in receiving political direct mail. “As the much-coveted demographic of 18-24-year-olds has grown up with- and around computers, focusing exclusively on digital channels seems like the obvious strategy,” says Cliff Rucker, VP of Sales at USPS. “Actually, Millennials are far more likely than non-Millennials to read and engage with direct mail.”

The reasons consumers continue to open and engage with direct mail are many, but interest in the products and services offered tops the list. One quarter of those in the 25-34 year old age range say they opened direct mail because of the print and image quality, and 25% of Millennials consider reading direct mail a leisure activity. Personalization is another factor with a very strong influence on whether a recipient will open the direct mail they receive.

Moreover, an equal number of consumers say they prefer direct mail over email and vice versa. Response rates are similar between direct mail and email, too. Just as many consumers say they are likely to take action in response to direct mail vs. email, or are equally likely to take action in response to either direct mail or email communications. This result validates the value of cross-channel marketing (also called “integrated, multi-channel marketing”).

Overall, the research from InfoTrends affirms several key points when it comes to how direct mail influences consumer purchasing behaviors:

  • Direct mail is frequently read by all demographic groups, including digitally adept Millennials
  • A high percentage of consumers had responded to direct mail within the three months prior to answering the survey
  • A top goal of surveyed organizations is to improve data-driven personalization and relevant communications with their direct mail
  • Almost two-thirds of marketers report they are attempting to coordinate direct mail with other marketing activities
  • Direct mail drives both online and bricks and mortar traffic
  • Most importantly, direct mail continues to trigger sales

For these reasons, direct mail continues to be effective for the marketers sending it and for the consumers who receive it. The allure of digital channels should not cause financial services firms to forget that direct mail remains critical to the overall media mix and can help drive cross-channel engagement.

Ensuring Direct Mail Effectiveness

The research from InfoTrends revealed that more than 37% of the data that marketers require for an effective direct mail campaign is actually controlled by IT — not marketing — signaling the need to leverage customer communications management (CCM) technologies that can help financial marketers merge silos of critical-yet-disparate data repositories.

To get the most out of direct mail, banks and other financial services firms should make sure the CCM platform used to create the direct mail provides an intuitive interface for non-technical users to easily visualize and build out content and rules intended for each touchpoint. It should also enable a high degree of variability to service end consumer recipients with information that is highly relevant and personalized to their needs, ultimately leading to an improved customer experience.

Direct mail has the proven ability to make a powerful impact with color, personalization and more. The InfoTrends study affirms that increased integration of direct mail with other channels is proving to be an effective strategy for reaching consumers… including Millennials.

If you’re a writer, you might idolize Ernest Hemingway or Mark Twain.

If you’re a guitarist, maybe Eric Clapton or Jimi Hendrix.

But if you’re a landing page creator, you should probably look up to some of the brands that built the following 25 best landing pages.

Every one of them contains many of the 8 persuasive ingredients that make a great landing page (which you can read more about by clicking the following photo).

This picture shows the 8 main elements marketers need to create the best landing page possible.

Below you’ll find numerous examples of catchy headlines, social proof, authority boosters, and many of the other elements that make an anatomically correct landing page. So pull out a pen and paper and prepare to take notes. You’re about to get schooled by the best.

25 of the best landing page examples you’ll find

(Note: For shorter pages, we’ve shown the entire page. For longer pages, we only displayed above the fold. You may need to click through to the page to see some of the points we discuss. Some sites A/B test their pages meaning you may be served an alternate version.)

1. Campaign Monitor

This gif shows how Campaign Monitor uses a landing page to convert leads and close more sales.

What they did well:

  • The headline and sub-headline together convey a benefit: Get simple, elegant, affordable email marketing with 24/7 support.
  • Copy organized into chunks makes the page more easily readable.
  • The text “Join 150,000 companies around the world…” leverages social proof.
  • The green CTA button pops off the black background.
  • “Free,” the second most popular word in copywriting, can be found right in the call-to-action.
  • A testimonial given by Kori Mirsberger of SXSW improves Campaign Monitor’s reputation.
  • The arrow pointing to the CTA serves as a visual cue to get prospects’ eyes on the button.
  • Company badges from Buzzfeed, Airbnb, Apple, and Coca-Cola boosts Campaign Monitor’s authority.
  • An animated .GIF shows precisely how easy Campaign Monitor’s tools are to use.
  • A minimalist footer doesn’t distract visitors from clicking the CTA button.

What could be A/B tested:

  • The logo is linked to the homepage, making it easy for prospects to flee whenever they want.

2. Forbes Magazine

This picture shows marketers why Forbes has one of the best landing pages you'll find online.

What they did well:

  • The headline and sub headline communicate the benefit of signing up for Forbes Magazine on this page (get an 86% discount, a year for $20).
  • Bite-size copy below the form tells people what they’ll find inside the magazine.
  • The CTA button color pops off the page.

What could be A/B tested:

  • A clickable logo gives people a chance to leave the page whenever they want.
  • The “Subscribe” call-to-action could be better tailored to the offer. Why not, “Send Me a Year For $20!”?

3. Fortune Magazine

This picture shows marketers why Fortune magazine has one of the best landing pages you'll find online.

What they did well:

  • Copy above the headline lets students know they’re getting an offer exclusive to them.
  • The headline conveys a benefit for signing up on this landing page (get a whole year’s worth of the magazine for just $15).
  • The call-to-action is written in first person “Submit my order” instead of “Submit your order.”
  • A trust badge from Norton lets prospects know their payment information is safe.

What could be A/B tested:

  • The CTA button color is already used numerous times on the page, making it less noticeable.
  • The free offer in the right sidebar distracts prospects from converting by taking them to a new page.

4. Contently

This picture shows marketers why Contently has one of the best landing pages you'll find online.

What they did well:

  • This headline turns a powerful quote from a big publisher into a compelling headline. Normally it’s bad form to call yourself the “best” anything. Most everybody thinks they’re the best at what they do. “Best” is a subjective term, it’s hard to quantify, and it can make your brand sound arrogant. But it’s different story when someone else calls you “the best.” Then, it’s more about their opinion than your own. If a big publisher thinks your company is the best, then it just might be.
  • This explainer video does a great job showing exactly how Contently can help your business without taking too long.
  • Company logos highlight the big-name brands that Contently works with.
  • A numbered list quickly breaks down the benefits of using Contently.
  • The copy offers a free content marketing audit for those who convert.

What could be A/B tested:

  • A busy footer distracts from the offer, potentially leading people off the page with numerous outbound links and buttons.
  • The call-to-action could be better phrased.
  • The Contently logo in the upper-left is linked to the homepage.

5. Moz Content

This picture shows marketers why Moz has one of the best landing pages you'll find online.

What they did well:

  • CTA button color contrasts the purple page well.
  • The call-to-action is tailored to the offer.
  • The headline and sub headline both convey a benefit.
  • Copy is organized into bite-sized chunks, making it easily readable.
  • Two cooperative CTAs push the prospect to convert.
  • The page is brief, not text heavy at all.
  • This page is responsive, meaning it will display on any size screen well.

What could be A/B tested:

  • A clickable logo gives prospects an escape route off the page.

6. IBM Marketing Cloud

This picture shows marketers why IBM has one of the best landing pages you'll find online.

What they did well:

  • The headline is benefit oriented.
  • The sub-headline uses social proof, bringing attention to the 5,000 brands who use IBM Marketing Cloud.
  • The call-to-action is tailored to the offer.
  • The CTA button color isn’t used anywhere else on the page, making it “pop” against the white background.
  • Company logos serve as social proof.
  • The “IBM” logo reminds prospects they’re on an IBM page.

What could be A/B tested:

  • The opening paragraphs are verbose. Remember: Users want you to get to the point as quickly as possible, so cut down on any language that isn’t needed.
  • With 7 fields, this form is a little long.

7. Salesforce

This picture shows marketers why Salesforce has one of the best landing pages you'll find online.

What they did well:

  • The headline is benefit-oriented: “Run and grow your business…”
  • Copy explains the product simply.
  • Trust badges beneath the form make users comfortable with sharing their personal information.
  • Small icons explains the benefit of the offer.
  • Bullet points break up the text into readable chunks.
  • Company logos serve as authority boosters by showing the prospect who Salesforce has worked with.

What could be A/B tested:

  • Social media buttons serve as escape routes.
  • An 8-field form will be a pain for prospects to fill out.
  • The CTA button color is the same color as the form.

8. Infusionsoft

This picture shows marketers why Infusionsoft has one of the best landing pages you'll find online.

What they did well:

  • Company badges showcase the big-name publications Infusionsoft has been featured in.
  • A short form makes converting easy.
  • A bright CTA button color contrasts the blue background.
  • The call-to-action is tailored to the offer.
  • The CTA is written in first person, with the word “my” instead of “your.”
  • The text “30,000 thriving businesses use Infusionsoft” leverages social proof.
  • Bulleted copy makes this page more readable.
  • Case study results show the effectiveness of the service.
  • The minimalist footer doesn’t distract prospects.

What could be A/B tested:

  • A clickable logo makes it easy for prospects to escape the page without converting.

9. VWO

This picture shows marketers why VWO has one of the best landing pages you'll find online.

What they did well:

  • The CTA button color pops off the purple page.
  • Company badges showcase the well-known brands like Target, eBay, and Microsoft, that VWO has worked with.
  • Text that reads “Trusted by over 4,000 customers across the globe!” leverages the power of social proof to drive conversions.
  • A great testimonial from Daniel Gniazdo that includes his photo, company, and position makes this a powerful recommendation.
  • Case study results from Hyundai, Jagex, and Tinkhoff Bank, prove that VWO is a powerful platform.
  • A minimalist footer doesn’t distract people from the offer.
  • The phone number is click-to-call, which makes it easy for people to contact VWO.
  • The page is responsive, so its content adjusts as the screen size does.

What could be A/B tested:

  • These icons stress features instead of benefits. Heatmaps and scrollmaps are great, but what do they help me do? What’s the “Idea Factory”?

10. Salesgenie

This picture shows marketers why Salesgenie has one of the best landing pages you'll find online.

What they did well:

  • The word “Free” near the headline takes advantage of our inherent desire to get something for nothing.
  • Words like “risk-free” imply there’s no risk for signing up, while “no credit card required” reinforces it.
  • Social media form buttons allow you to log into your account with the click of a button.
  • Access to 150 free leads on top of their original offer makes it even more enticing.
  • The text “Powering growth at 85 of the Fortune 100 companies” adds authority.
  • Multiple cooperative CTAs work together to convert prospects.
  • Testimonials reinforce the value of Salesgenie’s service.
  • Trust badges from Qualyst make prospects comfortable with submitting their personal information.
  • This video explains the service in less than two minutes.
  • Contact information gives prospects a way to get in touch with Salesgenie representatives.

What could be A/B tested:

  • Instead of focusing on the website these testimonials came from, Salesgenie would do better to focus on the people who gave them. Both a photo and a title would make them even more believable.

11. Fiverr

This picture shows marketers why Fiverr has one of the best landing pages you'll find online.

What they did well:

  • A question headline engages the reader and relates to them. They’ve likely found this landing page because they’ve had problems customizing a WordPress theme.
  • Bulleted copy conveys benefits quickly.
  • The word “free” can be seen several times on the page, including in the CTA.
  • A video testimonial quickly breaks down the service.
  • Multiple cooperative calls-to-action give prospects more chances to convert.
  • A Facebook “Like” button grows social media presence without driving visitor off the page.
  • Copy explains the Fiverr platform simply.

What could be A/B tested:

  • The logo is clickable, making it easy for people to escape this landing page.

12. National University

This picture shows marketers why National University has one of the best landing pages you'll find online.

What they did well:

  • Contact information lets people know how to reach out to an advisor.
  • Short paragraphs communicate valuable information about National University (e.g. undergrad degree completion rate, recommendation rate, and online class enrollment.
  • Bullet points next to the form quickly convey the benefits of taking courses at National University.
  • The call-to-action is tailored to the offer.
  • This landing page is adaptive, it will adjust to the size of the window.

What could be A/B tested:

  • The clickable logo allows users off the page.
  • Paragraphs could be split into smaller bulleted lists to make the page more readable.
  • The CTA button color isn’t bright or bold, making it blend in with the rest of the page.

13. Aceable

This picture shows marketers why Aceable has one of the best landing pages you'll find online.

What they did well:

  • The headline and sub headline communicate Aceable’s unique selling proposition.
  • The responsiveness of this landing page makes it display well on screens of all sizes.
  • Short sentences and paragraphs make this landing page easy to read.
  • The “How it works” and “FAQ” links are clickable, but they don’t drive visitors off the page.
  • Company badges showcase where Aceable has been featured.
  • Multiple cooperative CTAs give users more than one chance to convert.
  • The green CTA button color stands out on a white background.

What could be A/B tested:

  • The logo is linked to the homepage, making it easy for prospects to leave the page.
  • A footer containing social media links serve as an exit off the page.

14. BrightInfo

This picture shows marketers why BrightInfo has one of the best landing pages you'll find online.

What they did well:

The headline and sub headline convey a strong benefit.
The headline takes advantage of our desire to get something for nothing: “Double your website conversion without doing a thing.”
Company badges showcase the big-name clients that BrightInfo has worked with.
2-3 Sentence paragraphs and bulleted copy make this landing page easy to digest.
Testimonials complete with names, known companies, and results make these about as persuasive as a they get.
The minimalist footer won’t drive visitors off the page.

What could be A/B tested:

The logo is clickable, making it easy for prospects to escape from the page.
The “recommended content” button on the left margin drives people off this landing page with an alternate offer.

15. Foxtail Marketing

This picture shows marketers why Foxtail Marketing has one of the best landing pages you'll find online.

What they did well:

  • The badge “HubSpot Certified Partner” aligns Foxtail Marketing with an authoritative brand.
  • The short form only requires name, email, phone, and company from the prospect.
  • “Let’s talk” is a much more unique CTA than “Submit.”
  • Multiple cooperative CTAs give visitors more than one way to convert.
  • Short paragraphs make this page easy to read.
  • Testimonials complete with photos, quotes, full names, and companies make this landing page more persuasive.
  • A minimalist footer doesn’t drive visitors off the page.
  • The word “Free” is written right in the CTA.

What could be A/B tested:

  • This landing page is adaptive, but as the screen shrinks, overlapping text makes portions of it unreadable.

16. SelectHub

This picture shows marketers why SelectHub has one of the best landing pages you'll find online.

What they did well:

  • The logo in the upper left isn’t linked to the homepage, so nobody can use it to leave the page.
  • The call-to-action is tailored to the offer, and it uses the word “Free.”
  • Company logos align SelectHub with powerful brands like Sony, Sears, Xerox, Oracle, and IBM.
  • The minimalist footer doesn’t distract from the offer.
  • The contact information gives people a way to get in touch with SelectHub.
  • This landing page describes not only features, but the benefits of those features as well.
  • A recommendation from the Director of Oracle, Bharath Prabhar, makes for a strong testimonial.

What could be A/B tested:

  • The page is a bit text-heavy. These features and benefits and could be bulleted to get to the point more quickly.

17. Twago

This picture shows marketers why Twago has one of the best landing pages you'll find online.

What they did well:

  • The headline conveys Twago’s USP: It’s easy to hire freelancers using their service.
  • The three icons on the top of the page combine social proof with explanational copy. Mouse over them to see statistics related to each step, like “95,665 projects posted” or “566,287 twago experts.”
  • The CTA button color pops off the white page.
  • The phone number makes getting in touch with Twago representatives easy.
  • The page is completely responsive, making it able to display well on any screen.

What could be A/B tested:

  • This form is a bit too long, and it’s likely out of place. What do we mean by that? Well, the people who don’t know anything about twago probably won’t be ready to post their first project after reading just a headline, a short testimonial, and a few lines of copy. This is where a click-through landing page would come in handy. It could warm up a prospect with more convincing elements and then get them to post their product on a different page.
  • There’s no need for the “Become a contractor” button. All it does is distract from the page’s main offer.
  • Social media buttons distract from the offer.

18. iMeetLive

This picture shows marketers why iMeetLive has one of the best landing pages you'll find online.

What they did well:

  • Multiple cooperative CTAs work to convert the prospect in more than one place.
  • The image slider gives an inside look into what the software looks like.
  • Small icons quickly break down the benefits of using iMeetLive.
  • Company badges give people an idea of the powerful brands iMeetLive has worked with.
  • A phone number gives prospects another way to contact iMeetLive representatives.

What could be A/B tested:

  • The CTA button color has been used multiple times on the site, making it less noticeable.

19. Slide Genius

This picture shows marketers why SlideGenius has one of the best landing pages you'll find online.

What they did well:

  • The question headline engages the reader.
  • Samples of past work for big-name clients showcase Slide Genius’s work without driving people off the page.
  • Company logos highlight the well-known companies they’ve worked with.
  • Multiple cooperative CTAs give prospects two chances to convert.
  • Two testimonials from marketers with photos, full names, positions, and glowing recommendations.
  • A phone number gives prospects an alternate way to contact representatives of the company.
  • A minimalist footer doesn’t distract users from the offer in front of them.

What could be A/B tested:

  • A clickable logo drives people from the page.
  • Enabling the phone number to be click-to-call could make it easier for prospects to contact Slide Genius.

20. Domo

This picture shows marketers why Domo has one of the best landing pages you'll find online.

What they did well:

  • Bulleted copy explains the service simply.
  • Company badges showcase who Domo has worked with in the past.
  • No footer means no distractions from this landing page offer.
  • The page is fully responsive, meaning it looks great no matter the screen size.
  • A bright CTA button pops off the landing page form.

What could be A/B tested:

  • The headline is pretty bland. “Domo for online marketers” doesn’t really encourage or inspire the visitor to read and engage the rest of the page.
  • The logo is linked to the homepage, where users can escape to by clicking it.

21. Tilden Tasks

This picture shows marketers why Tilden Tasks has one of the best landing pages you'll find online.

What they did well:

  • The headline is compelling, offering readers “a secret.” We all want secret shortcuts to success.
  • The CTA is tailored to the offer.
  • A testimonial with full name, position, and company name makes this landing page more persuasive.
  • Short paragraphs and icons make the page more easily readable.
  • The CTA copy is tailored to the offer.

What could be A/B tested:

  • The logo is clickable and acts as a way off the page.
  • The footer contains links to blog posts and other pages on the site, which distract users from the offer.

22. NetSuite

This picture shows why NetSuite has one of the best landing pages on the web that converts consistently.

What they did well:

  • A bright CTA button grabs prospect attention.
  • The word “Free” is used right in the call-to-action.
  • Small chunks of copy quickly communicate the benefits of using NetSuite.
  • Testimonials complete with names, titles, and companies are as credible as they get.
  • Authority badges from industry leaders boost NetSuite’s authority.
  • Multiple CTAs give prospects more than one opportunity to convert.
  • The CTA is written in first person: “Start my free product tour” instead of “Start yourfree product tour.”
  • Badges at the bottom of the page showcase awards that NetSuite has won.

What could be tested:

  • The headline is vague. What’s a 360 degree customer view? Prospects only find out after playing the video. But they may never make it to that step.
  • Calling out an opponent by saying “Netsuite delivers what can’t” comes across as juvenile.
  • The content of the video could just as easily be presented in bulleted text on the page.

23. Bridgeline Digital

This picture shows marketers why Bridgeline Digital has one of the best landing pages you'll find online.

What they did well:

  • The text “Web Solutions for 1,000+ Partners” leverages the persuasive power of social proof.
  • Company logos highlight the brands that Bridgeline has worked with.
  • Bulleted copy describes the content of the report.
  • The word “Free” capitalizes on our inherent desire to get something for nothing.

What could be A/B tested:

  • A clickable logo serves as a way off the page.
  • The CTA button color blends in with the form.

24. Capital Rehab Group

This picture shows marketers why Capital Rehab Group has one of the best landing pages you'll find online.

What they did well:

  • The logo isn’t linked to the homepage.
  • “Free” is mentioned multiple times on the page (they even pay shipping costs, too, so there is no cost whatsoever).
  • The dark blue arrow serves as a visual cue pointing to the CTA.

What could be A/B tested:

  • The video is long, over 4 minutes — and on top of that, it’s not very compelling. It’s essentially a slideshow of text.
  • The footer has an exit link to Capital Rehab Group’s homepage, which distracts from this landing page’s goal (to get the free DVD).

25. Business Software

This picture shows marketers why Business-Software has one of the best landing pages you'll find online.

What they did well:

  • Bulleted copy quickly communicates the benefit of downloading this report.
  • The photo gives you an idea of what you’re going to get after you click the CTA button.
  • The CTA button color pops off the white page.
  • The word “Free” is mentioned several times on the page.

What could be A/B tested:

  • A clickable logo underneath the CTA gives prospects a way off the page.
  • The long form might be a pain for prospects to fill out.

How will you create your best landing page?

Which of these landing pages do you idolize? Which tips will you take? Which great landing pages did we miss?

Let us know in the comments, then begin creating your own landing page using one ofInstapage’s 100+ fully customizable templates.

Direct mail marketing is considered the most trustworthy marketing by recipients, so why wouldn’t they trust your direct mail? There are actually many of reasons for this. We will focus on the top five reasons, as they are the most common.

1. Superficial/Unbelievable Content

People don’t want to be misled. It makes them very angry. Your message is your brand promise — it cannot be vague or open to interpretation. This also includes over promising — bait and switch tactics are very bad.

How To Fix It: People buy from companies they believe. Be direct and specific with your headlines, calls to action and copy. Be realistic with your statements and promises. Authentic and direct messaging is the best way to build trust. Do what you say and say what you do. Under promise and over deliver is your best bet.

2. Too Busy

You have included too much information for them to process. It’s too hard to figure out what they need to do. It gives them a headache just to look at it. It appears that you are trying to throw information at them and may be hiding something in all that copy they don’t want to read, so they throw it away.

How To Fix it: Use less copy with bullet points for a quick scan. Be specific in your call to action on what you want them to do and why they should do it. Use fewer images and make sure that they work with not only your branding, but also with the copy and tone of your message. Clear and compelling messaging is necessary to make the right impression. You only have a few seconds before you end up in the trash.

3. Dated

When was the last time you updated your design? If you have been sending direct mail for years, many times the control piece ends up being the same as it was in 1995. That’s not good. The impression you give with an outdated look isn’t nostalgic — it’s suspicious. This can be especially true of letters. Don’t be an old school form letter. You will end up in the trash.

How To Fit It: Check your copy for out of date wording. Does it flow like 2016 language or do you need to change it? Look at your competition. How does your direct mail compare to theirs? Make sure you have relevant information — these days information gets old quickly.

4. Fonts

The fonts you use reflect on your company brand. Fonts that are hard to read or super small sizes elicit suspicion. What are you trying to hide? There is no reason to create suspicion with your fonts. All caps fonts are hard to read as well. This will end up in the trash.

How To Fix It: Use easy to read fonts. This doesn’t mean you have to stick with Times Roman or Arial — get creative. Do not use all caps in your copy. While it’s fine to use smaller font sizes for less important information, there is no reason to use a 6pt font size on your direct mail. Keep in mind when sending mail to older adults, they appreciate larger font sizes because it makes it easy for them to read. Be simple and straight to the point.

5. Testimonials

When your testimonials come across as fake or shady, you have a real problem. Vague wording and people from random small towns are not believable.

How To Fix It: Your testimonials should include a name, a picture and specific details about your product or service. Use only real ones— don’t fabricate. Ask people to provide you with feedback you can use.

These are a few of the most common ways direct mail can be seen as untrustworthy. Gimmicks to get people to respond will backfire on you. Authentic and direct messaging is the only way to engage people and get them to trust you. People buy from people and companies they trust.

Have you seen other ways direct mail has gone bad?

I’ve been thinking about emotions more than usual lately. Maybe it’s the type of direct mail I’ve been reading lately that sparked it.

Or maybe it was all of the great discussion around Carolyn Goodman’s webinar that my colleague Thorin McGee wrote about the other day. In case you missed it, she talked about the emotional buy-in of some voters during the current election season.

Swedish direct marketing entrepreneur Axel Andersson and Seattle direct marketer Bob Hacker identified the seven key copy drivers that persuade people to buy a product or service, or to join a cause. They are:

guilt, flattery, anger, exclusivity, fear, greed and salvation.

For years, I’ve been keeping a spreadsheet of which of these appear in the long-term controls I track for Who’s Mailing What! Flattery and greed are the two most commonly used. They figure prominently in Denny Hatch’sThe Secrets of Emotional, Hot-Button Copywriting, a report that focuses on the seven great ones

But there are other drivers that also deserve a moment in the sun. Inanother book, Hatch identified twenty-one additional motivators that can also lead to action. Here are three of them, with examples of how I’ve seen them used in the mail.

1. Love

I’m surprised that I don’t see more mail that really taps into one of the most basic of human emotions. But some marketers, like Danbury Mint, are good at it. This mailing for a “Midnight Spell Necklace” spells it out on the front of the outer: “this holiday season Romance Her Heart with a gift from yours.”

The brochure inside tells of a Polynesian legend that says a black pearl was meant to be a sign of “eternal love”. In the necklace, the pearls “add mystique and glamor to the woman who wears them.”

2. Better Health/Physical Well-Being

This can take many forms, depending on the audience. Maybe it’s a gym, a weight loss program, fitness equipment, or or a diet supplement. In this case, it’s content delivered by a newsletter, Consumer Reports On Health, in a magalog.

“Healthy or Not Healthy?” the headline asks, then teases “21 myth-busting facts to help you feel younger, stronger, healthier.” Fascinations (i.e., fascinating facts), phrased as questions, dangle just enough information to get the reader to turn to the pages inside for the answers.

3. Patriotism

Conveying a sense of national pride has strong appeal across the political spectrum. For example, it’s long been a staple for some non-profits to talk about helping those who have sacrificed so much for the security and liberty of their fellow Americans.

From a recent letter for the Blinded Veterans Association: “They put their lives on the line for our freedom and they deserve more.” “We invest a lot in military personnel,” it continues, “it’s time we all stepped up.” One note of caution: it’s important to maintain a proper tone of respect and good taste to avoid sending an inappropriate message.

There are other copy drivers worth considering, but regardless of what ones you use, either alone or in some combination, make sure that they support the rest of the elements of the mailpiece. To quote Bob Hacker, “If your letter isn’t dripping with one or more of these, tear it up and start over.”

To get your direct mail envelopes opened, rely on tactics both new and old, drawn from today’s mail. Join Who’s Mailing What!’s Paul Bobnak as he looks at examples of both fresh from today’s mail.

During a press call announcing an $788 million revenue increase today, Postmaster General Megan Brennan predicted that 2017 would usher in a new era for mail as a marketing vehicle. “We’re trying to [establish] mail as the focal point in an omnichannel marketing campaign. Mail works, we know that, and when you give print that digital reflection it enhances the likelihood of customer engagement,” Brennan said.

Brennan promised that a nationwide rollout of “digital mail,” or Informed Delivery, would be accomplished in 2017, integrating the contents of people’s mailboxes with their digital touch points. Informed Delivery, currently a pilot in Virginia and the New York metro area, sends morning emails to people containing pictures of the mail set to be delivered to them that day. The innovation promises not only to extend mail’s reach, but to open up a new channel of digital interactions for direct mailers.

An 11.4% increase in shipping and package volume–as well as the final contribution of the 4.3% exigent surcharge–led to a near doubling of “controllable income” for the U.S. Postal Service in its second quarter. That custom metric, which attempts to show how the USPS’s bottom line would appear minus healthcare benefits pre-funding, came in at plus-$576 million for the quarter. The agency’s official results showed a $2 billion loss, a half billion more than it lost in last year’s quarter due in part to additional labor costs attributed to the shipping business.

Mail volume overall held steady in Q2. Standard Mail declined by just under 1% at 42 billion pieces and First Class Single-Piece Mail dropped 2.3% to under 11 billion pieces.

Brennan continued to plead for passage of new postal reform that would re-establish the exigent surcharge as a permanent part of the rate base and allow integration of Medicare into retiree health benefits programs.

“Mail volume continues to decline, but the Postal Service is required to maintain an extensive network delivering six days a week,” she said. “Less volume and limited pricing flexibility means less revenue to pay for that network.”

Brennan remained optimistic that legislative relief might come this year, saying she looked forward to presenting her case before the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee tomorrow, where Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) will pick up discussion of postal reform for the first time since Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) introduced his revamped iPOST bill last year.

Let’s KISS.

You heard that right.

OK, you hear it from your significant other on a hopefully regular basis, but “Let’s KISS” can mean so much more.

Take your use of email subscriptions, or rather, your email unsubscribes. KISS isn’t only a romantic action, but for you as an email, product or service, or direct response marketer, knowing how to “Keep It Short and Simple” will help you maintain your email lists.

Why Do People Unsubscribe?

Email recipients generally cite several reasons for unsubscribing. These include:

  • They’re no longer interested in your products or services.
  • They’re receiving way too many emails.
  • They’re not interested in your content.

Create a Branded Landing Page

Ordinarily, your emails carry with them an unsubscribe link at the bottom. Subscribers just click on the link and they’re unsubscribed. Simple, right?

Why not create a meaningful branded landing page instead. You can actually retain more subscribers.

There are lots of ways to keep it simple and short when it comes to an unsubscribe landing page. Here are five keys to an effective landing page:

1. Set Up Preferences

Consider the use of preferences centers for email frequency, as well as the type of content to give subscribers a choice. This can be something like:

Marketer: “Hi there, do you really want to leave us?”
Subscriber: “Well, no, I’ll give you another chance.” This is making them have second thoughts.
Marketer: “Awesome! We thrilled you’ve decided to stay!”

You then provide them with the frequency of emails: daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly.

Jetsetter email

Jetsetter uses a grid to highlight email frequency.

Let subscribers select what types of emails they’d like to receive: sales, e-newsletters, company news, infographics.

J. Crew preference center

J. Crew gives the option of type of clothing.

Finally, let them update their email addresses if they wish. Make everything easy and obvious.

2. Make Your Unsubscribe Button Really Obvious

Many times, companies place their unsubscribe as a tiny link at the bottom of the email. Don’t let your subscribers have to search for thatteeny weeny link. Provide them with a stand-out unsubscribe button that takes them to a substantial landing page, which might just make them change their minds.

Vidyard unsubscribe link

Vidyard makes its unsubscribe link easy to find.

3. Use Humor

Short videos are a big deal these days. When your subscribers decide to make that ultimate decision of leaving, present them with a bit of humor. Take a page from Groupon’s playbook: On your landing page, include a short video of a person sitting at their desk. When they receive the word of the unsubscribe, that person is punished by a boss for annoying subscribers. This “Punish so-and-so” works because it interjects a layer of humor, which can keep subscribers because they don’t feel like they’re being begged to stay.

Groupon email preference center

Groupon’s “Punish Derrick” opt out landing page.

4. If They Want to Leave, Let Them

The last thing you want to do using the KISS method is to make people jump through hoops. If they want to leave, let them. Consider a landing page that provides them with specific product or service categories that may interest them. Convey that if they do choose to leave that they could lose out on valuable sales offers or they may not receive confirmation emails regarding any future orders.

Costco Unsubscribe

Costco allows subscribers to update their email addresses, as well as let them know what they’ll miss.

5. Make Sure That Subscribers Don’t Have to Log in to Unsubscribe

Nothing can make a subscriber more annoyed is to have to log in to unsubscribe. If they’re already irritated about your emails, this won’t help. You want to leave them with a positive image of your company because chances are, they may come back if you’ve provided them with a simple way to leave.

So remember KISS. If you always put that extra attention to your unsubscribe process, you’ll find that you will actually lose less subscribers.

During a recent lunch with an up-and-coming copywriter named Katie, she asked me for my No. 1 copywriting tip. Whoa, just one? Impossible. And we didn’t have time for a two-hour brown bag seminar, so … I promised I’d devote this column to the topic.

Here are nine of my favorite tips to create a roadmap for copywriters. Whether you’re new or experienced … B-to-C or B-to-B … sell hard goods or generate leads for intangibles, this column’s for you. (I’ve used this same roadmap to sell everything from hog sperm and bloodletting chairs to burial insurance, designer sweaters, PVC piping and chocolate. Tons of chocolate.)

1. Your Objective: Know Where You’re Going
What’s the upfront goal for your copy? Is it a phone call, a click to a landing page, mailing in a response or visiting a store? This is your call to action (CTA).

Know how your CTA fits into the “Big Picture” — aka business objective. Are you collecting data for future marketing? Making a direct sale? Building a base of followers? Generating qualified leads? Before you write copy, make sure you understand the business objective.

2. Your Audience: Meet Your Driver
Your targeted audience is the driver of everything you write. Make him or her your new best friend; if not forever, at least for the duration of your assignment. Gather demographics, psychographics, propensity to respond, buying objections and anything else you need to know to connect with this person.

Match this list to someone you know — a real person — who fits the description. Then create a copy conversation with this individual. It’s much easier to write to a real person than a marketing persona or group of nameless, faceless people. I call this the “Alice Wiens Approach” to writing copy.

3. Your Product or Service: Take the Road Less-Traveled
Start with the product information from your marketing team, merchandisers, product developers and engineers. But don’t stop there. Be on the lookout for little-known facts that separate your product from the competition’s.

Interview customers, salespeople and customer service staffers. Do competitive research. Read customer reviews. Try the product yourself. Gather details from many different angles. It’s better to have more information than not enough. Then prioritize based on your audience.

4. Offer: Why Should I Go There?
Too often, marketers (and copywriters) stop thinking about the offer after shouting, “FREE SHIPPING!” They think that’s all you need to say to get people to act. But copywriters who generate response know offers are more than just free shipping.

Your offer is everything you’re willing to give in exchange for response. It answers the question, “Why should I do this?” It also addresses buying objections and positions your brand. Make a list of everything included in your offer, then pick and choose the elements most likely to motivate your audience. This includes deadlines, a guarantee, limited anything, free whitepaper, response options, shipping options, free sample, free trial, live chat, customer reviews
and more.

5. Features vs. Benefits: Avoid Detours
Understand the difference between features and benefits, then focus on the latter. Features describe (and detour you from the good stuff). Benefits sell. They answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” It’s the old adage: “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.”

Tip: Engineers and product developers love to talk about features and product specifications. Don’t let them leave the room without helping you understand the benefit every feature provides your targeted audience.

6. Scanners vs. Readers: Follow the Signs
Every word written doesn’t get read. It’s more likely to get scanned — in seconds. But when a scanner connects with what we’ve written, the momentum builds for a click or call.
Make it easy for scanners to engage quickly with your copy. Provide signage that’s fast and easy to follow:

  • headlines
  • subheads
  • bullets
  • call-outs
  • photo captions
  • sidebars
  • Johnson boxes

7. Self-editing: Ditch Unnecessary Baggage
Edit after you’ve set your copy aside. Pronouns such as I, we, he and she are unnecessary baggage. (So is the word that.) People rarely read blah-blah-blah copy starting with a corporate we. On the other hand, the word you connects immediately with your reader.

Use you twice as often as I or we in marketing messages. And steer clear of referring to your audience in the third person. It’s an easy edit to replace he, she and they with you.

Before: We know from experience that every client is unique and deserves a retirement plan tailored to his or her individual situation, goals and objectives.

After: You’re unique. You deserve a retirement plan tailored for you and your goals. You’ve come to the right place to get started.

8. Hot Spots: Give a Guided Tour
You don’t want your scanner/reader to miss the main attractions, do you? Don’t leave anything to chance. Team up with your designer to create hot spots that guide your scanner to key selling points, major benefits and offer elements.

Move benefits to the front of sentences, paragraphs, subject lines, teasers and preheaders. Use type fonts, color, images, violators and Johnson boxes to attract attention. Put your most important copy in these hot spots, including your CTA.

Carbonite email with multiple calls to action9. Call to Action: Your Final Destination
Before digital, direct mail’s rule of thumb was to include the CTA someplace — at least once — on every mailing component. In today’s digital world, placement of your CTA and what you say in it are more than just housekeeping details.

The CTA needs to stop the scanner and provide a compelling reason to respond. If your copy scrolls, you need to include more than one CTA. And there’s no law saying your CTA must read LEARN MORE or READ MORE. Promise to deliver a benefit and you’ll get more clicks. For example: “Send FREE eCards,” “Show Me My Heatmap” or “Save 30%.”

It can be hard to convince a prospect that the service you’re offering them is worth it. But when you can immediately offer peace of mind with your direct mail, why not make it really obvious?

Mailer Name: LifeLock
Date Mailed: October 2015

Some direct mail packages mailed by LifeLock, an identity protection service, are a little guarded in their marketing. A closed face outer envelope with a single bit of teaser copy: “Enrollment Card and Information Enclosed,” a 2-page letter inside, and that’s it.

This mailing, though, shows a different face to the customer, presenting itself as an “OFFICIAL WELCOME KIT.” Below that heading is the good news: “Your Membership with LifeLock begins as soon as you call!”

An extra window sweetens the deal, showing a peel-off sticker that’s spot-glued to the letter inside. According to the copy underneath it, it’s supposed to ward off would-be thieves.

But it’s more than a warning. It’s a psychological boost to the customer’s well-being, much like the reflective decal AAA includes in its direct mail to reassure new members that their protection has immediately taken effect.

Another lift that helps the customer make the call is a buck slip that breaks out three testimonials that are taken from the company’s website. Their words are the same as in the closed-face package, but the point is made stronger: “They’re a lot like you.”  Also, on the other package’s letter, they’re black-and-white screenshots. Here, they’re in four-color.

The other side of the slip illustrates a typical ID alert, and repeats the call-to-action.

The Takeaway
If you can, try two different overall approaches — one simple, one elaborate — but with most of the same materials and for the exact same offer.

How do you engage direct mail prospects in your message? It’s a question that’s always in the back of my mind when I analyze mail for Who’s Mailing What! The easiest and hardest place to start with, if you’re mailing with envelopes, is the teaser.

Let’s put aside for the moment the never-ending debate of whether envelopes should even have a teaser. To quote copywriter Lea Pierce, “You have three seconds to live or die” as your mail is being opened.

So what makes a good one? I know, it’s a loaded question.

I compiled a list of about four dozen new teasers that engaged me right off the bat in 2015, especially once I saw that the message inside fulfilled my expectations.

In no specific order, here are seven of the top ten.

Sure, many insurance companies vow to save you money. GEICO is particularly good at this with much of its mail.

But what got me here was mixing type sizes so that the promise really stands out, and pairing it with a QR code that can be scanned to completely bypass the message inside. Or … you know … open the envelope anyway.

2. California College San Diego
This mailer also mentions money (“the income you deserve”) in the teaser as it flatters the recipient.

That tactic – tapping into the yearning for a better life – is pretty uncommon for college mail, even when the target audience is working adults. The letter and other components inside reassure the student that they can balance their responsibilities while achieving their goals.

3. Lifelock
It seems like every week brings news stories about financial, employment, or customer records being hacked from a variety of places around the world.

Lifelock leverages fear of identity theft in this membership effort by using the teaser to noting a healthcare records attack, and then go into more detail about the crimes (and their solution) on a buck slip inside the envelope.

4. Quantum Wellness Botanical Institute
Mention a “big” institution to some people, and you’re sure to get a negative reaction.

To customers of a natural supplements company, “Big Pharma” is part of an establishment that opposes them.The anger that’s present on the outside becomes a sidebar on the brochure inside, which focuses instead on selling curcumin.

5. Hillary for America/Cruz for President
Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz are two pretty different people, but their question is the same.

Maybe this will be the eventual matchup in the presidential race. In their letters, the two major party candidates lay out the challenges they each see for America and the stakes in the election as they try to rally support from donors.

6. Amnesty International
For decades, this human rights group has included generic notes in its fundraising appeals to win the release of political prisoners. This campaign is different.

The annual Write for Rights event is a recent development that focuses on specific cases. The black outer and the simple “WRITE A LETTER. CHANGE A LIFE” message are going to members who merely have to fill out one or all of the protest notes and return them with a donation..

7. Ocean Conservancy
I love direct mail that uses fascinations – little interesting factoids – to tease what’s inside. But this clickbait-like teaser is also irresistible.

I’m surprised this digital tactic hasn’t popped up more.  Here, it doesn’t result in disappointment or annoyance. The brochure inside cleverly devotes a page to each ocean fact. It directly directly supports the group’s mission to save ocean habitats and wildlife.

So, for many of these marketers and fundraisers, the mail moment for their envelope has advanced past the three-second mark. But as with everything in direct mail, A/B testing will go a long way in determining a winner.

How about you? What teasers rock your world (or your customers), even if they’re a few years old? Please, let’s talk about it in the comments below!

If you send direct mail, periodicals or catalogs through the USPS, you took a hit in 2014 when the Exigent Surcharge was added to postal rates.

Yesterday, postage rates rolled back 4.3% on average. What are you going to do with that savings?

In response to the exigent increase in January of 2014, many mailers cut back on prospecting. It’s a common reaction very much like a decision to defer home maintenance in response to budget pains in our personal lives. Eventually, what’s deferred must get done and the cost is both higher and the work more extensive than if it hadn’t been neglected in the first place.

Now that it’s rolled back, here are 7 ideas to help make sure the 4.3% you got on April 10, isn’t squandered.

  1. Pick up where you left off. If you cut back on prospecting, expand your mail prospecting efforts now. Postage rates aren’t stagnant and this is only the 3rd reduction in USPS history. Knowing that postage will rise again, don’t lose the chance to prospect with the savings. This can be done smartly and more cost effectively than two years ago by using dynamic, weighted list additions that account for both the list score and the contribution to postal savings.
  2. Invest in data. Appending data you already collect can result in better segmentation strategies, deeper customer understanding and more effective personalization. Pull a segment into a test cell containing relevant messaging or offers that appeal to their specific profile.
  3. Personalize your mail. Take what you know of your customers and send them something that matters to them. Leverage the data points in your customer or subscriber file to create content that immediately strikes a chord. If you’re an insurance marketer, reference rates in the recipient’s city or state. As a horticulture marketer, you could suggest what seeds or plants will thrive in a specific geographic region.
  4. Be creative. Control packages get stale. What worked yesterday, doesn’t pull response like it used to – our changing times. If you’ve been mailing the same control to the same list without improved results, test mail campaign alternatives. Want to save an additional 2% on postage? The USPS is running a Tactile, Sensory and Interactive Mailpiece Engagement Promotion through August 31st. Pump up Your Print. Be innovative. Be bold. Do something you haven’t been able to afford and see if your response rates go up. Special inks, special coatings, die-cuts, interactive folds and reveals all increase consumer engagement with your mailpiece and the chance for you to seal the deal.
  5. Track your mailings. Full Service Intelligent Mail barcodes (IMb) provide an additional postage discount to Standard Flats and Commercial Letters. And, the codes can let you follow your mailing through the system—now you know how to staff call centers or retail stores. Integrated Mail Service Providers can also trigger email campaigns based on tracking information the USPS provides through use of IMb.
  6. Connect mail to mobile. Leverage your print program to drive increased online traffic. Consumers crave convenience. Smartphones are practically another human appendage. The most effective mail campaigns spark interest and then make it easy and fast to connect to something further—an online purchase. Make this happen with QR codes, image recognition, water-marks, or NFC (Near Field Communications).
  7. Test before Change. Changes or adjustments to your mail programs involve some risk. Mitigate this by testing carefully first. Do the testing now with this little extra money in your pocket. Make sure your mailings are efficient and cost effective; take heed of test results.

Postage prices won’t remain this low too long. You know that – right? So take advantage of them while you can.


Every year, Target Marketing completes an extensive Media Usage Survey, asking readers how they’re allocating the budgets, what media they’re favoring and more. What follows is data from the second section of the 2016 survey.

So where exactly is that money going? This chart breaks down each marketing channel (or “method,” because not all of the ways you can allocate budget today are what you’d call “media channels”) and whether spending is increasing, decreasing or staying the same in that channel, or if the respondent doesn’t use that channel at all. We added television ad spending for the first time this year, and the answer is pretty surprising.
3 Quick Spending Takeaways

  1. The Biggest Winners: More than half of respondents are increasing budgets on online advertising and social media engagement.
  2. The Most Popular Marketing Channel: Email, with 97 percent reporting they use it in some way.
  3. The Boob Tube: TV looks like it’s still seen as a “sucker’s bet” to many direct marketers.

What We See in the Channel Spending Trends
Looking at how marketers are adjusting their spending on these marketing methods, these five trends emerge:

1. Digital Is the Destination: When you look for the channels where the largest number of respondents are increasing budgets, especially the ones where a majority or plurality are increasing, you find online advertising, email, mobile, SEO, SEM, and social media engagement and advertising. That agrees with what we’re seeing in the broad category spending chart on Page 22, as well. Online marketing is where most of the growth is happening.

2. Direct Mail Holding Steady: About 25 percent of respondents are not using mail (last year, it was 22 percent), but 25 percent are increasing spending, too, and 44 percent are holding steady. That means 69 percent of users are holding mail spending steady or increasing it. When direct mail service providers say, “Mail’s in the mix,” this backs that up. The channel has a role, and our respondents are employing it.

3.  Mobile Is Confusing: Almost the same percentage of respondents are increasing budgets on mobile as there are those not using it at all. Only 27 percent of respondents are keeping budgets the same. When I look at the mobile spending stats, I always wonder what exactly respondents consider “mobile” spending vs., for example, Web spending that’s optimized for mobile, too. I suspect we’re seeing that play out here, as well. If most Facebook traffic comes from mobile, do you count a Facebook promoted post, even targeted at mobile users, as social or mobile? Some of the charts to come shed more light on this.

4. What’s Up With TV? This is the first time we’ve included TV ads in the survey in addition to DRTV, and I’m shocked both of those channels are seeing such limited use. I realize many old school direct marketers see TV as a money sink, but with the success of DRTV and increasing abilities to target TV ads, I was expecting higher usage numbers.

5. Few Respondents Are Decreasing Spend Anywhere. No channel is seeing more than 7 percent of respondents decrease its spending. Marketers are reaching to do more, not necessarily letting go of what they already do.

Numbers don’t lie, but they don’t tell the whole truth. This reality is all too familiar to marketers, who pull seemingly endless reports from multiple sources, only to have the data say different, and sometimes conflicting, things.

You have a whole bunch of reports — some pulled by the same person, some pulled by different folks. They seem like they are reporting the same concept, but the data doesn’t agree. Let’s take something as “simple” as daily revenues.

At first glance of two similar reports, it’s clear that the reports don’t look the same. They just LOOK different when you put them side by side. This might not be a deal breaker, but it certainly slows you down.

Worse yet, they don’t match. In this case, the total daily revenues in two different reports might show two different numbers. This can happen for a number of reasons:

Related story: Content Marketing Lacks Insight

  • One report is for new customers only, and the other is for all customers (I literally just came across this yesterday, and it was only because of a random question that I realized it.)
  • One report is gross sales and the other includes refunds that were processed yesterday.
  • One is from an outside vendor and one is from an internal resource, but their definitions for what they are pulling are different (sometimes, this is intentional to make their numbers look as good as possible.)
  • One report is based on cash billings, the other is based on GAAP rules.
  • Yesterday’s numbers change based on when you pull them — those familiar with GA (Google Analytics) and Adwords know what I’m talking about here.

The list could go on for pages. Regardless of how data-centric your role or organization is, it’s frustrating when two reports don’t match. And typically, if there are two reports that don’t match, there is a good chance there are numerous others that don’t, as well.

You want to be a more quantitative marketer. But these at-odds reports seem like more harm than good. Don’t despair. It’s possible to have an analytics program that provides real value, in a reasonable amount of time, with minimal back-and-forth. Here are six ways to get started.

Step 1: Define Your Reports Clearly
Start by gaining clarity on what a report is supposed to mean. This is easier said than done. Ask yourself: If the data doesn’t clearly roll up to a defined KPI, who cares? Once you’ve defined a report’s purpose, label it prominently as such, whether in the header, footer or somewhere else. You don’t need 37 footnotes in each report, but you shouldn’t assume that “people just know what this report is, because they’ve been looking at it for a while” either. Find a healthy balance between precise definition and annotation overkill.

Step 2: Validate Across Departments
Once your reports have been defined, share them across departments to ensure that they meet everyone’s definition of “truth.” This requires collaboration between marketing, IT and analytics. In some companies that’s three different people, in others it might be one (but hopefully it’s not zero!). When all involved parties have signed off, validate with your stakeholders. Make sure that the people running the reports are on the same page, and the people reading the reports know, and value, what they’re looking at.

Step 3: Audit Your Reporting Tools
Businesses often have too many reporting systems in place. I know of some marketers using GA, Omniture, Looker, VWO and Salesforce. Each department likes to pull “their” numbers from “their” system, and even then, different people in the same department sometimes pull from a different system because that’s what they are used to. The reports are then kept in Excel, Google Docs, on a network drive or on someone’s laptop. Determine which reports you actually need and which tools provide them. Standardize on solutions across the organization, and streamline your stack to only the systems that you really require.

Step 4: Designate an Owner
Now that everyone is on board, decide who owns your metrics. This is often the trickiest step, fraught with organizational, technological and political challenges. But while it’s not easy, it’s critical: Successful analytics programs are almost always centralized.

I work with several companies that have multiple different reporting tools in place, or at varying levels of implementation. None of them has a true owner of reporting, analytics and data integrity. Several people are involved in these projects, so it’s not for lack of resources, but it’s also about the right resources being deployed. In my opinion, the owner should be on the marketing team or analytics team — but if it’s the latter, he or she has to be very closely aligned with marketing.

Step 5: Eliminate Bias
This often goes hand-in-hand with the steps listed above, but deserves its own call-out. Sometimes disparate versions of the truth are the result of people’s (natural) desires to make their numbers look as good as possible. For example, when it comes to attribution of orders back to media, someone may use first-click vs. last-click attribution to report numbers. Others may include view-throughs, as well (don’t get me started on that one). If you layer on how to map offline media to online orders, things get even messier. These issues can be made worse when the TV folks report to different people than the online media folks, or when the SEM person reports to a different part of the organization than the person running Facebook ads, even though both are focused on digital media.

Defining and validating reports and designating an owner go a long way toward mitigating these issues. But it’s cultural, as well. While it’s important for employees to be held accountable, make sure your data-driven ways don’t drive people to put their interests above the integrity of your data.

Step 6: Consider Outsourcing
Marketing data and analytics are only getting more complex. It’s okay — and frequently preferable — to keep your core competencies in-house and outsource the rest. Analytics and attribution experts abound. You have options. You can hire an end-to-end third-party service provider to pull and report on your numbers. Or bring in a strategic technology partner to help develop analytics and attribution models most applicable to your business. Many platforms streamline centralized, consistent reporting in a media-agnostic (and employee-agnostic) way, removing roadblocks at each point of the reporting process.

Caveat: Even if you outsource, someone internally still needs to own and define the metrics. And ultimately, you and your team will (and should) understand your business better than any third party; how you interpret the reporting and the actionable steps you take as a result of the analysis must remain an internal accountability. The ownership decision, however, becomes much less politically charged when the primary responsibility shifts to an external partner.

At the end of the day, props to those of you who are making strides to become more data-driven marketers. But if you have poor data integrity, you’re only a bit better off than those who don’t look at data at all. (That’s if you’re lucky — sometimes bad data is worse than no data.)

Numbers will never tell the whole truth. But when interpreted holistically, they can provide the basis for analysis that leads to more informed decisions and, ultimately, to better results.

We are still living through the aftermath of the Tower of Babel, though the main language of choice in the marketing, data and analytics industry remains English. Outside of the U.S., I speak at conferences and events in Korea, Brazil and the U.K. Even when I presented in Korean — with a PowerPoint presentation consisting entirely of English — I called data “Data,” though the pronunciation is more like “dei-tah” there. Korean business people love to say “Big Data” in English, though the meaning is quite different from what I am accustomed to. They use it with a much broader meaning than we do in America; they literally imply anything and everything related to data activities, small or big, raw or analyzed. Conversely, I have encountered groups of people in America who have a very narrow definition of it, whether it be about literal size, complexity or even specific platforms, such as Hadoop. I am sure each of you has a different notion of the word.

Recently, I participated in a retail conference in London regarding “Personalization.” I was a panelist, and I noticed they spelled the word “personalisation.” I didn’t want to argue about how funny that spelling looked among folks from a country where the English language was literally spawned, but what is the point of having the letter “z” in the alphabet if they are not using it for a clear “z” sound? In any case, they too seemed to be searching for the meaning of the word in marketing, as the very first question to the panel was “What does personalisation mean to you?” Not surprisingly, each panelist provided different answers.

Since then, I have been attending marketing and technology conferences quite diligently this season. While a great many panel discussions, industry tracks and keynote speeches were about personalization, I found that literally everyone meant different things by saying it. Unfortunately, some presenters were as confused as their audiences, and some were downright clueless (more on the subject of useless conference tracks in future articles). Yes, all of that popularity means “Personalization” is the next big thing after “Big Data,” and it truly reached the buzzword status. And that is really too bad for the users of data, technology and analytics.

Why? Because many users end up thinking that they are doing a good job at it, while in reality, they are only touching the surface. Such an attitude leads to investment in the wrong places, while other vital steps could be missed completely. It is not much different from patients in a placebo group thinking that they are taking the real trial drug. It is even worse than that in marketing, as users may have paid a good sum of money to check off that little box called “personalization.” The first blame should be on the service providers who overpromised the effectiveness of the toolset (as in “All your problems will be solved if you buy this!”), but the users must be more educated about it, too.

So, what does personalization mean to you? Allow me to list a few possible answers:

  • Addressing your customers by their first names?
  • Suggesting more of the same products that they just purchased through collaborative filtering?
  • Collecting explicitly expressed preferences and reacting to them?
  • Keeping in touch with your customers all of the time?
  • Customizing emails and landing pages based on customer preference?
  • Knowing when to contact them and through what channel?

I think we can safely agree that calling someone “Dear Jane” in an email isn’t the end of personalization. Suggesting more of the same products? Such practices, joined with “keeping in touch with customers all of the time,” often leads to “personally annoying your customers,” not necessarily personalization (refer to “Personalization Is About the Person”).

I happened to have caught a rather technical presentation (with a title that includes “personalization”) by a reputable provider of a personalization engine, and I was quite impressed with all of the complex and ingenious algorithms they applied to the effort. I am not a mathematician, and I do not mean to criticize those brilliant scientists about their efforts. But I must say that three out of four their steps were about products, not people, though they left a step for behavior-based segments. Presented segmentation methods and variable sets were not by any means at the level of as-good-as-it-gets, but adding behavioral segmentation is a very hopeful move, indeed.

Regardless of the complexity, stringing up related products together, using collaborative filtering, popularity hierarchy and/or clever methods to harness unstructured meta-data are still more about the product, not the consumers. People have an uncanny ability to smell machines, even through remote channels. Personalization definitely requires some human touches (or at least illusions of it), and that come from understanding the target’s current and past behaviors (refer to “Data Atrophy”).

So, what do marketers to do, if even the most advanced kind of personalization engines are still more about products, not people? We need to fill in the gaps with data and analytics. To get there, let’s first break down what personalization is made of:

  • Content
  • Delivery
  • Data
  • Analytics

I am a firm believer that every personalization (or any type of 1:1 messaging) must start with data. But for the purpose of being pragmatic, I reversed the order here.

Simply, if a marketer doesn’t have enough content that matches different types of customer demand and their personas, the effort will be pointless, even with an ample amount of data. Contents — literal and graphic — must be created with potential targets in mind, and they should be properly managed through DAM (Digital Asset Management) systems. We are talking about something far more organized than some memory sticks sitting in a desk drawer in a creative agency. For many marketers, this is “the” personalization effort, as content creation is an age-old marketing function, and effectively managing it is at the heart of digital marketing.

Then, the marketer needs to acquire the ability to show different contents to various types of customers. This is where all of those commercial solutions come into play. If it is about the website, is it modularized, so that various parts of the pages can be customized? If it is about email campaigns, can each email be tailored with different offers and feature products? If it is about offline campaigns, how flexible can versioning be? There are already supermarket chains that customize almost every coupon book with different binding sequences and contents. The ability to deliver customized messages to customers and prospects is a must-have, not an option, for any type of personalization initiative.

Next, are all of these efforts data-driven? What types of data are being used? Just product meta-data and product-level sales data? Or individual behavioral and demographic data? If so, are they just based on snapshot data of the present, or the person’s historical data, as well? Are product-, event- and transaction-level data summarized to an individual level for proper personalization?

That leads to analytics (and this “analytics” has many meanings, too). Are data converted to forms of segments or personas, or are the raw data still being plugged into the engine? The difference in effectiveness is huge, as even machines prefer clean and simple data. Further, even with ample amounts of transaction- or event-level data, we often find lots of huge holes in data when aligned around the person, as there is no way to know everything about everyone all the time. Such gaps should be filled with statistical models, while we often label those with different names, such as segments and personas. (This leaves yet more room for serious misunderstandings.)

Illustrated is a three-step approach to personalization, starting with installation of a commercial personalization engine. Then test-run the engine with simple segments, based on available data. After all, reacting to immediate customer needs and displaying different versions of content based on known explicit data is not simple or easy. That would still be more like “personalize contents only sporadically for some people through some channels.” To reach the stage of “personalizing content constantly for everyone through all channels,” event- and product-level data must be realigned around target individuals, and personas must be built to fill in the gaps (refer to “No One Is One-Dimensional”).

Personalization is definitely the most popular buzzword these days, though it means different things to a lot of people. What does not change is that this movement is here to stay in the age of information overload, as marketers must stand out, for their survival, with relevant messages to ever-distracted consumers.

What we simply refer to as “personalization” is made of multiple components, and that is why many of us are confused by it. Therefore, we must aspire to reach a true personal level with our customers through a step-wise approach, not a single giant leap. Let us not make the mistake of calling the mere first few steps the whole thing, when more important data and analytics steps are not even in play yet.

An in-depth neuroscientific study sponsored by the Postal Service Inspector General’s office (OIG) found direct mail ads to be superior to those viewed online in eight out of nine categories. Digital ads seized the attention of consumers quicker, but physical ads held that attention longer, elicited a greater emotional reaction, and played a more direct role in ultimate purchase decisions.

Noting that advertising mail accounts for 31% of USPS revenues—some $20 billion last year—the OIG’s office partnered with Temple University’s Center for Neural Decision Making to provide the Postal Service with ammunition to promote use of the mails in multichannel marketing strategies along with digital methods. The results OIG received could end up making a reasonable case for marketers to consider anchoring their multichannel strategies around mail.

Temple showed a mix of 40 email ads and postcards to laboratory study subjects, using three monitoring methods to gauge the effects the ads had on them. Eye tracking measured visual attention; fingertip sensors monitored heart rate, respiration, and sweating to reveal emotional engagement; and MRIs performed scans to uncover deep brain activity.

Postcards were judged superior to email ads in four of nine ad attributes measured: engagement time, emotional reaction, recall, and building subconscious desire for a product or service. Email ads led in just one attribute: focusing a customer’s attention. The two methods tied in three areas (see box).

The MRI scans found that the postcards triggered the ventral striatum of the brain, the center of desirability and value. On that evidence, Temple researchers concluded that physical ads have a deeper and longer-lasting effect than digital ads on instilling desire for products and services.

Based on study results, the OIG offered these suggestions in making better use of direct mail in the marketing mix:

Test the piece for maximum reaction. Take neuromarketing a step further by doing your own studies to determine how specific elements of a direct mail piece—whether color, shape, or use of white space—elicits the best reaction from consumers.

Explore sequencing options. Neuroscience could also be used, says OIG, to determine the most effective sequence of media elements in a campaign. Does email followed by direct mail work best, or vice versa? Should other media such as television be included?

Consider digital print technology. Test whether using augmented reality or QR codes in mail pieces ramps up conversion rates in multichannel campaigns. A previous OIG study found that such methods resonated well with younger digital natives.

Similar results were handed down in a neuromarketing study undertaken in 2009 by Royal Mail in the U.K. It, too, found that physical media generated deeper brain activity than digital media.

What do you consider your greatest marketing problem? Or perhaps of even more interest: What do your peers report as their top marketing problems? And if you could, wouldn’t you want to know what channels your competitors report as working for them? I recently surveyed a few marketers with those questions, so today I share what’s on their minds, along with an analysis of those marketing problems and successful channels as we go into 2016.

First, the top five problems:

  1. “Finding new customers and reengaging the ones we have to buy again.”
  2. “Competitive pressure is relentless and we’re struggling to break out.”
  3. “Overwhelmed with channel choices and uncertain what channels to use.”
  4. “Marketing in general isn’t delivering like it used to.”
  5. “Profitability is too low.”

Next, the channels with the highest satisfaction:

  1. Email
  2. Websites/landing pages
  3. Facebook
  4. Video
  5. Direct mail

Combining these two topics, I offer this analysis in the form of three takeaways:

Takeaway No. 1
Problem No. 1, finding new customers, and No. 3, channel choices, are linked. If these two elements are your problems too, you may be limiting your profitability with the channels you’re using. The number of channel choices and the pace at which they evolve is dizzying. You need to be knowledgeable about them (or find someone who can untangle them for you). You may need to venture out into the unknown. As they saying goes, you need to “meet your customers where they are.” If they’re on a channel you’re not using, then you likely suffer from difficulties in finding new customers and reengaging past customers.

Now, let’s overlay these problems with the channels where your peers report satisfaction.

  • The marketers who I heard from are satisfied with email marketing. If you’re not happy with your email marketing results, maybe it’s time to more aggressively A/B test new approaches to identify winners. Don’t forget the importance of your landing page to close deals.
  • Consider A/B testing of video on your landing page and evaluate its impact on conversions. Or test a long-form video sales letter. A well-done video can create greater comprehension.
  • Have you tried Facebook remarketing? Promoted posts? Are you engaging your followers frequently, with meaningful content, tocreate raving fans? Once you build Facebook followers, you have to continue to deliver meaningful content before you see results.

Takeaway No. 2
Problem No. 2, competitive pressure, and No. 4, marketing not delivering like it used to, can also be linked. How do you break away from your competition? You may need to re-examine your unique selling proposition, and then reposition your product or organization.

Have you conducted a competitive analysis? Research what your competitors are doing online and the channels they are using. Document your findings, then make a list of the top five things they’re doing that you’re not and test new approaches.

Takeaway No. 3
Problem No. 5, low profitability, reveals that you need to find lower-cost channels, or make a higher-cost channel like direct mail work better. Another possibility: reevaluate your offer and price. The top three channels where marketers are satisfied (email, websites and Facebook) are typically less expensive than direct mail, but require ongoing content development. Video doesn’t have to be expensive, especially if you’re able to use customer-generated video for testimonials.

If profitability is lower than you want, now is the time for two tests: One is to invest in lower cost channels. The second is to test new creative and/or production values in direct mail to either increase response, or lower your cost per response.