This sponsored post is produced in association with MailChimp.

If you’re buying a new car, you don’t just walk into a dealer and open up your checkbook when you see a vehicle that has a pretty color. You do your research, look for the best price, but also carefully evaluate the features and specifications that you want — and finally jump in with the salesperson for a test drive to see how it handles in real-world situations.

If you regularly do that when you’re buying something important, then why would you create a pricey marketing campaign and send it out in the world without a similar tryout process?

Collateral damage

The fact is, a lot of marketing departments do just that, putting their budgets at risk with untested campaigns. The smart ones, though, are staying abreast of cutting-edge marketing tactics and taking advantage of the latest technology, using multivariate testing to help them quickly and easily figure out what email content works most effectively with their audience.

Another way to put this? At a time when email volume has increased by almost 25 percent year over year, you simply can’t afford to not be testing and determining what will make your customers click.

A/B testing has been the norm in online/email marketing for a long time, where a company does a comparison between two different approaches to figure out which is more popular. Multivariate testing takes that to an extreme, enabling a marketer to try out different combinations of content – as many as eight different campaigns simultaneously — to determine the version that gets the most attention and activity. From there, using the “better” campaign should bring the best results, leading to improved return on your time and resources investment.

Multivariate testing platforms like MailChimp enable you to alter the content, trying such things as:

  • different headlines with varied wording and word counts
  • different design elements/layout
  • different subject lines
  • different times of day or different days for sending out emails

You can then easily measure how each of these changes affects the results – and it can be dramatic. You get a breakdown of how each combination is pulling — gauged on open rate, click rate, revenue generated, or any other data you feel is more indicative. You can then follow that by expanding the audience and running the “best” promotion, conceivably generating the largest returns across your entire consumer base.

What makes your audience click?

The key is to alter different variables in your testing, and multivariate testing gives you the ability to try out different permutations, determining what will impact your open rate the most.

For example, you may find that your audience is more likely to open your email when there’s a specific person’s name on the “From:” line instead of your company name (maybe you’ve established a “personality” as the face of your brand). Or an emoji in the email’s subject line may make it more likely that they’ll read the piece over a plain-text subject.

Time of day/day of week can also impact open rates depending on your specific product and audience behavior. Will recipients be more likely to engage if it’s sent at 10am or 6pm…Wednesday or Friday…Wednesday at 10am or Friday at 6pm?

Similarly, you can test which call-to-action graphic performs better by analyzing how the click rate varies from one to the next (and what was clicked on). Perhaps a particular color scheme within the content inspires your audience to tap the mouse button more, an animated GIF drives more clicks than a static image, or recipients respond more to linked text over a linked image.

Separating the wheat from the chaff

You can collect all the data you want, but it doesn’t actually help you much if it’s not coupled with detailed analytics. Multivariate testing will undoubtedly generate plenty of valuable data, and the software breaks out all of those results into rich reports you can use to compare the campaigns being tested.

You’ll get to see how many users opened your email, what they clicked on within the email, and how much they purchased as a result of the campaign mailer, as well as how many emails bounced, how many generated unsubscribe requests, the number of times your email was reported as spam, and more.

It’s also critical to get information on whether users shared the email, if there was social interaction (such as Facebook likes), and if the email spawned subsequent conversations between customers and staff. If the intended recipient forwarded your email to others, you’ll also see how many times it was forwarded and how those pass-along recipients interacted with your email.

Ask and ye shall receive

You’ll only know what works if you “ask” your audience, and multivariate testing becomes your own private focus group to decide what your users prefer versus what they don’t (with a much lower price tag than watching a random group chatter and eat pizza for a few hours from behind a one-way mirror).

Because your audience changes organically over time, multivariate testing is a vital tool that should be used to keep up with the wants and needs of your audience. But there’s only one way for you to know for sure how your audience will react: Give multivariate testing a try, and see if you can spark a dramatic improvement in your marketing efficiency. It’s worth a test drive.