How's "Free" Working For Ya?

E-mail is the great leveler for small and medium-sized businesses. E-mail gives small companies the ability to compete against the big boys. But one of the advantages that large companies have is the ability to test, test, test.

A/B testing, where the performance of one piece of creative is compared to another, can be costly. So I thought it would be beneficial to help some of you small guys out there with some "free" advice.

And "free" is exactly what we'll be looking at. I punched the word into the subject line analysis tool that is part of E-mail Analyst to see what would pop up. After all, conventional wisdom says you should never put "free" in the subject line, as it's a tip-off for spam filters.

Well, guess what? I got over 28,000 e-mails back from the query, or almost 5% of the E-mail Analyst database. We need to drill down further to see if "free" is working.

I made an assumption. If a particular subject line is working, a direct marketer is going to keep using it. If it doesn't work, its use will be short-lived. Let's run that through the tool. I started with a brand called "Product Test Panel." Yesterday the company sent out an e-mail with the subject line "Get a Free Samsung 42" TV." I put "Free Samsung 42" TV" into the Subject search and got the following result:

Obviously a "worker," that subject line has been used for over a year by Product Test Panel with some minor variations to spice things up:
"Get a Free Samsung 42" TV"
"Want a bigger TV? Get a Free Samsung 42" TV"
"Bob, Get a Free Samsung 42" TV"

So now the question is, is this the only kind of subject line this company uses, or does it vary things anymore? It turns out that Samsung is not the only brand that gets attention in this way.

More examples:
"Lauren, keep in touch with all your friends on your new BlackBerry"
"Get your new Sony Viao before time runs out"
"Hewlett Packard Laptop for free (17'' display)!"
"Get a $500 gift card for Free. Pick a store in your area"
"Diana, Get both the PSP and Nintendo DS for Free!"

Hmmm. Lots of free stuff here.

How about this one: "Get A Free Ringtone" That line, with various variations, has been popular for months with a number of companies.

It seems if you are in the ringtone business, "free ringtones" is just want you want in the subject line, but there are lots of variations on the theme here. Take Jamster as an example. Here are some of their other subject lines:
"Hook up your cell with a hot new ringtone"
"Get A Complimentary Ringtone" (nice change there)
"Get the Latest Ringtones Now" And the ever-popular "Free Ring Tone": says it all right there.

Let's do one more:

"$35 paid survey for you plus free vacation" is a subject line used by Panda Research. It seems to have worked. We trace it back at least 6 months. But other lines have been popular:
"Make $50 dollars In 10 Minutes"
"Make Money In Your Spare Time with Panda Research"
"Get Paid Up To $5 to $35 For This Survey"
And "Exclusive Paid Survey--Get Cash on Sign Up"

For small and medium-sized business, this type of "free" research is worth its weight in gold.

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