Two key insights: placing a personâ€™s name in an email subject line increases open rates (by 20% in this case). And sending fewer emails appears to be more effective than a heavier load.
The test centered on the â€œTournament Challengeâ€ on ESPN.com, where fans log-in to offer their predictions and fill out brackets for the NCAA hoops event.
ESPN uses â€œTournament Challengeâ€ less as a revenue driver and more as a way of â€œdriving engagement,â€ Ude said.
Goals were to build participation and prevent people from losing interest as the tournament continued.
To participate, people have to sign up at ESPN.com â€" and receive a user name and password â€" so itâ€™s an opportunity for ESPN to build its email database.
Ude said registered fans are seven to eight times more valuable to ESPN.com than â€œregular fans.â€
With the test, Ude said ESPN found that when â€œwe personalize and put the personâ€™s first nameâ€ in an email message, engagement increased. The open rate was 20% higher than normal -- â€œso thatâ€™s something weâ€™re toying with.â€
While â€œTournament Challengeâ€ may not boost revenues, it does have a halo effect for ESPN. Some emails look to drive people to NCAA-related video on ESPN.com, where video ads draw high prices (CPMs).
ESPN also experimented by sending a sub-group of 50,000 fans three emails, while the rest received two.
Ude said people that received two messages had â€œhigher engagementâ€ than those getting three.
â€œWe may have actually seen a negative impact by sending too many emails, so thatâ€™s something we will look at in the future,â€ she said.
Separately, on customer lifecyle management, Ude said ESPN is investing heavily to â€œenable dynamic content and reporting,â€ and will do more tests around that.