According to the American Gaming Association, about 40M U.S. sports fans fill out 70M+ March Madness brackets each year. To put that in perspective, that’s more than the number of votes placed in the 2012 U.S. presidential election.

March Madness brackets challenge participants to predict which NCAA basketball team will win and advance forward toward the final national championship–and is a tradition in the U.S. that goes all the way back to 1947.

All this talk of brackets and March Madness got us thinking about using this same approach but in the context of A/B testing emails. Let’s look at how you can emulate March Madness brackets with A/B testing to produce an ultimate email marketing champion.

A March Madness approach to A/B testing emails

Within Campaign Monitor, you can A/B test specific elements within your email campaign including things like subject line, From name/address, layout, and email content.

So, if you were using a bracket-style approach, you’d probably want to test a number of different elements. In this post, we’ll focus on three different tests to pinpoint an email champion. Let’s start with the subject line.

Sweet Sixteen: Email subject line tests

The subject line of your email is a good starting place for A/B testing because it’s the first piece of your email that your audience encounters. Think of it like the Sweet Sixteen round of your bracket.

Without a compelling subject line, open rates can suffer–which is why you need to focus on finding the most effective version you can. In the subject line of your email, you can test various different approaches, like:

1. Personalization vs. non-personalization

Emails with personalized subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened, so it’s absolutely worth testing to see how personalizing can affect engagement.


2. Subject matter

You’ll want to test different topics to see what is most relevant and interesting for your audience. This could mean testing one version focused on new, just-released products versus one version focused on a new collaboration with an influencer, for example. Or, maybe you want to see how including emoji in your subject line would affect opens? Growth Hackers recently began using emoji and is seeing some interesting results.

3. Promotions

It’s also a good idea to A/B test types of promotions in your subject lines to see which ones get your readers to open your email messages. You might try a 20% off promotion versus a free shipping one to see which earns a higher open rate.
Once you’ve conducted these A/B tests to find the winners, it’s time to move on to the ‘From name’ of your email for the next round of competition.

Elite Eight: ‘From Name’ and address of your email

The ‘From name’ of your email is kind of like the Elite Eight stage in your bracket–the competition is getting more intense during this stage.

The name and email address your email campaign comes from helps the recipient decide if he or she wants to open your email, so testing different ‘From names’ and email addresses will help you discover which combination is most effective with your audience.

Again, it’s a good idea to test this aspect of your email before diving into different versions of email content as these elements are also gatekeepers for open rates–and before you vary content, you should try to overcome your obstacles to open rates.

Think about how the sender name and email address reflect your relationship to the customer, and test different versions, such as:

‘From name’ variations:

• The first name of an individual from within the company that the recipient would recognize
• Your company name
• The product your campaigns are about
• A combination of an individual’s first name and the company name, like ‘Kim at Campaign Monitor’

Email address variations:

• A general email address, like [email protected]
• A personal email address, like [email protected]
• A service-specific email address, like [email protected] source

From name A/B test

You could also consider testing a personalized version of your email that’s sent from a person within your company versus a more generalized, company-based message. Here’s what we mean:

Some companies use a personalized message that pivots on a relationship-based message from an actual team member to notify subscribers when a new blog post is released (in place of a summary of the post sent from a general company email.)

We wanted to see if this approach worked well for our audience, too. We tested an email around one of our new blog posts with a personal approach from Aaron Beashel, a member of the Campaign Monitor team. This From name/address and personal touch was tested against a more general Campaign Monitor blog summary email (which is the format we had been using in the past.)

Here are the two campaigns so you can see the difference:

A/B testing your email campaign

Personalized A/B split test

Now, in our A/B test, we didn’t find that this tactic created a noticeable increase in conversions, but we still consider it a win. Why? Because it helped us learn more about our audience and what they want (or don’t want) from us in an email setting. That’s the beauty of A/B testing.

Once you’ve conducted various A/B tests that help you narrow down the best ‘From name’ and email address to send from, you can start thinking about testing different versions of your actual email content.

The Final Four: Testing different email content

At this stage in your bracket-style A/B email testing, you’re fine-tuning your campaign and are getting close to finding an ultimate champion. However, you still have lots of different options for testing elements in this stage, so don’t race to the finish line–take the time to find the version that’s a true winner.

Within your email content, you can A/B test different elements like:

1. Section titles: Varied subject matter, length, and text treatment
2. Article length: Full version in email or using an excerpt with link to full version on your website
3. CTA buttons vs. links: Testing different CTAs within the email body
4. Header images: Including or not including header images, different types of header images
5. Dynamic content: Different content for subscribers based on what you know about them
6. Templates: Testing various different templates and finding out which readers respond to best

When you’ve pinpointed the most effective version of your email, it’s time to crown the champion who ultimately lands in the middle of the bracket–the big winner.

The Champion

You did it! Your A/B testing found your email champion! In a basketball context, you could expect confetti, t-shirt cannons, and collectors hats but for email, your celebration may include increased opens, click-throughs, and revenue.

Regardless of how you celebrate the ultimate email campaign, you can be proud of the effort you put in along the way. You’ll have learned valuable lessons about your email audience and what they want from you–and you’ll very likely have boosted the ROI of your email marketing efforts. Now there’s a cause for celebration.

Wrap up

Putting a March Madness spin on your email A/B testing is a great way to strategically improve your efforts any time of year, so don’t wait to let the competition begin. We challenge you to try this out and see what immediate results you get as a product of A/B testing.