B2B email marketing: plain text or HTML?

We’re all looking for sales opportunities and getting new business in through the door is just not that easy!

So, if you’re considering email marketing, or you already use email marketing, you might well be thinking: “What’s going to get our emails noticed and acted upon?”, “What’s going to get the most clicks to our website?”, and they’re good questions to ask.

The thing to remember with email marketing is that it’s a ‘DISRUPTIVE’ marketing channel. That means that the recipients of your sales emails have not asked for you to send them an email. So, if you send them something that looks like you’re trying to sell to them, they’re more than likely going to ignore it or unsubscribe.

Think about your inbox and the emails you receive. Any email with lots of pictures and logos, coming from a ‘do not reply@…’ or ‘The marketing department’ email address, means one thing – they’re about to try and persuade you to buy something from them.

But…if you’re selling an expensive product or service, or what we refer to as a ‘high value consultative sale’, then the email needs to work hard for you. It will be more successful if you pique the interest of the recipient with some personalisation, a clever subject line and informative, pertinent and interesting content.

And remember too, it’s NEVER about you, it’s always about the customer and what they want, their pain or their needs! That IS the basic rule of marketing.

In a recent email test for a client we pitched a well-designed HTML email with nice graphic images, against a text only email to see which performed the best.

Apart from the visual presentation, the email address used, subject line and content of the email was the same, with the same number of identical links in each.

We split a pool of ‘warm’ email data 50:50 and sent to each of the lists at exactly the same time.

And the results?

In all key metrics, the text only email performed better than the HTML version:

Opens: 378 text only vs 355 HTML – similar due to having the same subject line.

Clicks: 76.8% text only vs 23.3% HTML – much higher engagement on the text only email.

Unsubscribes: 14% less on text only vs HTML.

Deliverability as a whole was  better on the text only email much with lower bounce rates.

Many people believe a HTML version will win the day because it looks ‘pretty’. However, as you can see above the text only email outperformed the HTML version by no small margin.

Is it really that simple?

In a word, no!

So, what’s the best strategy for email marketing success?

Like any marketing channel, the content needs to be right for the specific channel. Just like a poster on a main road needs to be very different to a radio ad, an email needs to be just right too. Well-targeted, with content relevant to the audience, and crucially, the content needs to be interesting and very well written. And that’s not something anyone can do – it really is a difficult skill to learn.

Keep your emails short, pertinent, helpful and to the point, sprinkle them with a few relevant links here and there to encourage engagement, and you’ll enjoy greater success rates with your email campaigns.

Oh, and one more thing, do remember it’s never about you, it’s about what the email recipients want!

Finally, if you’d be interested in a chat about how email marketing might work in your business, we’re always here to have a conversation and share our experience.