I found some interesting test results presented by MarketingExperiments, an Internet-based research lab. They did a side-by-side test of an all-copy email vs. an almost all-image email to see which would perform best. The long-standing control was the copy-only email, and it had been wordsmithed quite a bit with time and testing. The MarketingExperiments team hypothesized that holding a newspaper in your hands and reading it was a physical experience (not a cerebral one), and showing the actual paper might prove more attractive.
Before they released the results, they asked people to guess which version had won. I predicted the “all-copy” version would win. I originate from an art direction roots, but have been convinced over the years through experience, that copywriting usually can outpace image.
I was wrong. The image-heavy version outperformed the control in click-through by 21%, and in overall conversion by 29%. However, they were selling a subscription to a newspaper. The all-image version showed how attractive this newspaper actually was. And the offer was SIMPLE — Save 50% — easy to visualize and easy to understand.
What if a product is more complex than a daily newspaper? What if it has a long sales cycle? What if it is more conceptual and less tangible? Will images still be able to out-perform copy?
In poetry, the common aphorism, is “Show don’t tell.” If poetry uses words to illustrate, so can our marketing efforts. Determine whether it's an emotional sale or a rationale sale. I like to think: emotional = show; rational = tell.
An example of Show AND Tell: Purchasing a membership for AAA emergency roadside assistance is a simple concept, but it's a complicated product with LOTS of benefits and opportunities to “tell the story.” This is BOTH an emotional AND a rational sale. The more copy you include, the higher the response rate. BUT, we also show images of people with broken-down cars by the side of the highway, people taking vacations to gorgeous locations with their families, and, if we can segment our target audience into groups such as “Moms” or “Seniors,” show a photo of Mom driving the car full of kids.
An example of Tell: Virtualization Services. Try to convince an IT expert that there is an advantage to taking the data off a physical server — which he can see and monitor on-site—vs. placing it in a virtualized environment (which literally means “a simulation of reality”). That is a sale that needs lots of copy! A chart comparing productivity between the two methods would be effective, but showing an image of a cloud would not.
Herschell Gordon Lewis is famous for saying “Every word is a weapon.”
If you have ever done any serious creative testing, you quickly realized that every element can be a potential weapon. With one client SIGMA simply changed the offer from downloadable free software to a drawing for an Apple iPad, and our response rate jumped from less than 1% to almost 8%!
Some great closing observations by the test team at MarketingExperiments:
“In choosing images and copy, we should always be asking ourselves three questions:
1. Can what I am saying with copy be better stated with images?
2. Can what I am saying with images be better stated with copy?
3. How can I bring these two elements together?”
“The more you test, the better you’ll get at predicting to what your audience will respond best.”