I can’t remember where she lived. Or how she made a living.
But I do remember how funding my first Kiva loan (to a woman in Peru) made me feel.
If you’re not familiar with Kiva, it’s an immensely popular micro-lending organization that helps low-income entrepreneurs across the world.
There’s a certain magic you experience when you fund your first loan. You’re able to see exactly how your money will make a difference in someone’s life; whether it’s helping them buy feed for livestock or rebuild a crumbling warehouse.
My wife and I have been lending through Kiva for about seven years now. So when I had a chance to help the non-profit improve its email re-engagement campaigns, I was thrilled to take on the challenge.
But this project didn’t turn out at all like I expected. You see, I had a lot of test ideas that focused on segmentation and different types of emotional messaging.
And yet, what actually pulled in the biggest ‘win’ wasn’t any heart-jerking emails or complex segmentation campaigns.
It was a whole lot simpler than that.
I’ll get back to this in a minute, but first…
Here’s the problem Kiva wanted to solve:
Most Kiva users fund a loan, get repaid and then fund another. That’s because they experienced that ‘magic’ I referred to earlier.
But there’s a small number of folks who don’t relend their balance right away, so their money just sits in their account. Sometimes, for months.
And of course, Kiva wants its lenders to be as engaged as possible. Or at the very least, be aware that they have money still in their accounts.
So after 60 days, these ‘inactive’ folks are sent a series of re-engagement emails to remind them that those funds are available. Here’s an example of one of them, which served as the control for our email marketing tests:
Subject: Relend your $25
Our job was to test out new e-mail messaging that would encourage these folks to relend their money.
At first, I was confident that more targeted messaging — reflecting why they tried Kiva in the first place — would generate the best results.
But in fact, it was actually a very simple email that came out as the clearest winner. Here it is:
Subject: In case you forgot…
Results from the A/B test:
Increase in Unique Opens:32%
Increase in Unique Clicks: 32%
Increase in Action Rate: 33%
(statistical significance of 99%)
Increase In Overall Loan Volume: 18%
It was a clear ‘win’ for our variant. But here’s where it gets interesting:
To get this win, we didn’t have to significantly change the main message that was being said — we only really changed how we said it.
Let me explain…
It All Started With A Little Research
After gathering input from Kiva lenders through an email survey, I hypothesized that there were three main barriers that were preventing folks from relending:
- feelings of being overwhelmed by decisions on who to lend to
- not having time to make a proper decision on which loan to support
- an incorrect belief that they would be charged some kind of admin fee
And so based on that information, I began forming hypotheses on how to re-engage past lenders.
We tested a variety of messages using strong emotional appeals. This included leveraging urgency as well as sending segmented emails (based on past lending patterns) to make the decision to relend easier.
The results from these tests were pretty mixed. But we also tried a much simpler approach…
We stopped asking and started advising
Here’s what I mean by this:
It’s likely that some inactive Kiva lenders were tuning out all the emails that asked them to relend money. This was mainly because the audience had anxieties or concerns around relending (as touched on above).
So for these people, taking more of a customer service tone in the reminder e-mail would help them feel more comfortable about funding another loan. Because by doing this, Kiva is no longer telling folks what to do; they’re simply providing advice instead.
To illustrate exactly what I mean, let’s dive into the test a little deeper…
Exhibit A: The subject line
Here’s the control subject line:
It’s ultra-clear, specific and simple. And that’s great. However, for this less-engaged audience, I suspected that one word was tripping readers up: Relend.
Why? Because it implies that the audience will need to do some work after opening the e-mail — even if it’s just signing into their Kiva account and clicking a button or two.
That may be just fine for the scores of diehard Kiva fans out there. But the folks we were targeting had been inactive for anywhere from 60 to 365 days, so even the hint of having to do a morsel of work could turn them off. And as Marketing Experiments puts it:
The most effective subject lines emphasize the “get” and imply the “ask.”
So the variant subject line took more of an advisory tone:
There’s no ask here — just a personal, friendly reminder. The kind of subject line you might even see in an e-mail from a friend. As mentioned, that variant resulted in a 32% increase in opens.
What was especially interesting, however, was that the new subject line generated the biggest increase in opens among Kiva lenders who were inactive for longer periods of time, as this graph illustrates:
In other words, the new subject line performed best among lenders who had not funded a loan for quite some time.
What’s behind this trend? It’s likely in part because it created a ‘pattern interrupt’ in the reader’s mind.
The In case you forgot… phrase isn’t something the audience expects to see in an email from Kiva, which tends to favor very precise and specific subject lines. So it stands out from previous messages that the audience may have seen.
But probably the biggest reason the subject line worked so well was because it creates intrigue. The e-mail implies that the receiver may have forgotten something, but they have to open the email to find out what that ‘something’ is.
And because our brains crave closure, the audience is naturally compelled to click.
Now, it’s always important to use curiosity in an honest way. The body of your email must deliver on the promise made in the subject line, otherwise you risk breaking your audience’s trust. Sort of like a bait-and-switch.
And that brings us to…
Exhibit B: The body copy of the email
Here are the two versions of the email body copy that Kiva tested:
Once again, we’re not leading with the ask. Instead, we’re letting them know they have money still left in their account and then telling them what they can do with it. The ask (‘Relend Now’) only comes later.
A few other elements also support the ‘customer service’ hypothesis we focused on:
- It reduces anxiety by emphasizing the message: “without having to deposit any additional funds.” We suspected that the false perception of being charged extra fees was a barrier to relending, so I wanted to make sure this point was clear.
- The call to action button was tweaked to be more specific by saying ‘Relend Now’ instead of ‘Lend Now.’ After all, they’re not really making a brand-new loan — rather, they’re relending their existing funds. Future tests might include focusing more on the value that the reader will get from clicking (Be someone’s hero again, for example)
- The ‘Short on time?’ section helped to quash any lingering concerns about how much time it would take to make a decision on who to lend to. Once again, we’re further addressing the anxieties that may have stopped folks from relending in the first place.
Tone is often overlooked in email marketing.
It’s easy to get so wrapped up in figuring out what to say that you forget to refine exactly how to say it.
But by getting the tone of your marketing emails right, you’re better able to join the conversation already taking place in the reader’s mind.
If you can do that well, especially in your re-engagement emails, you’ll be far more likely to make a deeper connection with your audience that generates results.
Thanks to the marketing team at Kiva.org for allowing us to share this case study.