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Is It Time to Renovate Your Email Program?

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by: Loren McDonald (@LorenMcDonald)
18 April 2013

Your email marketing program is like an old kitchen. Both need a top-to-bottom renovation after years of use, but just the thought of doing a major overhaul can be overwhelming. What do you fix first? Where’s the money coming from, and how can you get all your daily work done while you’re rebuilding?

One of the biggest frustrations I hear when meeting with marketers is that they lack the time, money and personnel to achieve what they really want with their email programs. To complicate matters further, additional challenges have emerged:

1. More channels: The minute you think you’ve finally figured out how to leverage Facebook in your marketing mix, Pinterest, Instagram and Vine pop up. All these channels give us great opportunities to reach out and engage with customers, prospects, stakeholders and the world at large.

But the down side is that you need more and more content to fill those channels. Who’s producing that content? Marketers.  And, since most companies still treat marketing like an expense instead of a revenue-generator, you must create more and more content using the same budget and people.

2. More devices: “Mobile” is the watchword, but it’s much more involved than making sure your message looks good and functions properly on every device from a basic cellphone to the biggest desktop computer.

Marketers also have to think about context – what’s happening in the environment around the reader – and understanding which devices drive which kinds of actions. Do they read on their smartphones but convert from their desktops? Which kinds of content engage best on which devices?

3. More data: “Big Data” is flooding into your systems and department, but the problem is the “big” part. You have access to more data than you can act on. You need to turn “big data” into small, actionable data. But, in the meantime, many marketing teams are simply ignoring or not acting on this data because they lack the expertise, systems or programs to take advantage of it.

It’s easy to sit around and complain about not getting budget and buy-in from management for your projects. I know — I’ve been there, done that, too, in my 30 years in and around marketing.  Today’s marketers have two advantages that we didn’t have all those years ago:

1. Marketing technology and automation

Marketing automation can ultimately help you be more efficient by moving more of your program to messages that are triggered in real time based on customer behavior and events.

Yes, you have to spend time on the front end to create new content, integrate email with CRM and third-party systems and set business rules. However, once everything is locked and loaded, these automated messages are going out while you are lying on the beach or working on your golf swing.

2. Measurability

Department-store legend John Wanamaker should be living in our times instead of the 1800s. He’s the guy who said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

One of the greatest advantages of digital marketing is that nearly everything we do can be measured now. We can see who’s visiting our websites, opening and acting on our emails, and sharing or converting from our social media messages. And, we know whether they’re engaging with us from their phones, tablets or computers and which operating system they’re using.

You can use this knowledge to shift spend and focus on a dime. Your priority becomes continuously reallocating your marketing resources based on these shifting numbers.

Ready? Go!

So, yes, you have a lot of challenges to overcome if you want to get the resources and management backing you need to make your email marketing program the significant driver of company success that you know it can be.

But now it’s time to saddle up and ride out to meet these challenges. Create a new way of thinking among your email teams and reset the process for getting things done.

1. Seek Knowledge and Inspiration

  • Get out of the office: A change of scenery can help you see things in new ways. Move your workspace to a coffee shop for a few hours or go for a walk on a regular basis. Take your marketing team to an offsite planning retreat. Go out into the field and spend time in your customers’ shoes.
  • Put “thinking time” on your calendar: As marketers, we typically race from meeting to meeting, deadline to deadline and campaign to campaign, leaving little time for strategic planning. LinkedIn’s CEO recently wrote about booking time on your own calendar for “thinking time.” Do it now.
  • Read to get inspired: Go beyond your core focus. I read Harvard Business Review articles, political books, online discussions about sustainability topics and the like. Then, I think about applying these ideas to marketing.
  • Stay on top of emerging techniques: Become a sponge. Attend Webinars and user conferences. Seek out local and regional events and online communities. Read case studies. Subscribe to competitor emails as well as those from companies outside your industry.

2. Build Relationships and Get Buy-In

  • Benchmark against the best: My motto has become “Average is the new bottom.” Too many marketers use the wrong metrics or compare themselves to the average. Measure your performance against the top performers and the metrics you need to achieve your business goals. Then use these benchmarks to help drive change. (Download Silverpop’s “2013 Email Marketing Metrics Benchmark Study.)
  • Collaborate with other teams: I continue to be amazed that many email marketing teams are unaware of initiatives and technologies in other departments or marketing teams in their company. Schedule regular meetings or lunches with staff from other departments to uncover joint opportunities and shared resources.
  • Get top-level buy-in: Management support is the No. 1 differentiator between top marketing teams and average performers. What matters to management? Results such as conversions, closed deals, higher revenue or reduced costs. Think like your boss, and choose the right metrics.

3. Just Do It

  • Find your company’s fulcrum: Maybe you need to convert more “freemium” customers into paid; reduce print and postage costs; or turn one-time buyers into brand advocates. Identify your company’s biggest unexplored revenue opportunity and then figure out how to move the needle. (Read more on focusing on the fulcrum.)
  • Don’t boil the ocean: Sure, a real-time triggered, three-message cart-abandonment remarketing program with personalized recommendations would be awesome, but it could take six months to launch. Start capturing revenue sooner with a simpler but well-executed program. Then, after launch, work on continual optimization.
  • Rethink processes: Once you’ve reached this point, you’re likely going to have to make several changes to your approach to truly take your program to another level.  You might find that you need different skills on your team; a shift from manual, last-minute campaigns to multi-step automated programs; or new technology vendors and agencies.

If your email marketing program is on autopilot, you’re probably seeing declining results or, at minimum, leaving significant revenue on the table. Follow the steps and ideas in this post, and you’ll take your program to another level.

Please share your challenges – and solutions – for getting your program out of a rut.

Related Resources:
1) Ebook: “Almost Everything You Wanted to Know About Email Marketing
2) Blog: “Using Integrations to Make Your Emails More Dynamic
3) Video: “Moving from One-Off Email Campaigns to Behavior-Driven Series or Tracks


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