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Time to Whack Your Email Program with the Behavior Stick?

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by: Loren McDonald (@LorenMcDonald)
10 October 2012

Can a seminar and a book change your life? In 1984 (yes, I'm that old) I attended a seminar by Roger von Oech, author of A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative. That event, and the book, affected my career in two ways.

First, my write-up on the seminar helped me get a full-time job at the PR firm where I was interning. Secondly, I learned how to rethink what companies can do to move into new, profitable ventures.

Whack is a guidebook for thinking creatively about your business. While obviously not written with digital marketers in mind, its concepts apply to those who want to think outside their existing paradigms and take their programs to a higher level.

Today, it's imperative to see whether your most cherished assumptions still hold up, to re-evaluate every aspect of your email program to keep ahead of technological changes and customer expectations.

In particular, a key element of rethinking your existing email approach should incorporate customer or prospect behavior. Without it, your marketing efforts will be left in the dust by more advanced competitors.

Ready, Set ... Rethink!
Below are three examples of typical existing programs or approaches that are ripe for being blown up:

1. Reactivation Programs

Current Approach: Inactive subscribers might be the single biggest challenge email marketers face today. For most organizations, 40 percent to 50 percent of their database is inactive.

So, what do many marketing teams do? They continue to acquire customers through the same processes, send the same content – and probably more of it – and then implement a once-a- year "reactivation" campaign.

The reactivation campaign, often a "we miss you/want you back" progressive three-part series, typically prompts a small percentage to take an action and be considered active again.

The remaining 95 percent or so of inactives are either suppressed (lost) or put on a lower cadence in hopes that someday they'll come back to life. Ugh.

Rethink Approach: The typical approach outlined above has at least three problems:

  • Waiting six or 12 months to do the reactivation campaigns is inefficient and manual
  • By waiting that long, you’ve reduced your chance to awaken the inactive subscribers
  • Most importantly, it doesn't solve the ongoing problem of inactivity.

Instead, as I outlined in earlier posts, the keys are to identify and minimize inactives early and put these unengaged subscribers into "activation” tracks" as soon as you identify signs of a lack of engagement.

Rather than approaching the problem manually once or twice a year, use your query and automation features to move unengaged subscribers immediately into programs intended to re-awaken them while you still have a chance.

Finally, you must understand why subscribers are going inactive. Perhaps it can be tied back to an aggressive acquisition source. Maybe you’re over-mailing or simply sending one-size-fits-all emails and providing little relevance.

Or perhaps new subscribers perceived that your content would be educational, but most of what you actually send is promotional.

Uncover the drivers of inactivity, and then use automation early in the process to recapture as many subscribers as possible.

2. The Frequency Question

Current Approach: A key question for email marketers has always been "What's the right frequency?" The goal is to find the optimum cadence that maximizes revenue and/or conversions while maintaining an acceptable amount of churn.

This paradigm usually involves testing an increased frequency compared to an existing cadence, analyzing revenue/conversions and list churn, and forecasting the longer- term impact and lifetime customer value.

Think of it as the equivalent of seeing how many times you can punch your little brother before he punches back.

Rethink Approach: The above approach will always have a role in the toolkit of marketers. Increasingly, however, they’ll combine the customer's behavior, or lack of it, with dynamic and automated message tracks that trigger in real time.

The new question of balance shifts from manually testing, for example, five times a week versus three times to one of building out dozens of automated email programs that launch based on customer/subscriber behavior (action/inaction – such as visiting a specific Web page), events/dates (birthdays, purchase or registration anniversaries) and other triggers such as price changes, inventory status, new content becoming available, etc.

The shift toward behavior-based triggers greatly increases relevance and delivering "the right message at the right time," but also then drives the cadence of your regular broadcast or promotional emails.

For example, engaged subscribers might receive three emails a week, whereas inactive or low-engagement subscribers might only receive two emails per month.

3. Static, Single Emails

Current Approach: A lot of marketers get excited when they launch a new email message, like a birthday or cart abandonment email, which has been on their "to do" list for years. And they should. But stopping at just that single email usually leaves lots of money on the table.

Rethink Approach: Go ahead and launch that new program with a single email, but build in your plan to transition it into a multi-email series or behavior-based program. One of our clients implemented a simple three-part cart abandonment series, which produces conversion rates of 22 percent, 15 percent and 24 percent.

Now, what if this client had stopped after the first email? Money lost. Similarly, as I outlined in a post on birthday email programs, only 1 out of 15 companies that sent me birthday emails sent a follow-on email. Opportunity lost. Why not create three multi-email tracks delivered to subscribers based on whether they convert, open/click or do nothing?

These are just a few examples of how you might give your email program or a specific email message a whack on the side of the head to take your results to a whole other level.

What email message types or other elements of your marketing program have you successfully blown up or rethought? Please share in the comments below.

For more tips and observations from Loren, connect with him on Google+.

More Resources:
1) Webinar: “Inactive Email Subscribers: Tips for Taming the Beast
2) Blog: “Take a Progressive Approach to Increasing Email Frequency
3) White Paper: “Birthday Blueprint: How to Build a Top-Tier Birthday Email Program


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