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If It Ain't Broke … Fix It Anyway

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by: Loren McDonald (@LorenMcDonald)
18 January 2010

One phrase I can't bear to hear is, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It implies that something is working so well that any attempts to improve on it aren't needed and could even break the process.

I’ve always subscribed to the opposite view, also espoused in the book If It Ain't Broke … Break It!: And Other Unconventional Wisdom for a Changing Business World, by Robert Krigel.

The "leave it alone" philosophy might have worked in the business world at one time, but change happens too fast today. It also flies in the face of continuous improvement, quality management and other business philosophies that have proved their worth.

The last 10 years have brought massive changes to the email world, thanks to spam filtering, overflowing inboxes, mobile devices and a more sophisticated email subscriber. What worked a few years ago might not be irretrievably broken in 2010, but it's probably not generating the level of returns that it could.

So, it's time to look at your entire email process and see what you can "break" or fix to create emails that are more relevant to subscribers and deliver a higher ROI for your company.

Examples of Areas to "Fix"

  • Opt-in forms: Happy with your opt-in process? Perhaps it’s time to test a progressive approach, capturing more data that enables better targeting.
  • Welcome Email: You've tweaked your HTML welcome email a few times and are stoked that it’s driving better initial engagement than the previous text version IT developed. However, a two- or three-part welcome series might more effectively engage subscribers, leading to higher retention and average order value.
  • Frequency: You've doubled your core message frequency the last few years, which has driven more revenue, though a much higher churn rate. Perhaps it’s time to create new email streams, such as "Clearance," "Consumer Reviews" and "Daily Deals." You can potentially increase frequency while enabling subscribers to opt in and out of each email stream separately.
  • Pre-Header "Administrative" Links: Did you add those "View Web Version" and "Add to Address Book" links to the top of your emails a few years ago? Have you ever analyzed how many people click on those? At minimum, perhaps it’s time to move those down and place your CTA at the top so it’s the first thing seen.
  • From Name: Changing up your From name can be dangerous. However, if you have different email streams, consider adding a descriptive word after your brand name to further differentiate each email type.
  • Width: You've had good luck with your 700-pixel-width email template for years. With the explosion of small screens (e.g., smartphones and netbooks), you may want to test narrower emails to require less scrolling.
  • Layout: Have you been using a single large image approach for years because it drives traffic and sales for the one key product you push in each email? Consider testing a multiple product/image layout that renders better with blocked images, causes fewer deliverability issues and enables use of dynamic content.
  • Minimizing Bounces: While your bounce rate is reasonable, maybe it’s time to test adding a second email address form field that confirms the email address. One client I spoke with recently said this approach has not negatively affected form completion rates, but has greatly reduced bad addresses.

These are just a few examples of current practices and approaches for you to consider breaking. Have you already blown up some aspects of your email program, even if it was working OK? Let us know in the comments box below.


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