In recent months, many articles have discussed steps that e-mail marketers shouldn't take during a recession and warned of the consequences. I'm sure you're all familiar with the list:
While these tactics may be effective in the short term, they can be disastrous over the long haul. They can cause serious credibility and reputation damage, as well as list fatigue.
However, many marketers are faced with a serious problem. Teams and budgets aren't growing. Often, they're shrinking. Yet their survival, and perhaps that of their organization, depends on maintaining or increasing revenue generation.
Furthermore, long-term success is irrelevant if it's preceded by short-term failure. One marketer told me "It's like I'm driving the bus in 'Speed'; if I go below 50 it blows up. I can't take my foot off the pedal until the bomb's been defused and I can't defuse the bomb while I've got my foot on the pedal." And the bad news is that many marketers are pushing harder just to maintain 50.
Clearly, the goal is to make your e-mail marketing more effective without causing list fatigue. Techniques for doing this are well known and readily available, but they require time and effort to set up and resources you may not have. If you're in this situation what can you do?
Step 1: Secure Some Breathing Room
There are two major ways to achieve this: efficiency and automation.
The process of creating and preparing marketing messages is a great place to start. In particular, streamlining person-intensive tasks. Analyze and streamline your existing processes, especially those that have been around a long time. Requirements and constraints may have changed allowing for optimization. Content creation, preparation, and approval are often enormous resource sinks. Also, examine your data manipulation. How much time and effort is spent each month preparing and massaging data?
In addition to internal process improvements, you may find your e-mail marketing platform or e-mail service provider (ESP) can help. Most ESPs and platforms have added automation capabilities in recent years. Automating welcome and follow-up mailings, as well as data transfers and manipulations, can often produce major savings.
Step 2: Get Strategic
The most effective programs are about building strong customer relationships and becoming a valued and trusted resource. Going from month to month with seasonal and filler offers based on revenue targets isn't building a customer relationship. I'd liken it more to ignoring your partner until you're feeling amorous and then turning up a box of chocolates and a hopeful look on your face. Unless you have a serious pair of puppy-dog eyes, your relationship is likely to be short-lived.
If you don't already have one, and it amazes me how many companies don't, develop an e-mail communications strategy. A good strategy considers the experience of a typical recipient who joins your list, the key milestones in your relationship with that recipient, and how you'll communicate with them at these milestones.
Step 3: Test and Implement
When implementing the plan, ensure you're fully aware of the capabilities of your e-mail marketing platform or ESP, especially those facilities to improve timeliness and relevance. What may have been expensive and time consuming just a couple of years ago may now be trivial and routine.
In addition to automation, most platforms and ESPs have easy to use, powerful segmentation and personalization capabilities. Segmentation is extremely valuable for testing and for improved targeting (enhancing relevance). Most also provide the ability to manage the timing of mailings so you can evaluate variables such as timeliness and frequency. If you've created enough breathing room you may even be able to keep your existing process running as a baseline for comparison.
None of what I've suggested is easy. Making time to evolve a process is hard when you're already overstretched and seeing important tasks fall by the wayside. In the end, though, if you're heading toward a dead end, it's imperative to turn around no matter what it takes. Accelerating toward the wall isn't a viable strategy.
Until next time.
This column was originally published Oct. 1, 2009 on ClickZ.
Derek Harding is the CEO and founder of Innovyx Inc., a member of the Omnicom Group and the first e-mail service provider to be wholly owned by a full-service marketing agency. A British expatriate living in Seattle, WA, Derek is a technologist by background who has been working in online marketing on both sides of the Atlantic for the last 10 years.
May 22, 2013
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