It's All About the Audience

  |  November 21, 2012   |  Comments

Where the story truly unfolds in the three-act play that is the lifecycle of an email list subscriber. Part two in a three-part series.

Last time I wrote about the first act of the three-act play that is the lifecycle of an email list subscriber. While it's essential to get the story off to a good start and critically important to engage the audience, it's in the middle section that the true story unfolds.

Act 2: Plot Development

The middle of the story is the longest part and has been the hardest to write. It's where the list members come face-to-face with the cast of characters that may include list hygiene, lead nurture, conversion, revenue generation, cross-sell, up-sell, brand loyalty, public relations, and client satisfaction. As in any good story, all is not harmonious among the characters. There are competing goals and ongoing conflicts.

It's been the hardest to write because it's the area with the most divergence among organizations. Strategies must be developed to support the specific business environment. Providing detailed and yet general advice is problematic. However, there are some common themes in most large organizations.

Act 2, Scene 1: Gaining Insight

In an enterprise, it's common for multiple departments and business units to utilize email in different ways and for different purposes, yet all these messages represent your brand and your organization. To the recipient you are one company and you must speak like it. The first step is to map out the different campaigns and types of communications that are being sent and who owns what. This can include a range of triggered and automated messages, both transactional and marketing, as well as regular and ad hoc messaging from different departments. Mapping the frequency, target audiences, priority, and purpose of these messages is an important step in managing your overall messaging. It can also be very enlightening to find out what messages are actually being sent out across the entire organization, especially when there are multiple platforms and providers involved. Despite the recent trend to consolidate email vendors, there are always multiple platforms involved.

Act 2, Scene 2: Contact Management

It's only through a clear understanding of the full communications profile that you will be able to effectively manage the conflicting goals of different constituents and maintain list quality and audience engagement while continuing to meet your business objectives.

During the main act it's essential to maintain the quality of your list. We'll presume you have all the basics covered: SPF and DKIM authentication; working unsubscription process; CAN-SPAM compliance; feedback loop processing; etc. But an often overlooked aspect of list maintenance is contact management.

At the simplest level this means ensuring your recipients don't receive too many or too few messages in a given timeframe, which is important both for bounce management and for user engagement. But how many is too many and how many is too few?

We can say with confidence that it's undesirable to let any subscriber go more than three months without receiving anything. Longer than this and bounce rates go up, leading to delivery problems, and we run the risk of getting spam traps from defunct addresses on the list. Beyond this, the answer depends on a wide range of factors. What constitutes maximum frequency can depend on the time of year, recipient expectations, expressed or implied preferences, stage in the sales or product cycle, and the list goes on and on. The only way to figure it out is to use your analysis of your entire communications profile and plenty of testing.

Act 2, Scene 3: Continual Evolution

There will be constituents within your organization that want to blast hard and blast often. They are tasked with meeting revenue goals and email is a revenue gold mine. At times, this can be effective, but what will be effective in the long run is ensuring that recipients in your database remain engaged, and that means sending them messaging that they want to receive rather than messaging you want to send. Rome wasn't built in a day and optimizing a complex email communications program is no simple task. It's essential to keep improving and to take advantage of the evolving capabilities of email platforms. Make use of automation and behavioral targeting to increase the timeliness of your communications. Add dynamic content and personalization to increase relevance. Closely monitor engagement both at a campaign and individual recipient level. Use these metrics to determine how much is too much and to optimize your mix. Look for signs of list fatigue and take preemptive action.

In all of this, never lose sight of the fact that it's all about the audience. When a subscriber unsubscribes or complains, she's walked out of your theater. You've lost her and it can take but a single bad email to cause significant disengagement and lose a lot of subscribers, which is the subject of the final act.

Coming next month: Act 3: The Ending.

Until next time,


Gold Theater Masks image on home page via Shutterstock.


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Derek Harding

Derek is the managing director of J-Labs, Javelin Marketing Group's technology skunkworks, a role that draws on his 20 years of experience and leadership in the fields of marketing and technology. A British expatriate based in Seattle, Washington, Derek is perhaps better known as the founder and technologist behind Innovyx, one of the first email service providers later acquired by the Omnicom Group. An industry veteran and thought-leader, Derek is a regular expert author, contributor, conference speaker, and takes an active role in a number of industry and trade groups.

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