For personal reasons, I've been reflecting a lot recently on the concept of recovery.
At the core of every email program is a relationship between you (the company) and the customer. Those relationships can go astray.
To recover from an ailing email marketing presence, you must...
Let's discuss just a few problems that can lead your email marketing astray, how to respond to those problems, and what milestones you'll need to cross in order to recover.
Recovery From Program Surgery
Sometimes you'll find an aspect of your email marketing that instead of helping, actually harms your relationship with your customers.
For example, you may find that an email sent three times a week causes your open and click-through rates on other emails to drop - as well as an overall increase in your unsubscribe and complaint rates.
It will be tough to remove that program, since it does bring in some revenue. It's clear to you, however, that the program must be removed to save the drop in customer lifetime value that the increased unsubscribes and complaints will cause.
So how do you recover the lost revenue when you remove the program?
First, see if you can add a more targeted and less frequent mailing to serve the same purpose. For example, if the removed program reminded all subscribers about sales three times a week, you can experiment with reminding only those who have purchased in the last three months - and only reminding them once a week.
Using this strategy, you should expect to see a full recovery (i.e., full replacement of "lost" revenue) in about three months. Maybe sooner, maybe later. Make your own milestone. If you don't meet it, reevaluate.
Second, track to make sure the problem no longer exists. You should see a drop in unsubscribe and complaint rates fairly quickly. If you don't, perhaps your original diagnosis incorrectly identified the program as the problem.
Third, search for other problems to remove. You may want to wait to make sure you can measure the effects of your original effort, but another surgery may be in order if things don't get much better, or if you identify another program causing problems.
Recovery From a Gaffe
Sometimes you send an email with #FIRSTNAME in the subject line instead of the actual first name. Or perhaps you forgot to include a critical link or piece of information. Or maybe you've sent an email to the wrong group of people (which is the same as calling your significant other by a different name).
The first step to relationship recovery after such a mistake is admitting the mistake to those affected. Depending on the scale of the mistake, you may offer some sort of special deal or consideration to make up for it, but that's not always necessary. The focus should be on repairing the long-term relationship.
The second step is to mitigate the backlash of the gaffe. Actively monitor for customer frustration and public discussion of the gaffe and respond actively, honestly, and openly. Brands don't necessarily get damaged from negative public comments...it's their response to those comments that tend to define how much damage occurs.
The final step should be to review what led to the problem in the first place, and take steps if necessary to prevent the gaffe in the future. Note that priority-wise, this is the least important step out of the three. It's still a necessary step, but it is much more important to respond to the gaffe you already made than to worry about preventing future ones.
Recovery From the Unexpected
Sometimes a black swan pops up and disrupts things for you. Your ESP's servers crash, the power goes out, or your entire office is flooded and you can't send your campaigns.
Luckily for you, we humans are pretty good at helping out others when the unexpected occurs. This tendency extends to the brand-customer relationship (if you treat it as a relationship).
To recover, first let your customers know what's going on. Again, openness and honesty buy leniency and even assistance from your customers. Treat them like a friend and they'll treat you as a friend in need.
Next, focus on returning to normal as soon as possible. Prioritize programs by considering revenue, but also the program's importance to the overall relationship. It's going to be better for you to maintain a relationship through the storm and rebuild revenue on that strong relationship than it is to focus on driving the most revenue during the storm. Reestablish enough revenue to keep the lights on, then focus on keeping those hard-won relationships with your customers.
Finally, take steps to make your email programs less fragile in the future. By definition, you can't predict the unpredictable, but you can make your infrastructure and customer relationships less susceptible to the random event. For example, a rich backup of customer data along with an alternative means of sending email can help you send to your best customers during the recovery period, maintaining that relationship.
Recovery From a Slow and Steady Decline
The last problem we'll discuss today is probably the most common for both brands and personal relationship. Nothing in particular happened to cause damage, but a lack of communication and caring over time has led to relationship atrophy.
The first step here is to call out the absence and redefine the relationship explicitly. Here's an example of an email you could send:
To: John Doe
Subject: It's been too long, but we still like you
How have you been?
We realize it's been a long time since we've been in touch with you. Our bad. We still care about you though.
[Here you can insert a discussion of your product or service, but in language that highlights its use to the customer]
If you've moved on, that's cool. Click here and you won't receive our emails anymore. We'll be sad to see you go.
Also, if we see that you're not opening our emails in the next month or so, we'll go ahead and stop sending email to you. We don't want to bug you.
Thanks, hope to see you soon.
This simple email calls out the gap, reestablishes the value of the relationship, and gives the customer an easy out if she is no longer interested.
As you acknowledge the absence, be sure to define and commit to a new contact strategy that rebuilds your regular relationship with your customers. Begin on this immediately...don't let another gap begin.
Finally, identify lingering effects of the absence that need to be treated. Has your deliverability dropped to the floor? That's going to affect your recovery strategy. Is your list not big enough now? Time to spend some effort on acquisition. Diagnose and treat appropriately.
Recovery is not fun. Knowing what to do, what to expect, and how long to plan for can help you respond appropriately and build health in your email programs and relationships with your customers.
Image on home page via Shutterstock.
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As one of StrongView's in-house marketing strategists, Justin Williams helps email marketers develop and implement strategic lifecycle marketing campaigns that are continually optimized to increase engagement and revenue. For the past five years, Justin has applied his expertise in email marketing, social media, web design, and other interactive marketing disciplines across a variety of industries, including retail, finance, media, and technology. In addition to founding his own consulting company, Justin has built go-to-market strategies for early-stage startups and worked with brands like Cisco, Qualcomm, and Geeknet. Justin holds a BA in cognitive science from the University of California at San Diego.
December 12, 2013
1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT