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Email Program Broken? Fix It

  |  January 27, 2014   |  Comments

The start of the year is a good time to analyze the "health" of your email marketing programs and execute changes that will help them become more effective.

In addition to working in the email space, I am also the mother to three amazing children. My oldest, my daughter, is extremely maternal and my twin boys are as identical and sweet as they could be. The physical differences between the twins are subtle, but the biggest difference is that one of the twins is very accident-prone. So much so that even he recognizes that he is the one who always gets hurt. Just a few days ago, he fell in a bounce house at a birthday party and broke his elbow. Since he got hurt, I needed a bit of a mental distraction to take my mind off his injury and endless doctor appointments, so I took to penning this article. And as I started writing, I was thinking about health and in this case, the health of an email marketing program.

During the first quarter of the year, many brands execute year-over-year analyses on their email marketing programs. It's a great way to gauge the types of optimization efforts that can be put into place without undertaking large technical investments, which likely have already been planned.

A common place to begin your email program's health evaluation is to draw comparisons to industry benchmarks. You may also solicit feedback from internal stakeholders and your email program managers to determine what else you could be doing with the program. And while this feedback and insight is valuable, it is only the beginning of the process. So, what else do you really need to do to evaluate the health of your programs?

Recall Program Purposes
Much like my twins (my "babies"), sometimes it can be difficult to tell your email marketing programs from one another. I have seen many brands with separate "promotional" and "newsletter" email programs. And while, by definition, they should be easily distinguishable, many times the programs are not. Too often, email marketing programs begin to look like one another (a little like dogs and their owners) and a bit of promotional content sneaks its way into your newsletter. Before you know it, that's all it is ... a series of promotional offers, laid out newsletter style.

The best place to start in determining program health is to validate that the initial purpose of the program aligns with the reality of the program in its current state. Start by documenting the intent of each email campaign or program you send. For each unique program, you should identify and document the following:

• Definition
• Goals
• Objectives
• Audience
• Value-Proposition
• Measurement(s) of Success
• Frequency and Cadence
• Priority

Compare the Definition to the Reality
The messages you perceive you are sending as part of your email marketing programs and the content you actually are sending may be two very different things. Once you have created a dossier on each of your programs, you need to compare the expectations to the reality. The best way to do this is to create a chart of each program and then review the programs -- asking yourself critical questions along the way, such as:

• Does the content of the program support its definition?
• Am I targeting the proper audience for this program?
• Are the goals and objectives clearly addressed by the program?
• Am I using the proper measurements of success?
• Am I sending the program at the right cadence or frequency?
• Is there overlap between programs by definition?
• Are multiple programs addressing the same goals and objectives?
• Is there an opportunity to consolidate programs?
• Is there a void in my programs that allows me to introduce something   new to fill a communication gap?

All of these questions are important to evaluating the health of your email marketing program. It feels a little like being asked for your personal medical history.

Align Programs for Success
The keys to aligning your email programs successfully are really being honest with the state of the programs as they exist today and then taking corrective action right away. Too often I have heard clients share the fact that they know they could be doing better, but they just don't have the time or wherewithal to do it. Now is as good of a time as any to get it done -- waiting can only prolong the inevitable.

The key areas of focus when looking at email marketing program alignment should be geared toward areas of overlap and/or void, which is why being honest about your program is so critical. If there is overlap among programs, it is possible that there may be some cannibalization affecting your program performance. Or worse, you could be wearing down your subscribers' willingness to respond. In situations like these, there are opportunities to optimize the frequency, content, and cadence of your messages. You may even want to consider consolidating some of your programs.

And in the instance where there are voids or gaps in your program, jump at the chance to introduce new and logical programs to meet your goals and objectives. This is a great way to breathe new life into your email marketing program. While the work required to introduce a new program can be a little daunting at the outset, it can provide your subscribers fresh and engaging ways to interact with your brand in the long run. So it's well worth your effort.

The reality is that change, or something out of the ordinary, can be scary. But the idea of change is usually scarier than the reality of change itself. As a mother (and a marketer), I need to remind myself that our "babies," our email marketing programs that we work so hard to nurture and grow, are resilient and sometimes a lot stronger than we give them credit for.

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Kara Trivunovic

As an email marketing veteran dating back to 1999, Kara Trivunovic has been actively involved in programmatic email development, execution, and strategy in a variety of senior positions on the client, agency, and provider side. She was founder and principal of The Email Advisor, a respected email marketing consultancy focusing on email strategy and channel optimization that was subsequently acquired by an enterprise email service provider in 2009. Over the course of her career, she has had the opportunity to work with a variety of brands and global organizations structuring a variety of custom email education programs, conceptualizing and implementing new and innovative email programs, optimizing contact strategies, and developing staffing and budget plans. Kara currently serves as the vice president of digital solutions at Epsilon.

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