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When Lifecycle Messaging Goes All Wrong

  |  July 14, 2014   |  Comments

As an email marketer, you can't live by the "set it and forget it" mindset. You must instead monitor the emails you send to your consumers and understand their impact.

When it was a new medium, email marketing was approached from sort of a "spray and pray" mentality. In the past few years, there has been a noticeable shift to a behaviorally driven, lifecycle messaging program. For all intents and purposes, behaviorally driven, lifecycle messaging programs are exactly what the industry has been talking about for years; achieving relevance via a series of automated, action-based email triggers - talking to a customer at a moment in time that is relevant to them. However, without careful management, this approach could swing wildly out of control and we could find ourselves in the "spray and pray" days again.

During the course of the last few months, I have consulted with brands that have seen a steep decline in engagement metrics. All the right questions were being asked - is our content relevant? Are we sending too frequently? Is our messaging going to the right target? The problem was that they were not considering all of their email traffic - only their ad hoc "promotional" traffic. Because their "transactional" or triggered messaging was sent from a different platform, their view into the volume of messages a single subscriber received was murky at best.

As one of the brands shared the lesson they learned, we started examining the logic in the lifecycle messages that was coming off their transactional platform. The messages were all very behaviorally driven - some triggered based on positive site and email actions (clicking through email, opening, purchases, inquiry, etc.), others triggered due to negative actions (no account log-in activity for a period of time, no email engagement over time, and others). The logic for their transactional messaging seemed to make complete sense (and SHOULD have worked). So why wasn't their transactional logic working? They realized one very critical thing - they had no suppression logic in place.

Suppression logic is a critical part of automated campaigns and needs to be included in the view of the entire email ecosystem. Your customers see your organization as a sum of its parts - not by channels or divided by platform as many organizations view themselves. This means that you have to treat your marketing messaging, including your email messaging, in the same manner.

When it comes to crafting suppression logic, there are a few key steps to consider:

  • Begin by identifying every possible email communication a subscriber could receive. Beware, though - this is easier said than done. Be sure to consider every platform used to send emails, including internal, homegrown systems. While this is a potentially arduous exercise, it also is very worthwhile and necessary.
  • Once you have identified all the possible communications, you need to then create a hierarchy for them, weighting messages by importance to the customer and importance to the business. Be careful, though. It is very easy to get caught up creating a hierarchy from the vantage point of the brand - which would be a mistake. Be very diligent to ensure that the customers' voices are represented here, otherwise you may end up with a total imbalance.
  • Next, the decision needs to be made about optimal frequency per day to email your customers. Typically, I have seen this done as a combination of ad hoc, lifecycle, and transactional messages to provide a comprehensive view of what the potential communications might look like. Determining the proper frequency is difficult because customers are more active at different times in their engagement with a brand - typically when activity is low, lifecycle messages play a very critical role in maintaining ongoing engagement.
  • Finally, you need to understand the potential cost of *not* sending the next message. Making the cognizant decision to not send a message can be a tough one for many organizations. (Placing priority on messages can be even more challenging depending on the complexity of internal politics of your organization.) If you understand the true cost to the business for not sending a message versus the potential negative impact on customers for actually sending to them, the challenge can often be easily avoided. 

I know that the brand I referenced earlier isn't the only one without suppression logic in place, and lacking visibility into just how much email it was sending a single customer because it was using multiple, disconnected platforms. After some spot-checking, and before the suppression logic was implemented, the brand found that some customers were receiving as many as 18 messages from them in a single day, though the average was seven to 10 messages - still way too much email! The organization now has the proper suppression logic in place and its engagement metrics are on the mend. But it's important to remember that when establishing lifecycle email marketing campaigns, you can't merely "set it and forget it." You have to monitor the campaigns and understand their impact on your recipients. No matter how much your customers love your brand, chances are they, too, will stop engaging with you if you send them 18 emails a day.

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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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