Ask These Questions – Now – to Reshape Your Email Strategy in 2015

Thinking about 2015 when you’re still gearing up for the 2014 holiday shopping season may seem premature. However, it’s actually an ideal time to plan for next year. Use the relative calm before the Black Friday/Cyber Monday storm to map out the changes you’d like to drive with your email marketing program. This isn’t a wish list of resources or software or a calendar of sends, but an exercise using a series of questions that will help you focus on the areas that could drive the biggest improvements for your email revenue and program return on investment (ROI).

Answer these six questions and you’ll have a framework for your 2015 strategic planning:

1. How Will I Improve the Email Experience?

Posing this question is different than asking, “What will I send my subscribers?” It mostly means moving away from the “what” and focusing on the “why.” Why should your subscribers interact with your messaging? Taken in this context, it requires you to consider what your email program can do for them. The answer should include more than just “save money”; a content strategy that’s purely promotional gets stale fast when subscribers aren’t primed to make a purchase. The more you can personalize your messaging for what your subscribers care about and make it clear that the email messages you’re sending are (accurately) customized for them, the easier it is to answer “why.”

2. How Will I Improve the Mobile Email Experience?

If you’ve recently started optimizing your email program for mobile devices, there are likely elements that need improvement. This could include adjusting your creative templates, your website, or your landing pages. It could also include ensuring that you have the data you need to inform these decisions. Do you know what percentage of your subscriber base is using a mobile device, including the type of device and the time of day they typically use it? Do you understand why your subscribers shift back and forth between different environments? Are they using their smartphones in your stores? Are they using their tablets at certain times of day or on certain days of the week? Does your business model warrant the creation of a mobile app? If so, how can you ensure your app stands apart from the thousands of others? How can you promote it in your email program?

3. What Comes After the Welcome?

Consider what new subscribers need, and go beyond a single welcome message. The first 30 days of the subscriber relationship are critical – your email program should be paving the way for engagement and interactivity. Simply sending a message that says “welcome” isn’t a true onboarding experience. An onboarding strategy is also about setting the subscriber up for what’s next in their journey – the email journey and the brand journey. An effective onboarding strategy ensures that they’re primed and prepared, lowering the hurdle to engagement.

4. How Do I Stack Up Against the Competition?

It’s time to move away from reactive competitive strategies. Comparing what you sent with what your competitors have sent doesn’t provide you with the insights you need to make meaningful email program adjustments. You need data that can tell you what percentage of your subscribers are receiving email from your competition, what their comparative level of engagement is, and what actions they’re taking with those messages. Armed with that information, you can determine whether you need to invest in growing market share (increasing the size of your email list) or mind share (increasing the level of engagement with your program) or both. In addition, you can determine if sending more frequently, including more triggered messaging or different types of content, will resonate with overlapping segments.

5. What Can I Learn From Subscribers Who Complain?

While a spam complaint can have a detrimental impact on your sending reputation, your inbox placement rates, and your ROI, it’s also an incredibly useful and informative data point. When subscribers mark your email as spam, they are clearly indicating that your email program is no longer valuable to them. It’s essential to dive in and determine why. The most common reasons for subscriber complaints include a disconnect between what they expected to receive and what they’re actually getting, a frequency that’s too high, and a lack of relevant content. By analyzing complaints across segments, message types, and acquisition sources, you can get to the root of the problem before it erodes your email program ROI.

6. How Can I Improve Re-engagement?

Most marketers know that they need to have a win-back program in place; however, too many re-engagement strategies are ineffective. Sending one “we miss you” message to all of your inactive segments isn’t enough. Treat different types of non-responsive subscribers differently and send a series of messages to drive action, whether it’s an open/click or a purchase. It’s also important to have access to data that tells you if your inactive segments are engaged email users that regularly take action within their inboxes, or if they’re generally disengaged with email as well as with your brand. In addition, it’s important to consider how you measure the success of a win-back campaign, and go beyond just opens and clicks. A recent Return Path study showed that 45 percent of recipients who received win-back emails read subsequent messages – meaning they re-engaged – but only 24 percent had read the win-back message itself. The campaigns’ effects extended beyond subscribers that opened or clicked.

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