As an email agency the question of what it takes to run an outstanding email program is important. We spend a fair amount of time looking at how enterprises manage their marketing, particularly their direct and digital messaging. We read the blogs and articles. We listen to the analysts and pundits. There are many issues raised but little consensus as to the underlying causes.
The statistics and evidence are certainly there to make the case for the importance of email. Everyone knows that email provides the highest return on investment of any marketing channel. Even the DMA admits that it’s the most effective direct medium by a long way. It’s an established, well-understood medium with strong technology and service providers. There have been numerous studies and reports showing its ubiquity and efficacy (“email is dead” articles notwithstanding).
While most enterprises have come to recognize the importance and value of email, all too often the results fall short of expectations. There are standout successes but for many their programs are lackluster. The reason, I believe, is that email is just not sexy enough.
Email went from red-headed stepchild to old and busted without ever getting its 15 minutes of fame – its sparkling moment in the limelight. The timing of email’s rise as a medium during the dot-com bubble, the issues with spam and filtering, and the lack of understanding of digital media at the outset all contributed to this. For many its image is still tarnished. The result is that a good number of smart marketers either avoided email or got bored with it and moved on to mobile or social, which are seen as much more cool. The same effect is being seen financially and in companies’ focus. They’re putting more and better resources into mobile, social, and integrated strategies than email.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’ve been espousing cross-channel messaging for many years and I think that the tools are better now than they’ve ever been. Every major email service provider has integrated mobile, social, and web capabilities directly into their platform. The functionality is there to manage fully integrated campaigns through a single solution. Additionally the customer expectation of integrated messaging is higher than ever. Customers expect to receive communications in multiple channels and on multiple devices, often simultaneously, and they expect the messages to be consistent.
But integration is not a substitute for improvement. Email is still the heart of most digital direct messaging, so how do you get it right? How do you improve your email marketing across the board? When evaluating the likely success of email marketing in an enterprise there are three essential pieces.
The first is executive engagement. It starts at the top. Marketing executives are always extremely busy. They’re inevitably trying to keep 15 balls in the air at once and have to triage their focus and efforts. In organizations where email is done well the executives focus on where the revenue is coming from rather than where the costs are going. The result is email gets attention. Even if the strategy isn’t there it will get there. That focus trickles down through the organization. It affects everything from employee perceptions to implementation budgets.
The next is effective platform selection. With clear goals and objectives platform selection becomes much easier. While there is great similarity among the leading email platforms there are also significant differences in philosophy and approach. Selecting the right platform is important but it can only be done well if you know what you need. Effective organizations recognize that there is a reason the cheapest platforms are the cheapest platforms and that short-term cost savings can undermine long-term efficiency and efficacy.
Last but not least is an executional A-team. Creating and executing outstanding email strategy and campaigns requires an outstanding team. Email design and creative is a specialty; an email is not just a simple version of a web page. With constantly evolving platform capabilities, if you want to innovate and do great work you must have the right people. People who know your platform, understand your strategy, and can use one to fully realize the other. Such people are not easy to find but critical to success.
Having all three does not come cheap and email is so effective that passable results can be achieved without them. But great email programs don’t happen by accident. They take careful planning, analysis, execution, and refinement, which takes consistent focus and resources. And when it comes to resources, it’s not just money, it’s also about the right people.
At the end of the day, if you’re looking for the maximum return on investment, you have to make an investment in the right people and the right technology from top to bottom.
Until next time,
Team image on home page via Shutterstock.