The challenge for email marketers has always been to send the most effective message at the most effective time to the right group of people.
For most of the past two decades, the limiting factor in this optimization was technology. It was simply too difficult to create content, segment lists, send messages at key times, and report on the numerous variations that resulted. The tools have, of course, progressed over that time, but the marketer’s vision exceeded the tool’s capability – until about four years ago.
That’s changing. Today’s leading email service providers allow more personalization and reporting capabilities than an email marketing team could possibly exhaust.
For example, most leading email service providers (ESPs) have a method of sending triggered emails based on lifecycle events on an ongoing basis that can accommodate thousands if not tens of thousands of content variations.
Traditional email marketing teams and reporting methods cannot handle this level of complexity – and they shouldn’t try to. Eighty percent of the benefit to be gained from such personalization can be achieved with 20 percent of the effort.
So, the challenge for today’s email marketer is not how much can my software handle, but rather how much can my team handle and what efforts will result in the maximum return?
In other words, I believe email marketers know what types of changes will drive better performance, but they don’t know which segments to focus on and apply those changes to.
The answer to that question comes (in part) from the skilled application of custom reporting. Knowing where to apply your efforts requires you to know where the opportunities lie.
I believe that email marketers have been able to get away with generic, high-level reporting for a long time for a few reasons:
- The set of things that can be directly measured from an email are limited: delivery, opens, clicks, complaints, unsubscribes, and forwards. These interactions are easily measured, so it’s easy to focus on them.
- Email performs better in return on investment (ROI) terms when compared to other channels. This could be because an email is usually given full attribution of any conversion it generates, or it could be because emails actually perform better – it’s tough to tell for sure. Because it performs better, however, email marketers haven’t traditionally been challenged to create better reports.
- Email marketers don’t have the skills to report at a more detailed level, historically due to the limitations mentioned above. As a result, the custom report simply wouldn’t get made, or the email marketer would rely on a separate team (business intelligence, analytics) to manage the process.
The problem with traditional reports is that it is difficult – if not impossible – to identify opportunities with a report that has only email metrics, is based on single sends, or templates and is unsegmented.
Here is an extremely simple framework to build and use a custom report that will help identify opportunities in your current programs:
1. Identify the Question to Be Answered
What additional information would help you identify a specific segment that is being underserved or a trend that is hidden in the aggregate? Would it help to know how previous purchasers respond compared to those who have not purchased yet? How about whether the people that joined in December were more likely to convert from email than those who joined in January?
Traditional email marketing reports fail to be helpful, I believe, because they don’t answer any specific question.
One thing to remember: Your experience with your company will help guide you to a question that helps, but you may not get something valuable the first time. That’s fine. Keep trying until you do find something interesting.
2. Build a Report That Answers the Question or a Similar Question
Be quick. Leverage the new reporting capabilities available to you. Learn how to use them.
If you can’t answer the question you’re asking because you don’t have the skill level, find someone who does, or increase your skill. As an email marketer, you’ll need to be able to use these kinds of reports regularly.
If you can’t answer the questions because of the technology, answer a similar question. For example, say you’re question is “Do men convert more often than women leading up to Valentine’s Day?” but you don’t have access to conversion data. Instead, find out which segment has more clicks, and use that as a substitute, albeit a poor one (it’s better than nothing). Also, follow up and find out what needs to happen to get conversion data.
3. Implement a Change, Test It, and Iterate
Don’t just report. Once you’ve identified an opportunity, act on it. Create a test to show whether the change improves performance.
Don’t let history, mindset, and lack of skills prevent your team from finding those hidden email marketing wins. Start building custom reports that answer better questions and drive results.
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