Email killed the promotional planning star

Once upon a time, there was a young woman leaving college with a marketing degree. She was embarking on a new career in the world of direct marketing agencies – a little naive, but very excited.

At that time, many years ago, direct mail reigned supreme and email was just emerging as a marketing channel. But because direct mail was pricey, brands spent a lot of time analyzing their audiences to determine how to best drive and measure incremental revenue related to the offers and content being shared.

Ladies and gentlemen, that girl was me.


One of my first experiences at the agency was to go through the promotional planning process. This was an exercise we completed twice a year and was heavily driven by data and analytics. We would review customer behavior and patterns from the previous 36 months to determine what behavior was natural and what was incented. But most importantly, we identified areas of inactivity that consistently occurred during those calendar years, otherwise known as lull-cycles. Then we presented offer recommendations to the brand, which were designed to be relevant to the audience and drive incremental behavior during these lull-cycles. It was a fair bit of work, but completely worth it.

However, with the introduction of email and subsequently other digital channels that are easier to measure and more cost effective to implement, promotional planning has now started to occur in real-time. Putting offers and content into market today is so easy, quick, and measurable, that brands can understand how consumers will respond to or welcome the content almost immediately, allowing them to adjust or course-correct if needed. But what is missing is the planning.


Marketers today recognize that the consumer wants to drive the interactions they have with brands, yet many don’t plan accordingly to allow for it. Offer generation is typically done with no nod to consumer behavior, incrementality, or relevant offers. Instead, it is still about what the brand wants to promote first, and who receives the offer second.

So was it email that killed the promotional planning process – or did it just become more costly to plan than to fail fast? I don’t have the answer to that, but I do have a suggestion: bring back promotional planning.

Having a plan that is based on fact and data that provides a road map of what is to come. This makes it so much easier to accommodate other more timely offers or communications that inevitability crop up. Not every promotion needs to be planned to the level of detail we applied to direct mail back in the day, but I fear we have swung too far the other way. It’s time to settle the pendulum back in the middle.

Article and homepage images via Flickr. 

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