Email: When In Doubt, Call a Pro

Marketing budgets are among the first to be slashed whenever we struggle through an age of downsizing and economic sluggishness. Likely to go first are venues and programs that are either not working or not understood (keep in mind they may not be working because they aren’t understood).

Email marketing can fall into this category. It’s relatively new to many industries and not yet considered mainstream.

If you’re not currently using email as a part of your marketing program, you should consider testing it, especially if you have a Web presence and regularly use direct response snail mail, print, or broadcast as part of your outbound efforts. If you have been using email, continue to test and deploy campaigns on a regular basis, even if you’ve had limited success thus far.

Many companies, in an effort to jump on the email bandwagon in recent years, have gotten burned (or at least scorched) because they didn’t view email as a true marketing discipline. I assume that because the powers-that-be send out email from their desktops on a regular basis, they figured they could simply take it to the next level and deploy email promotional campaigns with existing in-house resources. And these campaigns would be successful, to boot.

Problems often lie not with the medium itself, but with the expertise (or lack thereof) of people running the campaigns. Think of it this way: If you’re a passenger in a brand-new, speedy Porsche 911, who would you feel more comfortable with at the wheel, a 16-year-old kid with a learner’s permit or a driver with an impeccable record and experience? (Who cares? Just give me the car!)

The email discipline (yes, it is a discipline) can be a cumbersome, high-maintenance process. There are principles to keep in mind that are unique to the discipline. To succeed with email, you need to either have an experienced staff dedicated to it or find an outsourced solution that specializes in it.

You may be tempted to cut back on email marketing if you haven’t done it long enough and you’re not well-versed in what does and doesn’t work for your brand and set of offerings. Whatever you do, don’t abandon it until you know the benefits it can reap.

These benefits aren’t always immediately seen, especially during acquisitions mode (developing your house email list from outside sources for internal promotions). However, a well-planned email conversion and retention strategy can help boost your margins by double-digit percentage points when done properly. Here are some examples.:

  • A brick-and-mortar retail chain increased store traffic close to 15 percent one weekend, nationwide, during an email promotion that encouraged recipients to pick up “exclusive” coupons online for the limited-time event.

  • A national telecommunications company converted over 25 percent of its email leads into new customers by offering a high-value gift certificate to new sign-ups within a specified period.

  • A nonprofit group increased its revenue per email by over 1,000 percent simply by repositioning the location of its donation request within the message.

  • A catalog company increased online sales by $0.12 per name by testing a variety of different email newsletter templates, each with a different location and number of “buy now” calls to action within the message. The winning test became the control in subsequent efforts, yielding over a 200 percent increase in margin.

There are plenty of other success stories like these. Keep in mind, the marketers behind these efforts didn’t just slap their campaigns together. They required experience and insight, as well as plenty of testing.

Email is growing up quickly because of all the competition. It was easier to make money in the medium a few years back. As competition in inboxes increases, so must the experience behind the marketing. Are you keeping up? Make sure you’re properly staffing, training your staff, or looking for outside support to keep improving and growing.

Technical logistics alone can seem overwhelming, just one reason why experience is key. The technical issues increase as campaigns become more sophisticated. Successful email marketing can consist of a never-ending assembly line of tasks: Analyze previous campaign results and historical information. Create new testing strategy based on the last campaign’s lessons learned. Build and continually grow your house email list with on- and offline integrated strategies and conversion efforts. Create offers and promotions with previous results and core email marketing principles intact. Set up individual tests with fine-tuned tracking and image resource links. Pull reports at select times post-deployment to determine winning test segments. Turn around and do it all over again. For an overview of all the components involved, see ClickZ’s Email Strategies.

Those are just the top-line tasks. Every necessary directive contains a host of items that need to be quickly implemented. It’s not for the inexperienced or the faint of heart.

Look at it this way: If email is a good medium for marketing your products or services and your goal is to drive more sales, more subscriptions, more members (who doesn’t have one of those goals?), you need to make email a priority. You need to take the time to make it work for you.

Like that beautiful, hot-off-the-assembly-line Porsche 911 in pristine condition, email is a fantastic tool. But it ain’t gonna work unless the person behind the wheel knows how to drive it. Either further your education by continuing to test and applying lessons learned or find a good provider who has learned the lessons already. It’ll pay off in the long run, especially when other media, such as direct mail, are waning in effectiveness and cost a whole lot more.

Do it right and you’ll be driving in style sooner than you think.

–Jackie G.

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