Governance Rules That Set You Free

Mention “governance” to marketers (managing the number of touches/messages sent to an individual in a time period) and you get one of two reactions.

  1. “Oh, ours are so restrictive!”
  2. “Ours improve customer satisfaction and help us manage the multiple interests within the organization.”

What makes the difference? I think it’s all in the approach – if the governance is driven by cost or internal politics, then it typically will feel restrictive. Yes, it’s important to manage access to customers when there is a shared file between departments or brands. However, the governance rules that seem the most effective are those that are driven by customer experience. Ultimately, if your governance rules are not increasing response rates, then you need to change them.

Often, I find that governance rules are viewed as sacrosanct. Things like, “We never send more than three e-mails a month to any customer who also receives the catalog” are stated like a commandment from above. These are typically driven by good intentions – it’s a good thing to meter the number of e-mail messages per subscriber, and lower frequency can often improve sender reputation, inbox placement rates, and response rates.

However, there are many times when more messages are not only welcome, but will significantly improve results. A B2B marketer may want to communicate to registrants news of an upcoming event multiple times a week or even daily. If these are valuable and interesting, the higher frequency is a good thing. Similarly, when you book at Disney World, it e-mails you with increasing frequency as your visit date approaches. Some park patrons find this accelerated pace helpful and exciting. Many others find the voluminous chatter annoying. Be sure to test frequency for such event-driven activities and also to offer a very prominent unsubscribe to the additional event messages.

One B2B technology company sets the wait at two weeks. The VP of communications can’t remember why this rule was chosen, but feels it inhibits her ability to implement drip marketing campaigns. For this marketer, e-mail unsubscribe rates are around 1 percent – about double what I’d expect to see for a B2B marketer. While it may be that the two week restriction prevents overmailing, it may also be fueling the high opt-out rate. When the cadence is too wide – allowing a long gap between follow-up communications – the marketer misses the opportunity to communicate when the customer is “in market.” Consider this scenario: after a whitepaper download, the prospect gets a “how can I help you” e-mail customized from a sales rep. Then, nothing for two weeks. By the time the second message comes along, the subscriber has already done their research and moved on. There is no connection to the sales rep, either. It’s too slow, too little, too late – thus the high opt-out rates.

Testing to reach the right business rule doesn’t have to be hard. If you aren’t using any governance now, I recommend just starting with some reasonable measure – probably one touch point per week for B2B and no more than three touches per week for B2C and retail. A major financial institution sets the governance at one touch point per week – for all channels. This includes e-mail, direct mail, and even the ATM machine offers. The rule came from testing three scenarios: weekly, biweekly (every two weeks), and monthly. The tests were run across key consumer segments and the one-per-week messaging significantly increased response rates and customer satisfaction.

Run your tests based on the business objectives and the level of relationship. For a bank, customers have multiple (maybe dozens) of interactions a day – every time you use a credit card, withdraw money, write a check, or watch your stock portfolio performance – and so communicating at every transaction would be intense. At the same time, bank customers expect that the bank knows something about them and will customize messages appropriately. Customers balk when offered checking offers during an ATM withdrawal in a checking account. Owners of 529 plans expect family-related offers.

Some tips for establishing and managing governance rules:

  1. Get started. Pick a baseline and let it run for a month or so. Review the data and the response rates per communication. Then adjust to improve the results.
  2. Technology is your friend. Your marketing automation system should be giving you controls to manage touch points across channels and within channels. Your e-mail governance may be channel-specific, but can be overridden or suppressed by activity (e.g., a major event) or by other channels (e.g., a direct mail campaign). Get control by message type as well as audience member.
  3. Leverage the data. Use the data you have to listen to customers and prospects and adjust governance to allow timely communications at the right cadence for each lifecycle stage. Engagement is the key driver of message content, offer, and timing.
  4. Offer choice. But be ready to commit. If you offer frequency choices on your subscription forms or in My Account areas, then these restrictions must be honored, no matter how much the promotion director wants to sell. If you can’t live with that, then don’t offer choice, or offer it only at the point of unsubscribe or cancellation.
  5. Prioritize. Develop content with governance and cadence in mind. Sometimes spoon-feeding information is best over time. Similarly, if recency data (behavior) trumps everything, you could be ignoring important demographic data that might better influence timing and content.
  6. Relevancy still reigns. In the example above, overall customer satisfaction with the bank is driven in part by marketing content. (Yikes! No pressure there!) Above all, have something worthwhile to say. Simply being present in the inbox, Web portal, or mobile app is not a driver of relationship.

That brings us back to attitude. Shape your governance strategy around customer experience and engagement and you will find that a little less can go a long way.

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