How to Develop E-Mail Campaign Business Rules

One of the most difficult parts of creating a dynamic email campaign is development of the content strategy, sometimes called the campaign business rules. Wikipedia defines “business rules” as “the operations, definitions and constraints that apply to an organization in achieving its goals.”

In dynamic email, campaign business rules define how content and the recipient profile will be brought together to produce the final message for each recipient. As the name implies, these rules are based on the campaign’s business objectives.

If you’ve run email campaigns before, you’ve used simple business rules — even if you didn’t call them that. Selecting a subset of your database for a special promotion is applying a campaign business rule.

Developing effective business rules is usually an iterative process. Prepare a first draft, then refine it until all stakeholders are comfortable with the results. As part of that iterative process, ask the following questions of each potential rule.

Which Campaign Objectives Does It Advance?

This is the key to successful business rule development. Every rule should advance one or more campaign objectives. It’s easy to get bogged down in detail or sidetracked by interesting yet irrelevant ideas. Keep coming back to this central question to ensure you’ve not lost the plot.

Do We Have Sufficient Profile Data?

Rule implementation requires profile attributes, regardless of whether it’s for segmentation or content customization. Furthermore, all profile attributes aren’t created equal. It’s important to know not only which attributes you have available but also data quality.

For each profile attribute, you must understand the level of completeness and the quality of the attribute across your database. I’ve seen email from recipients saying, “Please stop sending me this in Chinese. I’m not Chinese, and I don’t understand it.” As the saying goes, “Garbage in, garbage out.” Bad or out-of-date profile attributes undermine the value of your dynamic campaign.

Do We Have Sufficient Content?

When you implement a dynamic campaign, the amount of content scales along with the level of customization. Unfortunately, this means the cost of content creation may scale geometrically, too.

To mitigate this cost dynamic, campaigns often take advantage of existing content, repurpose third-party content, or generate content from existing data sources.

An article introducing new customers to your product line could be used month on month for new list members. Alternately, you may be able to develop a library of product reviews licensed from third parties. Also, providing a recipient with the contact information for your sales outlet nearest them is likely a one-time programming cost that will be relevant far into the future.

What Value Does It Add?

What value any given rule adds depends on a number of factors. Conceptually the cost/value equation can be considered is as follows:

Rule value α (number of recipients x value of objective) – content cost

Having analyzed your data, you can estimate how many recipients will be affected by the rule. Given that you have well-defined (i.e., measurable) objectives, you can determine the value of a given objective. Finally, you can determine how much content will be required to implement the rule and the cost of such content.

The hardest part of the equation is identifying each objective’s value. However, even applying this concept approximately will greatly assist in determining which rules are worth implementing and which aren’t.

Campaign business rules will drive content creation and profile collection, but they’re also altered and constrained by available content and profile data. During development, you must be extremely detail oriented without losing sight of high-level campaign objectives. It is these somewhat contradictory aspects that make business rule creation so difficult.

Poorly defined business rules are a major source of cost escalation, ineffective content, and, ultimately, failure in dynamic campaigns. You want to get this right! The good news is that with practice and effort, it’s achievable. Just keep asking the four key questions.

Until next time,


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