How to Make E-mail Campaigns More Meaningful

So often, when I’m talking with clients or speaking at conferences and workshops about e-mail best practices, I feel as if I’m scolding my kids and telling them they shouldn’t do things they know will get them into trouble.

Truth is, showing marketers how doing e-mail the right way — with permission, well-done creative, authentication, and reputation management among other factors — should build a stronger case than all the finger-wagging about “desperation marketing.”

Achieving Greater Relevance

If you’re an e-mail marketer, your goals for 2009 probably include driving greater revenue without spending a greater share of your budget. As budgets get scrutinized or tightened, we must be careful not to follow the old-school mantra: “Send more e-mail; make more money.”

This tactic doesn’t work in that straight line. Rather, you can incur many negative side effects, essentially wiping out any short-term financial gains.

If you need a mantra, tattoo this on your forearm: Make your e-mail messages more relevant and meaningful to your recipients.

If you don’t know where to start, look at the following three kinds of e-mail programs for inspiration and ideas. Each one is different from the other, and they’re listed in order of content relevance, from highest to lowest, to the subscriber:

Lifecycle Programs

These messages launch automatically in response to specific actions a customer or subscriber takes (or fails to take) over a common product lifecycle:

  • Welcome programs
  • Browsing
  • Shopping-cart abandonment
  • Win-back or account reactivation campaign
  • Customer satisfaction survey after purchase, customer-support query, or product review invitations
  • Product replenishment reminders
  • Upselling based on purchases

Most of these can be set up with specific criteria, are highly relevant, and often generate the highest ROI (define) because they speak to actions customers take.

Setting up a lifecycle e-mail program takes some programming time up front to establish criteria and create the message content, but once the work is done, this kind of program will work with minimal effort from you.

This is a key opportunity to drive revenue and e-mail program relevance.

Segmented Campaigns

These replace or enhance broadcast messages where a target audience has been divided into smaller audiences, either with a slightly different message to each audience segment, or with dynamic content that changes portions of the message based on user data, such as purchase history, preference choices, or browse categories.

Segmented campaigns often get overlooked, but actually represent a major opportunity to increase relevance and drive revenue. By taking portions of your typical broadcast audience, and targeting your message to increase relevance for them, you begin to generate higher response rates.

Also, you need not raise frequency, which has its own drawbacks.

Broadcast Campaigns

This sends the same message to your entire list and is likely responsible for most of your total revenue. It’s the simplest of all campaigns, and the one most susceptible to overuse.

Marketers turn to the broadcast campaign to squeeze a few more sales before the end of the year, quarter, or month.

When you increase frequency, you might see some increased revenue (though usually not in proportion to the increased frequency). The danger is that you also tend to wear out your welcome with your subscribers.

Increased list churn, due to unsubscribes and spam complaints, means you have to work harder to fill the holes in your subscriber list and to grow it.

It also means the list churn effect is reducing the audience size for your automated programs, the ones that drive the higher-percentage ROI.

Bonus: List Growth

Although technically not a type of campaign, this is always a challenge for e-mail marketers: how to add new subscribers while retaining your present subscribers and keeping them active.

More so than any other part of your e-mail program, you must review and optimize how you capture addresses to allow for easy additions and changes.

With the high turnover in jobs resulting from the economy’s downswing, marketers can expect to see their subscriber lists decline through no fault of their own. These tactics can help you retain more subscribers:

  • Remind subscribers of the value and benefits of remaining on your list.
  • Sell them on the benefits at sign-up.
  • Survey your list of inactives regularly to see if you can return them to active status before cutting them loose.
  • Stay top of mind with subscribers through regular mailings.
  • Promote other communication channels to allow your subscribers to follow you in other networks, besides e-mail. One of the newest trends is “Share With Your Network.” Include your network accounts (Facebook profile, Twitter ID, etc.) in the administrative footer of your messages and call them out prominently in your welcome programs.

Final Thoughts

As we look to expand the performance of the e-mail channel, be sure to do it with solid programs that increase message relevance to the subscriber and promote true subscriber value. Don’t just increase frequency from two times per month to two times per week.

Until next time, keep on deliverin’.

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