Digital MarketingEmail MarketingSpecial Sauce, Silver Bullets, and E-mail Marketing

Special Sauce, Silver Bullets, and E-mail Marketing

Four ways to improve e-mail marketing campaign results.

I’m really enjoying the new “comments” option at the end of our ClickZ columns. If you haven’t yet taken the opportunity to post, I encourage you to do so. It can lead to some interesting discussions between readers and columnists.

One thread from my last column got me thinking. The poster expressed his suspicions about people who claim to have the “secret sauce” to make e-mail marketing effective.

I have no recipe for “secret sauce.” When I work with clients and speak to attendees at e-mail conferences, I often tell them that there’s no “silver bullet” (no “secret sauce”) to effective e-mail marketing.

But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to improve your results.

A couple of avenues drive my recommendations to clients for improving their e-mail marketing performance:

  • Implement standards and best practices
  • Put myself in the readers’ shoes
  • Know what’s working for other clients and in the industry in general
  • Use effective testing methods to gauge improvement

Implement Standards and Best Practices

This is probably as close as it comes to “secret sauce” — things that fall into this category include:

It’s basic stuff, but you’d be surprised how many companies, large and small, aren’t doing even the basics. Sometimes these types of changes can produce tremendous results. Case in point: the 75 percent increase in online orders one of my clients realized as the result of simple layout changes that optimized the preview pane view and increased e-mail readability.

Other times, the results are less dramatic. But these things are still worth doing — they’ll position your e-mail efforts to be more effective in the long term, as you continue to test.

As with so many things, the devil is in the details. While I can look at an e-mail and know that we need to optimize the preview pane view, the details of how to do that usually come from the next step — putting myself in the reader’s shoes.

Step Into the Reader’s Shoes

Some days I feel that the most important thing I bring to the table as a consultant is a set of fresh eyes.

As a marketer, you should and do love the product or service you’re marketing; the benefits are so obvious that you know them like the back of your hand. That’s a good thing, as long as you don’t assume your e-mail audience feels the same way.

Many of my recommendations here focus on relevance to the reader and creating clear, benefit-oriented offers and calls to action. This is where the details come in — understanding the target audience’s needs is first and foremost. Because I’m coming in from the outside, I’m well positioned to view things from the reader’s perspective.

Once again, there’s no “secret sauce” here. There is logic and common sense, but each case is different and the recommendations reflect that.

These changes can also produce tremendous results, like the 220 percent increase in leads generated that one of my clients recognized. But not always; sometimes the improvements are smaller or, in some cases, non-existent.

Know What Works for Other Clients and for the Industry

Identifying what others are doing to improve their e-mail marketing can provide a springboard for ideas. I rely on my own experience with past clients as well as case studies.

When I work with clients, I don’t limit myself to just what’s working in their industry; this is a mistake many people make. Great ideas can be found from a variety of sources and industries. The key to success is applying the concept to your own e-mail marketing.

In many cases, these recommendations go beyond what a company is already doing with its e-mail. It involves adding efforts, like a triggered e-mail series to educate readers about the product or service. Or it could involve adding marketing copy to transactional e-mail messages, attempting to turn a cost center into a profit center.

Here you’re creating new ways for your e-mail program to help your bottom line.

Use Effective Testing Methods to Gauge Improvement

E-mail is a direct response marketing channel and the key to direct response is being able to directly quantify the results of your efforts. Sometimes clicks are the goal, but more often you’re looking for conversions of some type — leads generated, sales made, eyeballs coming from your e-mail to view advertisements on your Web site.

You need to be able to track e-mail performance and have a testing protocol in place that delivers statistically significant results. A/B split tests are a good start. You split your list in two randomly and send one group the “control” e-mail campaign or program, while the other gets the “test” e-mail or program. Controlling for maco-environmental factors, which could skew results, like send timing and other outside influencers, is key.

Final Thoughts on “Secret Sauce”

There is no “secret sauce” for e-mail marketing; I often end my presentations talking about the importance of testing.

When it comes to recommendations for improving performance, what I or my client thinks doesn’t really matter. What matters is what the recipients think. They don’t provide their opinions directly. They vote with their actions. Do they open the e-mail? Do they click? Do they take the action the sender wants them to? Do they convert?

Sometimes we see a tremendous improvement in results from a single round of changes. Other times we see small increases in performance and build on those with additional insights and changes. Once in a while, we see little difference between control and test efforts, and have to reexamine the changes to determine why they didn’t perform as expected.

Alex Ovechkin (Let’s go Caps!) leads the National Hockey League in goals scored this season with 31. But he doesn’t score a goal every time he touches the puck. He doesn’t even score every time he shoots the puck at the net.

While you always want your e-mail marketing efforts to perform, you never want to go backward. Every test won’t beat the control. But when they do, you’ll increase your metrics and hopefully your ROI (define). A few small increases in ROI can add up to big changes in your company’s bottom line.

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