Ten Steps for Developing an Effective E-mail Strategy, Part 2

If you do e-mail marketing without a formal strategy in place or have a strategy but aren’t meeting business goals, you’re in luck. This is the second is a series of five columns covering the 10 steps required to develop an effective e-mail strategy:

  1. Identify qualitative goals.

  2. Analyze the current situation.
  3. Complete a competitive analysis.
  4. Define the target audience.
  5. Determine which types of e-mail meet your needs.
  6. Develop a content strategy and a frequency and send schedule.
  7. Design the e-mail template.
  8. Create quantitative goals.
  9. Compile budget and ROI (define) projections.
  10. Evaluate results and tweak the strategy accordingly.

These come from the strategy section of my new book; the publisher is offering this chapter free. Start with part one to work on your own plan, bit by bit, as we go (note that I’ve updated items six and seven). Keep up and you’ll have a full plan just six weeks from today.

The last column discusses the importance of developing an e-mail strategy and walks through the first two steps: identifying qualitative goals and analyzing the current situation. We’ll continue that process today through completing a competitive analysis and defining a target audience.

Complete a Competitive Analysis

This critical step in the process is one many organizations skip. Some feel funny “spying” on their rivals. Others don’t believe there’s anything they can learn from their opponents. Still others aren’t sure how to go about gathering this type of information.

The short answer to all these objections comes from Michael Corleone in “The Godfather: Part II”: “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”

The easiest way to begin is to sign up for any e-mail newsletters your competitors offer. I recommend using a nonidentifiable address rather than a business or personal address; just get a free e-mail account. Not all companies screen competitors’ e-mail addresses from their lists, but some do. Also, it’s helpful to keep these e-mail messages separate from your regular correspondence. And if you’re looking to gather data on how your competitors segment their lists, you may want to utilize one e-mail address for each segment or e-mail newsletter so you can see how they treat different selects.

From the subscriber side, you won’t be able to get the detailed information you have on your house list, but you will be able to observe such things as:

  • How frequently they mail

  • What types of e-mail they send:
    • Commercial or transactional

    • Formats, such as postcard e-mail, long-form e-mail newsletters, and short tip e-mail

  • When they send: days and times
  • Whom they send to (which list segments
  • What products or services are mentioned
  • What types of content are included:
    • Editorial or promotional

    • Long or short

  • Content quality: great, fair, or poor

I like to watch for at least a month to get a full picture, but the more often your competitors send, the more you can learn in a short time. Look for patterns.

As you did with your internal analysis, don’t worry about organization or structure right away. Just dive in and keep jotting down things you learn about your competitors’ programs.

Feel free to involve others in this process. It’s often good to have multiple people in your organization reviewing what the competition is doing. Each may see something different. Putting all your observations together creates a more complete picture.

As with your internal information, the goal here is to list the strengths and weaknesses in your competitors’ programs. These should be things that are under your rivals’ control, not factors outside their sphere of influence. Particularly important is identifying things you can leverage to your advantage (opportunities) and things you must keep from interfering with your own success (threats).

Their weaknesses, and your opportunities, may include:

  • The Monday afternoon e-mail newsletter consists of last week’s industry news. You can publish as-needed news alerts via e-mail. This will make the Monday newsletter obsolete.

  • A competitor doesn’t provide targeted content based on industry segments. You can easily do this if you ask at sign-up which segment subscribers are in.
  • Its transactional e-mail messages don’t include an incentive for future sales. You can add a 10 percent discount coupon in all your transactional e-mail to encourage repeat purchases.

Their strengths, and your threats, might include:

  • A competitor’s weekly e-mail providing analysis of industry legislation is really well done. You don’t have the resources to do it better, so don’t spend time trying.

  • It’s partnered with some of the biggest vendors in the industry. Focus on building relationships in other areas, perhaps with independent experts.
  • It has a regular schedule of sending special offers on Tuesday afternoons. Beat them to the punch by sending special offers on Monday afternoons.

Combining these opportunities and threats with the strengths and weaknesses that came out of your internal analysis, you’ll be able to develop a strengths-weaknesses-opportunities-threats (SWOT) analysis. More important, these will begin to define the structure of your e-mail newsletter strategy and program.

Define the Target Audience

The more you know about your readers, the better you can match content offerings to their interests. Focus on things that matter in the context of the relationship you want to have with them. For consumer lists, standard demographics such as gender, age, marital status, educational background, and hobbies may make sense. In the business world, those data points may be moot; title, seniority, and job function may be more appropriate.

Figure out business goals in respect to each group. You may be looking to generate qualified leads from a prospect pool while trying to sell additional products to current clients. Don’t limit your audiences. You may want to communicate with the press for PR purposes or with companies offering complementary products to your markets in the hope of getting referrals.

Note features, benefits, and advantages your products, services, or information offers your audiences. These may differ by segment and product. You’ll likely end up with multiple paragraphs or a grid-like structure. That’s OK. The better you define your groups, the better you’ll be able to target content.

Finally, include elements of the buying decision each group takes into consideration. Some segments may be more price sensitive than others. Support may make or break the sale for one product and be irrelevant for another. Gather as much information as you can. You can always hone it later.

That’s a thumbnail on how to dive into your competitive analysis and target audience definition. Give it a shot over the next two weeks and let me know if you have questions.

Part three of this series will cover the next two points:

  • Determine which types of e-mail meet your needs.

  • Develop a content strategy and a frequency and send schedule.

Until next time,


Want more e-mail marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our e-mail columns, organized by topic.

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