The Inbox: New Business Incubator and Laboratory

What I love most about e-mail is that you can test any idea and know whether it works within 24 hours.

As a copywriter and creative consultant, I’ve sat at endless meetings in the past where I’ve thrown out any number of good ideas only to have the client say, “That will never fly.”

Now with e-mail, I can say, “Let’s test it.” And soon we find that the idea not only has wings, but also the legs to turn into a profitable, long-term campaign.

Simple e-mail tests have uncovered new audience segments, developed new messaging, and forged new strategic directions.

Recently, I used the lessons learned in e-mail to develop a new 2009 marketing strategy for a large organization. When the client gasps and vigorously nods in agreement as you cast the spotlight on new data, you know you’re onto something good.

Here are the questions I asked while reviewing two years worth of e-mail results for my client:

  • What is the best audience segment by overall gross income, average purchase, and response rate? What messages do these best customers respond to most, and how can we leverage this information to improve our other communications to them (direct mail, advertising, Web content, etc.)
  • What are the best seasons for e-mail communications? When I saw that 48 percent of the online income came in December, I recommended starting their holiday planning way earlier in the year to maximize it. And seeing that spring was their next best season, I recommended immediate tactics to help them take advantage of the upcoming profit opportunity.
  • Where are the best sources of new prospects and customers? Viral efforts brought in the most new people, but these new folks weren’t being welcomed or thanked enough to guarantee a second purchase. So we’re going back to create a new prospect pathway.
  • What are we doing to increase retention? This isn’t a time when anyone can afford to lose customers, so we’re looking at online and offline retention strategies to keep good customers in the fold.
  • What have we tried in the last year that worked and is it worth expanding? A low-dollar campaign really generated high revenue, so we’re expanding and replicating it in several new ways.
  • What are our best products and how do we create “brand extensions” to bring in more revenue from known winners? We’re creating loyalty promotions around our best products to increase customer engagement and activity around products we know they care about most.
  • How can we marry our online and offline efforts for maximum effect? Revenues increased when e-mails and direct mail went out at the same time on the same topic. Now we’ll cross-reference online promotions with snail mail. For example, “Look for this catalog that is coming to your office soon.”
  • What products are more important in light of current economic conditions? Some of our “sleeper” products that aren’t very sexy in an up market are very well-suited to a down economy. We’ll be promoting them more online than in the past.
  • Are we doing enough follow up? If an e-mail does well the first time, don’t stop there. Follow-ups often generate more revenue than the original e-mail. And “last chance” e-mails can add a lot of lift to the end of a campaign. Now we need to institutionalize that process.
  • What’s the competition doing that looks interesting? By doing an inbox review of competitive e-mails, we uncovered some fresh new approaches worth adapting to our own campaigns.

What’s interesting about this approach is that it’s a “bottom-up” strategy. Instead of working with lofty creative and marketing recommendations handed down by the advertising agency, this approach offers a true reflection of what’s actually working on the ground. The key messages and sales techniques that test well with actual customers and prospects can then be filtered up and reflected in your bigger branding campaigns.

Not to mention, it’s the cheaper way to go — which might get your CMO’s attention.

How are you using e-mail to test your B2B creative and marketing strategies? Share your case studies with Karen.

Register for a free Webinar, to take place March 12, on the future of e-mail, presented by Jeanniey Mullen, a ClickZ e-mail marketing Experts columnist and CMO of Zinio.

Join us for Search Engine Strategies New York March 23-27 at the Hilton New York. The only major search marketing conference and expo on the East Coast, SES New York will be packed with more than 70 sessions, including a ClickZ track, plus more than 150 exhibitors, networking events, parties, and training days.

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