Unexamined E-mail Isn’t Worth Sending

This is by no means a new rant of mine. Those of you who follow this column know all too well that we’ve been here before, perhaps more times than we’d like to count. But I recently read a report from the CMO Council that once again succeeded in getting my e-mail marketer hackles up. The study, “Business Gain From How You Retain,” evaluated how marketers today are leveraging customer intelligence to optimize their acquisition and retention efforts as well as their marketing spend.

The key takeaway of the study? They’re not.

The CMO Council report indicates that a lack of customer knowledge and the failure to integrate disparate customer data are the largest roadblocks to marketing success today. This failure to analyze customer data and share insight is seriously undermining competitiveness and profitability among marketers.

The most frightening finding is that over half of marketers today report they have fair, little, or no knowledge of their customer demographic, behavioral, psychographic, and transactional data.


Perhaps that helps explain why the average tenure of today’s CMO is a mere 23 months. After all, there really is no excuse, is there? Never before have marketers had more information at their disposal about their customers and their behaviors and preferences to help make smarter strategy decisions. As an e-mail marketer, I get frustrated by these findings. E-mail is a medium built to succeed through careful testing, data collection, analysis, and optimization. And yet the majority of e-mail marketers today continue to batch and blast, failing to capitalize on the medium’s full potential and leaving customers, orders, and dollars up for grabs for their competition as a result.

You’d have to be an ostrich to miss all the recent news on how online media spend — e-mail, search, social media, and the like — is on the rise, despite a slowing economy. Forrester Research projects online media spend will surpass $61 billion by 2012, and PQ Media predicts that 1 out of 4 marketing dollars will be spent in interactive channels by that time. Why do e-mail and online marketing in general continue to show strength despite the economic odds?

Shifting media-consumption trends are clearly driving the change, as are new emerging technologies and media themselves. But the greatest catalyst is measurability. Marketers have a desperate need to measure the value of their efforts, particularly in these penny-pinching times, then leverage those measurements’ value to drive further success.

And yet, are e-mail marketers truly maximizing the channel’s metrics and measurability?

While marketers are increasingly turning to e-mail and other interactive channels that deliver measurable results in these wallet-tightening times, their efforts to apply those results and customer insights to increase sales and loyalty are, as the CMO Council study shows, lagging at best. Perhaps this is because they feel they lack the expertise to fully analyze the data at hand or are simply overwhelmed with the sheer volume of information they must sift through to find meaningful nuggets they can act on. Perhaps they are pressed for time or budget. Perhaps they’re simply used to doing their jobs the way they’ve always done them. Perhaps the CEO or CFO isn’t complaining…yet. (Let me assure you, it’s just a matter of time.)

And thus, marketers, hear my plea once again. Do not waste the power of this amazing channel. If you aren’t testing, analyzing, and leveraging customer data in your e-mail marketing efforts today, stop what you’re doing right now. Drop everything, and start anew while you still can. If you can’t collect and analyze the data on your own, hire an expert who can. The success of your marketing campaigns, your company’s acquisition and retention efforts, heck, your career depends on it.

Start with baby steps. First, identify your customer segments, whether by acquisition source, demographics (income, age, location, gender, etc.), purchase behavior, psychographics (areas of interest collected through preference pages or surveys), or domain. Then begin to anticipate your customer segments’ needs, and deliver relevant information according to their needs, wants, and past behaviors. Personalize information based on individual customer attributes, and deliver dynamically generated content for even greater results.

Then test, test, and test some more. Understanding the individual components of success or failure can help achieve future triumphs more quickly and effectively. And that means greater ROI (define). Open and click-through rates are simply not enough. Work with a vendor who can provide relevant reporting that helps fine-tune future efforts, including behavioral analysis and clickstream tracking.

Most important: use the information you glean to drive further success. Ignore it at your peril.

Effective e-mail is all about optimizing the complete customer life cycle. That is, reaching out to the customer at every point in the buying process, and delivering relevant, highly targeted information to provide genuine value and superior service, spur behaviors and transactions, and increase customer loyalty. Anything less simply misses the entire point and is time and money wasted.

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