Why Your Brand Needs Email Smarts More Than Ever in 2013

Email marketing has been sneaky hot of late. In many ways it has experienced a healthy metamorphosing into part of a long-promised broader digital marketing arsenal focused on what matters most for the majority of businesses: making money. New and growing businesses are stealth in how they embrace email. You will hear marketing automation, cloud-based marketing platforms, digital messaging, CRM, and the like, but the companies valued highly and/or raising a ton of money or being acquired feature email front and center. I’m talking about ExactTarget, Pardot, Eloqua, HubSpot, Infusionsoft, and the list goes on.

These companies all showcase proven technology platforms designed to get your customers to buy more often and turn prospects into customers. So let’s be clear. The technology side of the email business is deep and has a solid option for just about every type of business. What’s missing still for the majority of brands is super smarts and know-how in terms of leveraging the technology or having a clear path to maximize ROI and (don’t forget) give the best to subscribers your brand can offer.

Anyone doubting the difference between a decent email program and a great email program can look to the Obama email marketing success. This juggernaut blended email science and art to maximum success. No one can dispute the power and importance of online fundraising, and email was the bread and butter and just may have won Obama the election. At the very least, it raised a boatload of money. Bloomberg Businessweek broke down its efforts and reported: “Most of the $690 million Obama raised online came from fundraising emails.”

This Obama email team had some serious smarts and results. Unlike the typical email program, they seemed to obsess over details, tested and measured everything, and then put these learnings to work. So they didn’t do the typical “spend three weeks on an email and the last five minutes on the from and subject lines.”

“The subject lines that worked best were things you might see in your in-box from other people,” Toby Fallsgraff, the campaign’s email director told Bloomberg. So forget long-winded themes or political messages – the best subject line was “Hey.”

Email frequency was much discussed by campaigns as they blitzed their subscribers all election season. Their takeaway (and this may cause shudders to many email purists): no matter how many emails they sent, people wouldn’t unsubscribe. Their metrics didn’t show sending more emails resulted in any damage to the campaign. Certainly, this doesn’t factor in emotionally unsubscribing, which is commonplace for email subscribers and their passive way of unsubscribing. But long-term customer value is relative when what you’re selling has a limited shelf life.

It’s unclear on whether sending more email had a direct correlation to raising more money, which seemed to be the ultimate goal of the email program (I would argue even more then getting President Obama reelected). I would bet more email resulted in more donations.

Other smart discoveries took a lot of people and time (Fallsgraff told Bloomberg that “we had 18 or 20 writers going at this stuff for as many hours a day as they could stay awake”). Things like “ugly” creative and not very sophisticated tactics often won.

These findings, and more importantly successes, aren’t the kind of thing that technology generates on its own. To commit to sweating the details, testing, and finding ways to make your emails more in line with what subscribers want and what your business needs is not an easy nor simple fix. You must commit to your email program in an entirely different manner and be determined to build it out in a manner that accomplishes these ambitious but meaningful strategies and tactics. So as you seek a new email partner or build out a bigger and better team (remembering technology plus expertise is the first part of the equation), aim for bigger and better in 2013 and don’t fail to test or try something “just because.”

In Part 2, I will look at what I believe to be the two key ingredients to making 2013 a game-changing year for your email marketing program.

Email image on home page via Shutterstock.

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