Your Email Program: Time for A Tune-Up -- Or A Blow-Up?

You never know where inspiration is going to strike and make you change the way you do things. For me, it was this quote, tweeted (and retweeted extensively) by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh: "As you grow older, you'll find that the only things you regret are the things you didn't do."

Zachary Scott seduced Joan Crawford with that line in the classic film "Mildred Pierce," but it also applies to the way you run your email-marketing program.

If you could start your email program all over, what would you change, and what would you retain? If you took over a program someone else started, are you perpetuating old practices just because that's the way they've always been done?

Focusing on the Trees or the Forest?

We talk a lot about optimizing email-marketing programs here in Email Insider columns, at industry conferences, in Webinars and white papers, in tweets and blog posts. There's nothing wrong with this. In fact, perpetual optimization is a habit that all marketers should adopt.

But expending your limited resources only on a tiny improvement here and a tweak there -- subject lines, say, or where to put the unsubscribe link in the email template -- can distract you from going for the break-through opportunity that will drive dramatic increases in revenue, generate more high-quality leads, increase loyalty or accomplish whatever your email and business goals are.

Rethink, Then Tweak

Are you missing the chance to make significant improvements to the very program you are optimizing incrementally? Without a doubt, there are better ways to do many of the things you are doing in your email program.

Get out of the office with your team, grab your favorite inspirational beverage and a whiteboard, and ask this question: "If we were joining the company today, which aspects of the email program would we throw as far as our pitching arms allow, and which would we keep and simply improve?"

Here are just a few sample questions to kick off your "blow up or tune up" brainstorm session. The only "right" answers are the ones that are right for your company.

1. Organizational issues

  • Do we have the right skill sets on our email team, or should we outsource design but bring on a database marketer?
  • Does email reside in the right department within the company?
  • Do we have the necessary budget and software tools we need to execute a world-class program?

    2. Email's role in the enterprise

  • What is the role of email in our company? Are we solely focused on promotional emails and missing opportunities for cost savings or customer retention?
  • Does the return we get on our regular broadcast emails justify the time and money we spend on them, or should we reallocate resources to focus on lifecycle and triggered messages that might generate a higher return?
  • Do we integrate email with other marketing initiatives, including social, mobile, print, broadcast, direct or out of home?
  • What are our company's business goals, and what role does email marketing play in achieving them?

    3. Programming issues

  • Who are our subscribers: customers, prospects, a mix of both, or the great unknown?
  • How do we best reach and engage with each of these segments? What are their pain points, and does our email program address them?
  • Is our program's frequency and cadence logical to our subscribers, or do we need to move to a more customer-centric approach?
  • Should we add more email streams, cut some or move to a mix of broadcast emails and targeted messages triggered by customer behavior?

    4. Measuring and communicating email's performance/value

  • Are we using the right metrics to measure and communicate email's ROI and value?
  • Are we overly focused on opens and clicks, and underemphasizing brand lift, increase in LCV and loyalty?
  • Are we working with other departments to track and report things like call center deferral rate, increases in on-time payment, etc?
  • Are we measuring the process of email or the output of email? (See the earlier Email Insider column "Are You Using the Right Metrics?")
  • Do we have an agreed-upon definition of an active or engaged subscriber?
  • Beyond simply sending re-engagement emails to inactives, have we analyzed our program to determine when, why and who are most likely to disengage -- and then put programs in place to minimize inactivity?

    These are just a few examples of areas and aspects of your email program where you could ask, "Do I need a detonator or a wrench?" So the next time you contemplate another subject-line A/B split test, consider instead if there is a better approach to your email program that best achieves your business goals.

    What other "big picture" questions would you ask to achieve quantum, rather than just incremental, leaps in your email-marketing program? I welcome your comments below.

    Tags: email
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    3 comments about "Your Email Program: Time for A Tune-Up -- Or A Blow-Up?".
    1. Rita Allenrallen@freshaddress.com from FreshAddress, Inc. , July 29, 2010 at 3:47 p.m.

      A good discussion topic recap. One other consideration...as their is approximately a 30% attrition rate on an email address annually, updating the email addresses of those contacts who have become inactive can help provide a response. They may not have remembered to inform all of their contacts of a change of address which is why they may be inactive.

    2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , July 29, 2010 at 4:58 p.m.

      One read a day keeps emailers on their toes, McGruber McDonald.

    3. Alison Davis from Davis & Company , August 8, 2010 at 10:37 a.m.

      Thanks so much for this post. Gave me lots to think about in my work sending email to employee "customers." In fact, I borrowed some of your questions for my blog (giving you credit, of course): http://www.davisandco.com/blog/archives/2010/08/great_questions.html