Embrace The Unknown, Then Embrace It Again

Great email marketers embrace the fact they don’t always know what will work. That truth was reinforced this week as I sat alongside some of the best email marketers in the world participating in a lightening round of “Which Creative Won?”

The “experts” were right more than half the time, but one result in particular defied everything any of us have learned about email best practices. As we shook our heads, one participant leaned over and said, “Sometimes real-world results just don't make sense.”

The difference between great email marketers and everyone else is that they passionately embrace this reality. There is only one true measure of success in their world -- beating the control -- and they work hard every day to fulfill this goal.

As Chad White wrote yesterday, there is growing separation between the haves and have-nots in email marketing. Great email marketers are getting better and driving more profit through their programs. Those that are still in batch-and-blast mode are watching their lists become increasingly unengaged, response rates decline, and their astronomical ROI come crashing down to earth.

I have found that it is not so much the “things” great email marketers do that sets them apart, it is really the philosophy they embrace about email marketing that makes the difference.

1)   The winner becomes the new control – Testing creative, subject lines, time of day, etc., is not done to determine a winner. It is done to beat the existing control and establish a new target. Then the process starts over as the winner becomes the control and marketers figure out how to beat it with a new challenger.

2)   Segments are sacrificed for the greater good – Innovation doesn’t exist when people are afraid of failure. To get better, you need to try things that might not work. The key is to contain the risk by only exposing a small segment of your subscribers to the new treatments. One marketer even shared that he puts aide a small percentage of new subscribers and NEVER send them email. He can track sales from this group since it’s registered on the site. By comparing these subscribers to those getting email, he is able to accurately measure the full impact of his email program.

3)   Opinions are worthless – Another marketing director who leads one of the world’s most profitable email marketing programs shared one of the emails his company sends regularly, “We send millions of these every week, and I think it looks awful. But we’ve tested it and it has beaten every challenger to date. I can tell you why it works, but that doesn’t mean I will stop trying to beat it.” The vast majority of email marketers I know would have changed the template simply because they didn’t like the way it looked, but that’s what makes this program great: opinions are always tested against reality.

4)   Cohort performance, not campaign performance – Great email marketers look at campaign performance metrics (Delivery Rates, Opens, Clicks, Opt-Outs, Conversions) as diagnostic tools, not KPIs. Instead of looking at the opt-out rate of each campaign, they look at what percentage of subscribers opt out in a month . Instead of looking at campaign conversion rates, they look at changes in RFM (Recency, Frequency, Monetary Value) scores over a period of time.

5)   LTV, not ROI – Email marketers love to talk about ROI. Driving positive ROI from email is easy, but maximizing LTV is a never-ending challenge. One person put it this way: “At the end of the day when a customer leaves us, they will have left a big pile of money on our door. I am less concerned with how much they spend today; my job is to maximize the size of the pile they leave us.”

Complacencu is an email marketer’s greatest enemy. Why do you send email on the day you send email? Why do you send it at the time you send it? Why are you using the template you use today? Why do you use the subject lines you use? Why do you use that headline? That image? That segment?

If your answer is not “because we know it’s what works best for our company,” then it is time to start making some mistakes. As Dale Carnegie taught us, The person who gets the farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare. The sure-thing boat never gets far from shore.”

Happy emailing!

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1 comment about "Embrace The Unknown, Then Embrace It Again".
  1. Latease Rikard from LMR Publishing , March 29, 2012 at 2:28 a.m.
    The first line of this article made me feel good because each time I send my newsletter or schedule one, I wonder whether my subscribers are getting it at the right time, if I'm even doing it right! Email marketing isn't an exact science. You're always tweaking and modifying in order to take your marketing to the next level. I'm glad the experienced marketers have the same worries as I.