The recent Email Insider Summit was the best for me so far. Speakers, presentations and topics were all top-flight. Sessions and roundtable discussions covered a few strategic issues (metrics that matter) but mostly tactical topics such as preference centers, welcome emails, testing and frequency.
Reflecting on the conference made me wonder: Is email marketing all about tactics? No of course not. But you might think so if you looked at the inventory of speeches, articles and blog posts from throughout the industry. Tactics are worthless unless they are based on a solid strategy, but poor execution of a solid strategy is just as problematic.
Successful email marketing doesn't have an "easy" button. Dozens of elements come together to deploy a world-class email program. Ignoring or not optimizing one aspect can sabotage other aspects of your program that you've done well.
The single most important way you can improve your email performance is to increase relevance through greater use of segmentation and dynamic content. So put this at the top of your 2009 to-do list. Following that, as you look ahead to 2009, consider tackling some of the following tactics to take your program to the next level.
1. Focus on business metrics. Your C-suite executives don't care about open rates. They want to know how email supports core business objectives such as generating revenue and reducing costs. Focus your email program and communication of performance metrics on business-focused goals -- or risk continuing to have too much to do, and not enough resources.
2. Instill trust. Trust drives everything from the initial opt-in to engagement and on through preference updates and even unsubscribing. If your email-related processes and messages don't inspire trust, subscribers will ignore you or file spam complaints.
3. Communicate. Don't just sell. Email is as close to a one-on-one conversation as you'll get with a mass medium. You have more to say than just "Buy this product." Customers want and expect more from their relationship with you. Give it some thought. I'll bet every reader that you can find at least 10 types of email messages your subscribers will find of value.
4. Lift engagement with a new-subscriber welcome program. This organized, automated series of emails introduces new subscribers to your email program and helps to build engagement and reduce unsubscribes, spam complaints and inactivity. It's a vital aspect of an effective email program that many marketers overlook.
5. Incorporate behavioral data into your email program. Integrating email with Web analytics and other behavioral data will pay off in more relevant emails and increased conversion rates. You say you don't have time? Use off-the-shelf integrations and take it one step at a time.
6. Turn the frequency question into a customer-touch strategy. The question isn't "How often should I send messages?" It's "How can I use demographics, preferences and behaviors to drive a continuous email program that maximizes my customers' lifetime value?" When you use email to stay in touch with customers, instead of just selling to them, frequency issues start to fade.
7. Reduce unsubscribes and spam complaints. Turn the negative of a spam complaint or unsubscribe into a positive when you view it as an opportunity to improve your email program. Your subscribers are telling you something when they want off your list. Ignore it at your peril.
8. Minimize list churn and inactives. One third of your list is likely disappearing each year, and one third to two thirds has gone inactive. If you don't get your churn and inactivity rates under control, your subscriber-acquisition costs will have to increase dramatically.
9. Incorporate social media, user-generated content and social networks into your email program. Email has always been a social medium, but new channels extend this capability beyond the inbox. Adding social functionality keeps your email relevant and extends your message with minimal effort.
10. Optimize for blocked images, preview panes and multiple devices. Optimizing your email message design and HTML to render well is critical to continue to deliver value no matter where and how readers view them, or how they want to interact with them.
11. Improve your deliverability. While some email marketers debate the value of improving deliverability, taking simple steps to reduce blocking and filtering drops dollars straight to the bottom line.
12. Minimize stupid mistakes and oversights. Email marketing now has its own set of "generally accepted best practices," but some marketers haven't got the word. Are you one of them?
13. Focus on retention and engagement. Your email database is your email program's greatest asset. Make 2009 the year you finally start taking care of it by working as hard as possible to engage and retain your current subscribers.
14. Enable subscriber choice with preference centers. Your subscribers are in the driver's seat. Your email program must recognize this and give them the tools to customize and personalize the subscriber experience.
I've obviously left off many other email tactics, so let me know what's on your "Email Marketing To-Do List" for the coming year.
Until we meet again in 2009, take your email program up a notch!