"Doing more with less." For marketers, this is not a recession-specific catchphrase. In my experience, organizations are always asking marketing departments to do more (drive more leads, Web site visits, online transactions) with less (budget, staff, services). While this tendency has caused more than a few ulcers, the positive byproduct has been (and continues to be) innovation in direct marketing technology.
In fact, it is safe to say that it's easier than ever for marketers to do more with less. The trick is finding the application of technology that makes the most sense for your business. From an email communication perspective, a great place to start is automation. If you are not automating a good portion of email communications, you may be missing a chance to be more relevant, timely and efficient. If email automation was on your list of 2009 objectives, here is a primer that can get you started before 2010 rolls around!
Email Stream Analysis
Start by completing an Email Stream Analysis. It's no surprise that the most successful email marketers we work with have a firm grasp on how their businesses use email across the customer experience. The stream analysis is simple to complete; answering these 5 questions is more than enough to uncover some exciting automation opportunities.
1. Identify all communication streams delivered to consumers or clients via email. This means everything from a purchase confirmation to customer service announcement.
2. Determine the datasource for each stream of email, and more importantly, who owns it.
3. Determine the trigger of each communication, and classify the current state as automated or manual.
4. Determine the purpose of each communication. Is the message focused on customer support, brand marketing, ecommerce, etc.?
5. Determine the opportunity to enhance the customer experience in each stream. What elements of the program can be tweaked to optimize results?
Now that you know what email your organization is sending, it's time to consider what email you're not. We recently sat down with a client and walked through a typical customer's online experience with the brand in a given week. From the recipient of promotional messages to casual visits to the online store through the shopping cart processes, we identified opportunities for communication that were not currently being leveraged. We added these to the current programs to the email stream analysis.
Once we have a comprehensive view of current and potential email programs, we "stack rank" each stream based on its automation opportunity. Current automated programs are at the top, programs with high automation potential come next and low automation potential comes last.
As a marketer, how do you determine high vs. low automation potential? The answer is in the already completed email stream analysis. Remember, how we listed "triggering event for each stream?" Wherever the trigger event sits within or is tracked by an application (ecommerce, Web analytics, CRM, data warehouse), the automation potential is HIGH. Whenever the triggering event sits outside a system and is controlled by a manual process (submission of newsletter content from authors, development of "one-off" email creative), the automation potential will be low.
Finally, you are ready to consider your automation strategy. At the top of your list are system-generated messages that are already automated within your business. This is the low-hanging fruit. These communications are already automated. The trick is to enhance the use of these streams by embedding marketing value into them. Many companies are taking advantage of these streams and automating the delivery of a number of marketing communications within these transactional streams. Web services technology and flexible integration options have given marketers unprecedented access to these streams.
Next on the list are system-driven messages, or email streams that are being sent manually today that could be triggered by systems or data sources. These streams will require some work to automate, so the key is to pick those that offer tangible benefits to program performance. Here are a couple of relevant examples:
Preference-based promotions: Many companies are starting to leverage preference centers to gather information from their email subscribers. The problem is the data gathered is not always focused on improving program performance. In discussions with an eTailer last week, we presented the concept of "Gift Reminder Preferences." Allow a subscriber to input dates (birthdays, anniversaries, holidays) for specific personal relationships (son, spouse, parent), and the email solution can deliver these "Reminders to Buy" at incredibly relevant points in time with very impressing conversions.
Shopping cart abandonment: Too few eTailers take advantage of the data captured by their web analytic systems. Simply triggering automated offers as shoppers abandon carts could increase program results by 50%. If you have Web analytic tools and work with a sophisticated email technology provider, these programs NEED to be at the top of your automation wish list.
At this point, you have taken already automated email communications and put them to work for marketing. You have identified undeniable ROI for a few additional email streams and automated those as standalone programs (preference-based promotion) or as part of an existing customer workflow (cart abandonment emails).
Now you're on to stage three: looking for automation opportunities in those streams you considered as having a low automation potential. While some of these streams will never be fully automated, look for stages within email program development that can be more efficient. Some examples include:
Dynamic content previews: If you have a cumbersome process for testing the placement and "look" of dynamic content across a set of data, look for tools that automate this process as part of the campaign workflow. You shouldn't have to send test emails to 30 unique contacts at 30 unique addresses; this should be part of the email-creation process.
Enhancement of email wireframes: If you are creating several versions of a template for a single program, odds are you are not leveraging dynamic content to its fullest. Wherever possible, each program should be supported by a single wireframe that automatically brings in variable attributes based on customer data.
Integration with Web content and content management systems: It is not uncommon, especially in newsletter applications and promotional email, to have content that is already available online. Many companies have identified ways to link email templates to already available content, shortening production and proofing cycle times.
Regardless of what streams you end up automating, the opportunity is there. However, like anything else, you will need to:
If you follow these steps, you can rest assured that the results will be well worth your effort.
Editor's note: This post has been corrected to reflect the fact that its author is Ryan Deutsch of StrongMail, NOT Jordan Ayan. MediaPost regrets the error.