The Road to Email Success Is Paved With Strategy

Another excellent Memorial Day weekend!  Although I have to admit, I spent a little too much time thinking about email marketing (as I often do on long road trips in the minivan while my two kids are watching a movie and my wife is asleep in the passenger seat).  On this particular trip I could not stop thinking about some excellent meetings my team and I have had with clients recently.  

The overarching takeaway from all of these meetings is that email marketers seem to really be focusing on the strategy behind their programs.  We've been spending more and more time with marketers on planning their digital programs -- something too few email marketers are committed to.  There seems to be a disproportionate amount of time spent reviewing email and campaign management technology (features) as opposed to the strategy that is meant to drive the use of that technology.   

Consider my Memorial Day trek to Cincinnati to visit family. I was totally confident we would have a great weekend.  Why, you ask? Simple: planning -- a clear understanding of where we were starting, an agreed-upon vision for the trip and a concerted effort to get all the essentials lined up so that we could execute on the vision.  Is your marketing team investing enough in the strategy behind your email programs?  Here are a few questions to ask yourselves to be sure.

How do my programs compare to my competitors?
It is hard to get somewhere when you are unclear where you started. Just try to get directions from Yahoo Maps without entering a starting point.  Email marketers need to look at four key areas to assess where their programs stand today (three internal and one external).
1.    Data -- where is it and how difficult is it to access?
2.    Content -- where is it and how rich is my content library?
3.    Programs -- what are all of the current email programs being delivered to consumers or other stakeholders?
4.    Competition -- do I understand what my competitors are doing?  How does my competition use the email channel -- what is their recipient experience around subscriptions, unsubscribe and transactional communications?
Do not take shortcuts on the competitive analysis; a clear understanding of how your programs stack up against your competition is the foundation for understanding where your email programs are today.

Do I have a program vision?
When my wife and I planned our trip, we spent the majority of our time discussing what we wanted the experience to be, what priorities we had for time with cousins and grandparent, and what a real "win" would be for the vacation, which boiled down to having the kids at the end of the trip kicking and screaming when we forced them to head back to Chicago.  Email marketers should be committing the same focus to their strategic planning.

Once you have a firm understanding of how your business uses email and how that compares to the competition, it's time to create a vision for what the email channel could be for your business.  This vision needs to include specific success criteria so you can track progress towards your ultimate goal.  

Here are a few examples of simple, trackable visions that we have seen clients develop in the last few months.



  •     Marketing will own all email communications to our consumers; specifically, in 2009, we will integrate marketing communications into our transactional email and drive (insert specific conversion metric, revenue, clicks, ad impressions, etc.) per week and per month.  Transactional email deployment will transfer to marketing and be in production no later than Sept. 1.

  •     Marketing will increase conversion rates (click-through rates and purchases) by 35% across all email programs, solidifying competitive position and maximum leverage of the email channel.  

  •    Marketing will make testing a core element of our programs, including performing spilt tests on all subject lines and offers.

    Do I have a clear roadmap for executing the vision?
    Unfortunately, most marketers start putting together a roadmap before they truly understand where they are or where they want to go.  Picture the 20-page vendor RFPs that are all about the "how do I get there" without defining "where am I going?"  While selecting the right partners and technology is critical, it is not as important as the first two steps.  

    One of the real pitfalls we see with email marketers looking to take their programs to the next level is the lack of executive buy-in.  This is usually due to management's limited understanding of the vision behind the email channel.  Vision development is essential for communicating to the company the reasons behind additional investment in email marketing technology and resources.  You would be surprised how quickly companies invest in programs backed by sound strategic vision.  

    At the end of the day, marketers should invest as much in strategic planning as they do in the execution of email.  Many companies have internal expertise to rely on, while others turn to their solution providers for help.  If it has been more than six months since you had a serious talk about email strategy, I suggest you and your team walk through an assessment of where you are today, your vision for the coming year and your plans to execute on the vision.  

    With the growing consumer sophistication, the addition of new online channels and the advent of the social web, email marketers cannot afford to be tactical, rather than strategic, for too long.

  • 1 comment about "The Road to Email Success Is Paved With Strategy ".
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    1. Email Ista, May 29, 2009 at 7:21 p.m.

      Great article. Thank you!

      Check out my blog @

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