A Pep Talk For Your Email Strategy

I'm willing to bet that fewer than 2% of the contributors to this week's MediaPost columns know how to use macros in Microsoft Word. And I'd wager that it's no higher if you expand that population to the top 100 best-selling authors on, the entire (remaining) New York Times editorial staff, every English professor at accredited universities nationwide and the full membership of the Public Relations Society of America. These people use Word more than anybody -- as experts, who better to know all its 950 commands and features?

The answer is obvious. Writers are experts at writing, not the technology that turns their craft into a product.

Should email marketers be any different? We've become the world's leading authorities on deliverability, readability, terminology, policy, client capability, predictability, reputation and metrics. Not satisfied, we attend hundreds of sessions at dozens of conferences each year to go deeper into social channel integration, engagement optimization, multivariate testing, macro-trending, micro-segmentation and soon (according to David Baker's column earlier this week) "sentiment analysis." What is sentiment analysis?



If we don't slow down, we'll end up like the hack golfer who keeps buying new oversized drivers to straighten out his tee-shot, instead of fixing the hitch in his swing that's causing the nagging slice in the first place.

We all know that email marketing begins with strategy. But strategy requires a long view, and patience. Because email success makes the cash register ring instantly, it's alluring to chuck the long view in favor of the quick wins. We can always return to our strategy next campaign. Or next quarter. Or when the recession is over. Or when we finally have enough staff.

You don't need me to tell you how to create an email strategy. And you can probably imagine how your subscribers (and competitors) will react to one too many emails that miss its strategic mark or don't deliver on the promise you made to people when they signed up.

But in a challenging climate with near-term demands, it may be that some email strategies could use a pep talk, to make sure they stay focused and in the game. If you're having trouble keeping the long view, try some of these:

How many fish will your company need next year? In 10 years? As an email marketer, your responsibility is to build an asset, not deplete one. You're not there to merely catch fish for your company, or even to teach them to fish. You are charged with building the reefs that yield abundant and sustainable supplies of fish, forever.

Be a prophet, not a hero. You know those reports you run that show your highest or your average open rate, CTR, F-T-F, SWYN, and ? Condition yourself to ignore them in favor of reports that trend over the past quarter or year or three years. As far as your strategy is concerned, it's better to see what direction your metrics are headed, than to reminisce over the good old days from the past.

Boring email fails. Boring strategy succeeds. "Moderation in all things, including moderation," wrote Oscar Wilde. What he meant by that, of course, is that your email strategy should be the same predictable thing, month in and month out. But your emails themselves can still find room to be lively, intelligent, and both important and earnest.

Listen to your subscribers, not your ESP. When it is time to make a change in your tactics, go in the directions your subscribers want, which may or may not include whatever new feature is promoted on the homepage of your ESP's site currently. Sure we roll out products based on market needs and the changing landscape, but your needs and changes may vary. Better to be your subscribers' advocate than your ESP's model client.

5 comments about "A Pep Talk For Your Email Strategy".
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  1. Darrah Maclean from Smith-Harmon, October 21, 2009 at 10:11 a.m.

    What a great article! Thanks so much for your insight. Motivating words to start my Wednesday.

  2. Trevor Stafford from Red Canary, October 21, 2009 at 10:27 a.m.

    That quote does not belong to Oscar Wilde, it has been attributed to greeks and romans, but not englishmen.

  3. Mike May from Huge, October 21, 2009 at 10:59 a.m.

    @Darrah, thanks for the kind words. Coming especially from a professional writer I'm especially grateful.

    @Trevor, I stand corrected. Wilde wrote, "Moderation is a fatal thing; nothing succeeds like excess." But that wouldn't make sense here. Wilde doesn't understand email at all, it seems. So I should attribute the quotation to Petronius, which makes it less funny, but more accurate.

  4. Frances Dugan from Permanent General Companies, Inc., October 21, 2009 at 11:05 a.m.

    Great pep talk Mike. I think that "Listen to your subscribers, not your ESP" is something we all need to hear sometimes. It's so easy to get caught up in the next big thing instead of weighing the importance of the next big thing to our subscribers. Nice post!

  5. Mike May from Huge, October 21, 2009 at 1:11 p.m.

    @Frances - thanks, I'm glad you agree. Sometimes it's easy to forget that we're not our own target market. Just because we think a feature is irresistible, doesn't mean our subscribers will.

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