Developing A Scalable Messaging Strategy

It's time to start implementing the plans you developed before you went on vacation. As an email marketer, I'll go out on a limb and assume the word "relevant" appears somewhere in your plan for this year.

There are a numerous tactics to deliver more relevant messages. However, when we aim to increase relevance, we don't mean that we simply want to deliver a few relevant messages here and there. Simply developing a compelling welcome email is not enough. The real challenge in email marketing is to consistently deliver relevant messages.

Equipped with perfect data, this would be an operational challenge. Sourcing and producing content is where aggressive segmentation plans typically collapse. Over time, messages delivered to these segments start to look very similar. Moreover, we don't have perfect data. Only a subset of our subscribers have complete profiles, and a smaller percentage have done anything worthy of a meaningful transactional email in the recent past.



Faced with these realities, one approach I've used for creating both manageable and scalable messaging programs is to leverage this three-tiered concept:

Level #1: Base Programs

These programs form the foundation of a messaging strategy. They may be weekly promotions or monthly newsletters or something similar. They may require ongoing development or they may be a time-based message sequence. They key is to establish an ongoing and regular presence in your subscribers' inbox.

One problem I regularly encounter is that marketers overcomplicate this level by creating too many segments. A few segments are sensible. Too many complicate production. Define segments based on which subscribers will receive the email template. For example, customers/prospects or online shoppers/in-store shoppers/multi-channel shoppers/prospects. Once templates are created for each segment, use dynamic content to personalize the email with specific product or service content. Just make sure to pay attention to developing default content that will go to those subscribers with incomplete profiles.

Level #2: Triggered Programs

A great triggered program doesn't eliminate the need for a good base program. After all, the majority of your subscribers are not likely to meet the criteria for one of your triggers in any given month.

Triggered messages are where email marketers can really scale their programs. Since these programs are event-dependent, not time-dependent, each new trigger you create becomes one more opportunity to drive additional revenue. Confirmation emails represent a simple triggered message. But consider the Best Buy email I received after buying a camcorder in-store, which highlighted complementing accessories. Opportunities like this are countless.

The best part is that triggered messages are "set it and forget it." Better still, they significantly outperform standard messages. Conversion rates are often at least 10X higher than typical promotional emails (I have seen as high as 70X conversion rates). The downside is that a relatively small number of these messages get triggered each month.

There are two keys to success for triggered messages. First, create a bunch of them. Each new message is like a deposit in a high-interest bank account. Keep making deposits and over time the revenue you generate from these programs will be significant. Second, put controls and frequency caps in place to prioritize triggered mailings. Some, like confirmations, will go out in real time regardless of other triggers in queue. Others, like the camcorder accessory email, need to be prioritized so the subscriber is not overwhelmed with triggered emails.

Level #3: One-off programs

There are always out of the ordinary emails to be sent, like holiday emails or emails to micro segments. In general, we don't need to develop an entire messaging strategy around small, highly targeted audiences. However, these messages do make sense from time to time. By planning for one-offs from the start, we can develop processes for adjusting the rest of the program when these situations arise.

Deploying relevant email messaging programs requires us to embrace two realities. First, developing and managing content is a hurdle we must overcome. Second, there will always be more segmentation and targeting techniques. To deliver on the promise of increased relevance, we must structure programs that allow us to scale despite these ongoing challenges.

Good luck as you start implementing!

3 comments about "Developing A Scalable Messaging Strategy".
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  1. Jay Goss from Mogreet, January 6, 2010 at 6:42 p.m.

    As a possible #4 for this list...2010 is probably the time for many marketers to being learning mobile messaging. For your brand, how is reaching people specifically on their mobile phones - via a text or video message - the same as email; how is it different? Some of the answers are obvious - screen size, open rates, where the consumer is when they receive the message (and the implications thereof). Some of the answers are not so obvious - for example, insofar as we are all highly responsive to a text message hitting our phone, it means the marketer can better control the timing of the message. If you want to get a message to the consumer 5 minutes before the TV show starts - to remind them to tune in - you can. To get glimpse at how this might work, text 'mogreet' to 21534.

  2. Kristen Gregory from Bronto Software, January 7, 2010 at 9:21 a.m.

    Fantastic article, Morgan! This breakdown is especially helpful for those marketers that just don't know where to start and how to get organized. Sending those "base program" emails consistently and then creating triggers and then focusing on special one-off messages, can really help those starting from scratch learn to crawl and then run. I plan on sharing this article with clients. Thanks!

  3. Kurt Johansen from Johansen International, January 7, 2010 at 6:23 p.m.

    Morgan, I deal mainly with small-medium businesses and I find segmentation is not a main player in communicating with their lists. Sure we can personalise messages after certain purchases and this makes great marketing sense. As an email-marketer most small-medium businesses I see do not know what to say to their customers. They are very reactive businesses. To overcome this we plan an objective which would happen in 1-2 months time and plan a series of emails to achieve that objective and picking up sales along the way. Then every month we have set email objectives and a plan in place. My good clients do this annually, I am happy if I can get most of them to look 3 months ahead. And it's not their fault, they are dealing with the day to day issues. Outsourcing of their marketing is the answer for them.

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