Keeping Your Email Program Out Of The Penalty Box

So, it has happened:  For the first time since 1961, the Chicago Blackhawks have won Lord Stanley's Cup.  As a hockey fan here in Chicago, it's hard to focus on anything other than last night's victory this morning.  On the drive into the city, I listened as local radio stations reported the whereabouts of the Blackhawks...after landing at 3:47 AM at O'Hare airport, they moved from bar to bar and are now grabbing some breakfast at a "joint" by the United Center.  While they have been celebrating, I, of course, have been thinking about email marketing. 

Throughout the playoffs (and in particular the championship series between the Blackhawks and Flyers), penalties helped to determine the outcome of game after game.  For those non-hockey fans out there, when a penalty is called on the ice, the offending player is sent to the "penalty box," leaving the game for a period of time.  This creates a power play for the opponent, leaving the offenders' teammates "shorthanded" to do their best to prevent a goal.  Penalties can kill the momentum of a game and change the outcome in seconds.  As email marketers, you need to make sure your email program isn't playing "shorthanded."  Here are a few penalties I would call on emails that I have received in the last two weeks. 



 Penalty: Out-of-Control Cadence

There is no shortage of opportunities to engage with subscribers.  Its seems almost every system within a business (Call Center, Campaign Management, CRM, eCommerce, etc.) has the ability to trigger email communications.  On top of that, as self-service email tools have become easier to use and less expensive to implement, departments within brands have been enabled to easily launch ad hoc campaigns.  The result of this is a decentralized email communication strategy that, if left unchecked, results in a disjointed message to the customer and a lousy experience with your brand.  Add to this the "new" subscription channels (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and you have even more silos within a business engaging with the customer.   

It is more important than ever to reign in digital messaging workflows.  Ignoring this is a major penalty against your email and digital messaging strategy and will result in subscriber attrition and decreased program performance.   

The first step in getting cadence under control is to document all workflows that trigger email communications. Next, prepare a presentation that shows each of these messages and how they fit into the customer experience. Lastly, gather the "owners" of each of these communication streams and present your findings.  Even if you are not ready to tackle changing workflows and systems to get control of these messages, at least the "players" will be aware of the issue, and collaboration can begin! 

Penalty: Multi-Step Unsubscribe

Sorry, this is just a stupid penalty to get called for!  If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you have heard many of my peers talk about email deliverability and the elements that impact your brand's reputation with ISPs.  It is not new news that complaints are a leading cause of email delivery issues.  In addition, ISPs are beginning to consider engagement with email programs as a factor in determining inbox placement.  For example, if I am a subscriber to your email program and have not opened or clicked on an email from your brand, my "lack of engagement" will start causing delivery issues. 

Complicated unsubscribe processes frustrate subscribers, adding more complaints and unengaged members of your email database.  If people want out, let them out. Give them an easy, one-click method to unsubscribe.

Penalty: Not Dealing with Image Rendering

OK, this one has been driving me crazy lately.  With the growth in mobile device usage and email clients, email marketers have to be doing real analysis of their creative across email and mobile delivery platforms.  I have received at least six emails in the past week that (aside from the "From address" and subject line) are completely useless with images off.  No "click here to view this message," no text to fill me in on the offer within the message, nothing.  Just a bunch of blue question marks or whatever it is Gmail renders instead of images. 

There are a number of tools out there to automate rendering testing, so if your business has not yet invested, you need to.  You cannot test creative once a quarter.  Rendering analysis needs to be done on a very regular basis.   Things are changing too fast within the email clients we deliver to.  Just because something rendered yesterday does not mean it will render today! 

Penalty: Ignoring the Opportunity of the Social Web

I am not talking about Forward-to-a-Friend here.  Too many marketers are treating social media the way printers treated email in the 90s.  Take a direct mail piece, convert to digital format, and press send!  That approach quickly gave way to email programs that were designed to take advantage of the channel's unique qualities: inexpensive personalization, dynamic offers based on integrated data, real-time reporting and optimization, etc.  Email marketers cannot just insert Facebook and Twitter Links alongside the Forward-to-a-Friend button and expect to get results. 

Programs need to be built that leverage the unique benefits and capabilities of social media.  If you want to see a great application, head to and buy yourself some New York strip steaks.  When you get to the confirmation page, click on the referral program banner and watch how the company has integrated ecommerce, email and the social web to create real value for its business and its best customers.  If you are not getting social right, you are giving your competitors a power play  -- and the results will not be good for your brand. 

So, back to celebrating the Blackhawks' victory!  They did a decent job staying "out of the box" during the series against the Flyers. I hope you can do the same as you use email to compete in your market!

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