Success is not only dependent on stacking up favorably against your competitors in the marketplace; it is dependent on stacking up favorably against every other brand in the inbox.
Historically marketers have been trained to evaluate competitors selling the same types of products or services. Under Armour looks at Nike. Target looks at Walmart. You get the point.
The problem is that consumers don't look at their inbox in the same way. Their decision is not whether they should open the Gap email or the American Eagle email, it is whether your email is worth the energy and time it will take to digest the message you have sent them.
The same could be said for all forms of marketing. We know consumers are barraged with marketing messages. However, the difference with email is the immediate feedback it provides -- feedback in granular detail -- on the effectiveness of the messages we are providing to consumers.
We can track how many people had the opportunity to see our message (delivered). The number that took advantage of that opportunity (opened). The number that decided to take action on the message we present to them (clicked). And, in many cases, how many convert as a result.
Despite the fact that the numbers we have to work with are not perfect, I would argue that they are closer to perfect than any other channel in the marketers' toolkit. As such, there are not a lot of places for email marketers to hide. Either your email program is effective or it isn't. Your messages resonate or they don't. The only possible scapegoat is the email channel itself. But the problem with this excuse is that there are still plenty of companies doing extremely well using email. So why aren't you?
In my experience, a failure in the email channel can be attributed to one of a handful of issues:
1. Lack of a clear value proposition. Do your customers know what they can expect to receive from you? And are you delivering on those expectations?
2. Lack of internal alignment. Determining what messages will be valuable to consumers is nearly impossible without a clear understanding of how messages should be prioritized across the organization. Departmental priorities aren't enough, because customers don't think or care about departments. They are interacting with a brand, and they expect the brand -- at the brand level -- to have its act together.
3. Lack of clear process. Ensure that all stakeholders buy into and know exactly how they can plug into an overarching email strategy. Without this strategy, individual stakeholders are more likely to deploy their own email program Each new program introduces more chances to confuse subscribers, leading them to ask "Why am I getting this?" "Which newsletter should I sign up for?"
Addressing these issues requires strong capabilities and leadership across strategic planning, process mapping, and political negotiation. Before you start coding, or integrating, or designing, you need to have a clear plan in place that allows you to consistently deliver valuable content to subscribers.
The challenge is that most companies believe they don't have enough valuable content to deliver and thus, feel compelled to create (and deliver) more.
But email metrics tell us what content is actually interesting. It's probably not about providing more information; it's about providing better information. If you can develop a framework that consistently delivers truly valuable content to subscribers, while supporting the varied interests of stakeholders within your organization, you will prove yourself worthy of even bigger marketing challenges in the future.