How Can Something So Simple Be So Hard?

Email marketing should be easy: take subscriptions from customers and prospects who want to hear about your promotions, products or services; send emails; monitor who reads it , and track what they buy.   Rinse and repeat!  Other kinds of marketing should only be this easy. 

Think about the complexity behind online media: creative, trafficking, all the buying options available.  You are basically a “day trader” with a creative hat. 

Search is no easier, with its daily optimization of key words. Again, you are a “trader” by day for paid search.

Direct mail -- well, let’s just say it has its place, but I wouldn’t make up charts showing the growth in mail sent year over year.  

But email?  Anyone can do that, right?   Sure! But you won’t do it long if you don’t know what you are doing.

Email is the easiest channel to be average at, but hardest to be great at.    It is one of the purest combinations of marketing disciplines there is. Let me explain:

Email has become an “engagement channel,” which doesn’t just indicate a means of communication with your customer.  Your success is predicated on engagement.   Email deliverability has gotten so crazy-hard.  If you want to feel the effects of good and bad lists, just add a few hundred thousand addresses to your next mailing that you haven’t contacted in two years. Then watch while your inbox placement tanks and you get blocked by AOL.

So you live and die by engagement with email.  The conventional wisdom of sending to “ALL” is gone.   It has become quite a business to understand deliverability and the impact of thousands of ISPs around the globe, each with their own unique blend of rules, thresholds, filters and rate limits. Imagine if each local post office operated under a different set of rules.  Sometimes your mail gets returned to you, some only deliver half, some deliver it a week late.  That’s the email game. Data is the only constant that leads to consistency. 

And creative takes too long and is not that important.  Sacrilege!  Does that mean send text email to everyone?   We spend over 40% of our time in an email campaign working on creative.  Why?  We are marketers and that’s the easiest thing to do to show we are doing something valuable.  It’s also how agencies get paid. 

Don’t get me wrong. Responsive, fluid design is a really good user experience, but the fact is, the viewing device is getting smaller,  and less consumer archiving of marketing oriented email.

 Now before you throw out this email and say, this guy doesn’t know squat about email, remove your pride for a sec and think about all the over0architected email designs and templates.  I agree, if your customer purchased a bike last week, you should display bike parts instead of fishing poles, but marketers spend a disproportionate time in the creative process.   Take some tips from the online media space and speed this process up. 

With cadence, it’s a fine line between too much and not enough. The real trick to email success, which only a very few old timers realize, is, you don’t always have to be relevant to be effective.   Email is an analytics and optimization game.  If I can get into the inbox as often as possible without getting a complaint and get some form of engagement that meets a minimum threshold, my chances of being relevant when the time is right increases dramatically.    The stats don’t lie.   A 5% improvement in top-of-the-funnel (delivery), has much more sustained effect than testing creative treatments.  

Email marketing is founded on many principles, but it’s a hard thing to optimize. And the larger your file grows and the more revenue pressure you have, the worse most get.  Most of you simply need to split your email group into three functions. One deals with the consumer experience and the purest forms of design, web interaction and branding/social impact. Another deals with automation and streamlining everything you possibly can without completely dumbing down anything creative. The third is purely focused on data and deliverability.   This group’s mission is to focus just on the dynamic between data, frequency, volume and ISPs, squeezing 5% performance out of Comcast and RoadRunner.   

These are different mind-sets, with different KPIs. But working with them combined is what separates the best email marketers from the average ones.

2 comments about "How Can Something So Simple Be So Hard?".
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  1. Mark Klein from Loyalty Builders LLC, October 21, 2013 at 12:48 p.m.

    I suspect that buried in the paragraph about cadence is an assumption that relevance is directly connected to the creative treatment. There are at least three ways to be relevant: targeting, messaging, and offers.

    Relevant targeting means sending to customers ready to buy now. For email, the address set is usually larger than for other media. Companies email to everyone they can, and deliverability counts, so this option is usually ignored.

    Relevant messaging is what I think you are talking about when referring to testing creative treatments. However our experience is that this grab for relevance is far less effective than making relevant offers.

    It’s easily possible today to send a million emails to customers with each customer receiving a unique set of offers and visuals depending on their previous transaction behavior. You don’t have to worry about ‘being relevant when the time is right” if you are relevant every time. With individualized offers, what we call individualized marketing, you are. That’s the way to drive engagement.

  2. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, October 22, 2013 at 5:10 a.m.

    Re: "Email is an analytics and optimization game." Indeed, and click+open data isn't nearly enough to target and personalize properly. Also, never forget cart and browse abandonment - these alone can get you 10% extra sales for very little extra effort:

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