Are Your Emails Positioned Well?

Email marketers spend so much time on where their emails are positioned in the inbox that they ignore the more important positioning: in the consumer's mind.

Don't misunderstand. Deliverability and inbox placement are foundational and the first step to getting your emails read and acted on. However, as the recent hysteria over Gmail Tabs showed, many email marketers are focused on the wrong things.

To hear marketers talk, Gmail Tabs was the zombie apocalypse of email because their emails got routed to the "Promotions" tab in Gmail instead of "Primary."

Analysis by Return Path showed what many of us had speculated: Recipients who were highly engaged with your emails before Tabs are even more engaged with Tabs. If subscribers want, value and engage with your emails, they will find them.



The New Positioning

This underscores that the "positioning" email marketers should focus most on is the decades-old concept of positioning that Jack Trout articulated in his 1980 book “The New Positioning.” The most successful products and services – and, I propose, emails – occupy a clear and specific spot in customers' minds, one that is differentiated from competitors.

Understanding the Mind

Trout postulated that positioning is "not what you do to the product, but what you do to the mind." He outlined six aspects of the mind that affect positioning success:

1. Minds can't cope: Consumers are inundated with information and content, so much so that they can’t remember and comprehend most of it. So we humans have developed a defense mechanism of simply tuning out that which we don’t need or want at the moment.

2. Minds are limited: Most people can remember only a limited number of things, whether phone numbers or brands in a category. Related research led to the "Rule of Seven." In a brand context, this rule suggests that most consumers can remember a maximum of seven brands in a product category.

3. Minds hate confusion: Information overload has created a huge amount of complexity and confusion. Simplification is the best way to enter minds that hate complexity.

4. Minds are insecure: Consumers are more comfortable with "group think" and will gravitate to brands and products (and your emails) if other consumers validate that choice.

5. Minds don't change: If your brand and email program are positioned a certain way, changing that perception is incredibly difficult. Instead, consider reclaiming your original heritage and turning it into a strength.

6. Minds can lose focus: Have you launched multiple email programs (daily deals, closeouts, newsletter, etc.), all with the same branding, or does each email program have its own brand and position?

Email Positioning: Getting Started

If you buy my argument about the importance of positioning, these four ideas can get you started:

Identify direct and indirect email competitors: You know whom your company competes with, but you might be surprised to find different direct and indirect competitors battling for your subscribers' mindshare in the inbox. Consider surveying subscribers about their other email subscriptions.

Analyze email competitors: Once you understand what related emails your customers are reading, analyze elements such as branding, cadence, subject line approaches, offer types and frequency, personalization and dynamic content, content approaches, personality and types of automated emails (birthday, welcome, recommendation, browse remarketing, etc.).

Audit and analyze your email program on the same attributes: Objectivity can be a challenge here. Consider using an outside agency, consultant or freelancer to provide an accurate, unbiased view of your program. Use focus groups and surveys to learn how subscribers view and interact with your emails.

Conduct a gap/opportunity analysis: Compare your program audit to the competitor analysis. Determine where your brand and email program is strong or weak, and where it can occupy a clear spot in your subscribers' minds.

Now that you have a firm handle on how your email program is positioned in your subscribers' minds, it is time to improve that position for maximum success. I will outline some approaches to a better-positioned email program in a future column.

Until next time, take it up a notch.

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