Random Messiness: Time To Add Some To Your Email Marketing Program?

Could your email marketing program use a little chaos, disruption and messiness?

On a recent flight home from London, I watched economist Tom Harford's TEDTalk presentation, "How frustration can make us more creative,” in which he shows how inserting messiness and disruption into the creative process will usually produce a better result.

Naturally, it got me thinking about how to apply his concepts to email marketing.

Three Elements of a Disruptive Email Process

1. Randomness. We marketers often talk about following "best practices," not because we are sure they are actually best, but because they're tested and safe. By following what the experts and everybody else are doing, we know we won't get in trouble and can expect at least average performance.

Do you really want to be average, though?

Consider trying tactics and approaches that go against conventional wisdom or at least your common practices. Obviously I'm not telling you to go crazy here; emailing to five-year inactives could land you on a block list.



So, consider approaches like these:

  • Test emails with 175-character lines.
  • Send a "happy birthday" email to subscribers for whom you don't have birth dates, and then ask for those dates so you can “get it right” in the future.
  • Send promotions for men's items to women in your database.
  • Move your email header and top navigation below your first and primary imagery and call to action.
  • Change the color, size, design and words in your CTA buttons.
  • Instead of suppressing subscribers after 180 days of inactivity, send them one email per week after 30 to 45 days of inactivity.

2. Stranger in the process. Harford described a study in which two groups of four students were told to solve a murder. One group included four students who knew each other well, while the other group included three friends and one stranger.

The group with the stranger solved the murder significantly better than the all-friend group. That's because the stranger brought pain and discomfort to the process and reduced the tendency toward group thinking.

Here are a few ways to introduce the "stranger" concept in future brainstorming and planning meetings:

  • Invite someone from another department that you normally don't work closely with, such as customer support, human resources, finance or engineering.
  • Add a person from your company's traditional advertising, social media or PR agency.
  • Incorporate programs, emails and processes from industries that are very different from yours.
  • Bring in a consultant, sales engineer, product evangelist or someone else from your ESP or marketing automation provider with whom you normally do not work.

3. Oblique strategies. Legendary musician and producer Brian Eno collaborated in the 1970s with art teacher Peter Schmidt on a card-based system called "oblique strategies." Each card presents a challenge designed to disrupt traditional thinking and processes that block creativity.   

Consider these statements or questions in your brainstorming meetings, or come up with your own:

  • Have members of your team change roles for the meeting. For example, your designer takes on the role of data analyst.
  • Bring back an old direct-mail idea from decades past.
  • Send emails at a different time or cadence.
  • Use a subject line style that radically departs from your current style.

Some of these concepts and examples might be stupid or complete failures for your brand. So what? The point is to break free from your same-old, same-old thinking and to try some new, random and crazy things.

Only this type of approach can generate surprising or even breakthrough results. Incremental thinking and changes, which build bit by bit on past changes, won't achieve this. 

Have you tried some messiness in your email marketing program? Please share the good, bad and the ugly in the comments section.

Until next time, take it up a notch.

4 comments about "Random Messiness: Time To Add Some To Your Email Marketing Program?".
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  1. David Baker from Cordial, July 28, 2016 at 12:53 p.m.

    nice article Loren!  

  2. Loren McDonald from IBM Marketing Cloud replied, July 28, 2016 at 1:12 p.m.

    Thanks DB! Have you ever taken an approach like this with a client?

  3. Jordie van Rijn from EmailMonday, July 31, 2016 at 9:01 a.m.

     “I'd rather be a little weird than all boring.”

    Nice article Loren, I believe that what you describe is exactly what some would need to spice things up. Not only on the side of the sender, but also your audience likes to see  variance. 

    I especially liked your idea of moving the header/nav below the first CTA. Great idea for a test.  :) Added it to my <a ref="">email test ideas collection</a> (number #165) 

  4. Loren McDonald from IBM Marketing Cloud replied, July 31, 2016 at 12:31 p.m.

    Thanks Jordie! Ya, I wrote another column a few years ago about the lemming tendency in email marketing ... time to get crazy! :-)

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