E-mail Budget Redux

Does this scenario sound familiar?

E-mail marketing manager: "I don't have the budget to execute a good e-mail program."

Marketing budget holder: "Show me the program works, and I will give you more money for it."

In Monday's column, David Baker made an excellent point about the majority of e-mail marketers being so focused on "getting it out the door" that they don't think to fight for bigger e-mail budgets that could help them do their jobs more effectively. I'd add to that view with this: by being so buried in execution mode, you make costly mistakes that lower your program return--costing you MORE than doing it right in the first place, while at the same time making it hard to prove you deserve more dollars.

E-mail marketing has come a long way since the days of batch and blast sending. If that is still the mode your company is in--or somewhere close--you are likely doing more harm than good with your customers, and with e-mail receivers. Your response rates and delivery rates are fractions of what they could be, because you are not taking the time to make your campaigns relevant.



Even if you have little to no e-mail budget, you can take advantage of these cost-effective ways to increase response:

Pre-campaign testing: This is often the most overlooked step with e-mail marketing, and it can have the quickest impact on your program. Much of the testing you can do costs nothing. Send a small test with variable subject lines and offer placement, for example, before sending to your whole list. Send test versions of your campaign to different ISPs (or use an automated tool to do so en masse) to see likely image failures, HTML coding issues, filtering triggers and any creative rendering issues. By fixing these problems before mailing, you increase your delivery rate, which exposes more of your customers to your offer. You also let your creative shine as you meant it to, which will increase response rates.

List growth techniques: If you use e-mail acquisition marketing, make sure you are using highly targeted, highly permissioned lists. Even if it costs you a couple dollars more per thousand, the lower complaint rates and higher response will more than cover the cost. By using the same list over and over, or partnering with brokers who do not use sufficient targeting, you open yourself up to spam complaints (and rightfully so).

List reduction techniques: I know, no one wants a smaller list. But if your list has a lot of inactive members, purge them. All they do is skew your response metrics and cause soaring complaint rates. One client of ours calls these people PNCs--Persistent Non-Clickers. What good does someone do who is on your list but who hasn't opened or clicked on an e-mail in six months?

E-mail Infrastructure: At a minimum, make sure your e-mail program is set up to succeed from a technical point of view. It costs only time to set up authentication protocols.

Reputation Repair: Find out how ISPs see you through reputation systems. It costs nothing to your reputation score, though it can cost to diagnose issues and to fix them. Just knowing the problem, though, gives you the ammunition to argue for a bigger e-mail budget--and gives you a focus when it comes to seeking program improvements.

Ideally, you have enough room in your budget to embrace new e-mail tools like delivery monitoring, pre-campaign testing, eye-tracking, and reputation monitoring. If not, choose a couple of the baby steps above, get your program on track, and then use the increased revenues you see to win the money needed to really kick your e-mail program into the high-productivity zone.

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