Your Email Marketing Recession Survival Guide

By all accounts, the U.S. economy and others around the world are either in recession now or heading for one before 2008 ends. How long it will last and how rough it will get is anybody's guess, but I'm not waiting for the official proclamation, and neither should you.

My original column idea was to initiate a strategic discussion around the potential impact of a recession on our industry, but since fellow Insider Bill McCloskey stole my thunder in yesterday's column, I've opted to outline survival strategies during an economic downturn.

Now is the time to strengthen your position inside your company. At the same time, reach outside to your customer base by making your email marketing as relevant and valuable as possible. By following a proactive strategic plan, you also guard against committing irreversible mistakes as you recession-proof your email-marketing program. Strategies to follow include:

·    Launch or beef up your campaign to remind management how email marketing helps drive your company's success. Many executives view email simply as an inexpensive marketing vehicle. Now is the time to reposition email as a strategic relationship-management channel.



·    Implement programs that integrate with and extend the ROI of other channels such as search, direct mail, RSS, broadcast or trade shows. For example, optimizing landing pages to convert prospects into an email relationship even if they don't take your core conversion action can greatly boost the long-term ROI of your search spend.

·    Leverage your email editorial content for search-engine optimization. Particularly for publishers and B2B marketers, optimizing your article content for search engines can pay off handsomely. When planning your editorial content, write your articles and titles using high-priority keyword phrases. Improving your natural search rankings for certain keywords might enable you to reduce your paid search spend when the CFO comes wielding an axe.

·    Assess the value of your customers and relationships. Use RFM or similar analyses to determine which customer segments are the highest value and most loyal and who will likely continue to spend during a downturn. Then, initiate or enhance loyalty or incentive programs to reward and encourage them.

·    Learn more about your customers. Add or update your preference center, and incentivize subscribers to update their profiles. Survey subscribers for insights to help you deliver more relevant emails and greater personalization. Integrate Web analytics data, and deploy more highly targeted messages based on Web activity.

·    Use more trigger-based emails, following up with subscribers based on specific open, click or Web activity.

·    Implement measurement systems and management reports that demonstrate the impact email has on the company. Move beyond process metrics -- opens, clicks, delivery rate -- and gather output metrics tied to the company's overall business goals, particularly strategic changes to adjust in a slowed economy.

·    Identify ways that the company can switch to email to save money, such as e-billing statements or special notices.

What not to do now:

·    Don't panic, and don't wait for your CEO or management to tell you to cut your email budget. Take the lead by proving value beforehand. Don't expend energy on unproductive email-versus-direct-mail arguments within your company. Focus on demonstrating what email does best and how it extends the value of your company's other marketing channels.

·    Don't revert to batch-and-blast techniques to boost or maintain revenue. I expect some marketers will be forced to just "send more emails" to their entire database. This might deliver short-term results, but it can also hurt your brand and deliverability, increase costs to replace lost subscribers and potentially anger many otherwise happy customers.

·    Don't compromise on permission and privacy. Resist the temptation to build your lists more aggressively. Focus instead on your most valuable prospects.

The reality of company politics and decision-making could make achieving all of these strategies difficult. So, don't feel you have to adopt them all.

However, do something. If nothing else, go to management with your plan to leverage email marketing to drive both the top and bottom lines during the coming downturn. You will be way ahead of peers who wait for uninformed instructions to drift down from the high command.  

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