Who Hijacked My Email Program?

One of the most challenging aspects of managing an email program is the delicate balancing act required to satisfy multiple constituents with different (and often conflicting) priorities. The challenge is intensified when stakeholders take a more hands-on approach, claiming to be "helping" your program when in fact they are more interested in using your program to serve their needs.

While we like folks within the organization to be interested in our efforts, and we hope the C-suite is aware of our work,  too much interest can end up hindering rather than helping a program.  Messaging is diluted and performance is diminished when email program managers are whipsawed in opposing directions. I like to refer to this phenomenon as  "email program hijacking."

Hijackers come from all corners of the organization, from high-level business managers playing art director to merchandisers clambering to place a dog-of-a-product "above the fold." I'm sure most of you reading this have a few horror stories of your own.



While it may be impossible to avoid rerouting messages in-flight from time-to-time, if any of the following symptoms are happening within your program on a regular basis, it's time to take proactive measures to stop the hijacking:

(1)    Watered-down calls-to-action. We are often asked by warring factions to double-message, combining two totally unrelated ideas into a single primary call-to-action. This waters down the CTA -- and the performance. Stand your ground and keep primary messages primary. Less-compelling stories should be slotted as separate secondary messages.

(2)    Nonsensical multi-messaging. Satisfying multiple constituents often means sending emails containing multiple messages -- sometimes totally unrelated to one another. To combat this scenario, limit the number of secondary messages that can be included in a given mailing through clearly defined program guidelines and agreed-upon creative templates.
(3)    Irrelevant messaging. This happens when messages with limited mass appeal are sent to your entire subscriber list. Irrelevant messaging often occurs when an enthusiastic advocate of a niche product assumes everyone who reads or hears about it will love it as much as they do. Instead, niche messages should be sent to targeted lists, or promoted as dynamic submessages within your mass mailings.

(4)    Irrelevant partnership promotions. I recently signed up for an airline loyalty program, and the first email I received from the airline was a discount incentive for a clothing retailer. Some recipients might have enjoyed the deal, but the tie-in was a definite stretch, particularly as it came so early in the communication stream. Resist the temptation to accept and promote partner messages when they are not relevant to your program or your recipients. In the long run, such practices will do your program more harm than good.

Remember the wise words of old Smokey Bear: "Only you can prevent forest fires." As an email owner, it's up to you to create the boundaries and structures required to hijack-proof your program. One of the best methods is to simply follow the mantra: "Test, test, test."  Then share your results with stakeholders and management. If you consistently keep to a practice of testing when challenged to include features of dubious benefit, you will be able to back up your opinions with data, building credibility -- and giving would-be program hijackers a moment's pause before they make that outlandish request to add animated fireworks or use a different shade of blue. 

And who knows? There may be an occasional email that you thought got hijacked, that, when the results roll in, was improved by good advice. Hey, sometimes those crazy stakeholders are actually right!

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