Think of your consumers first. Put them at the center of all your email efforts -- don't send just because you can or have in the past -- send because the information you're sharing is important to consumers and because they will see value in it.
Integrate your email efforts with your other customer/prospect communications. Make sure your customer experiences are consistent across channels and remember cross-channel communications usually bring lift.
Use personalization. I've yet to test it where it doesn't bring lift. Think creatively outside of just "first name" - what data do you have in your database that might speak to users on a more personal level? Test it and see what it does. Be careful if you're in a sensitive industry -- and don't be too Big-Brother-like -- but push the limits a bit and see what happens.
Remember emerging channels -- mobile and social networks. More and more, this is how our consumers are communicating with companies and each other. Make sure that you are exploring and testing communications in the new social frontier and that your messages are properly optimized to make an impact in mobile environments. Younger generations are becoming less responsive to email (see October 2009 survey by eROI) so it's imperative to explore these new frontiers while ensuring we're as relevant as we possibly can be.
Make this the year to execute an aggressive testing strategy. Actually build a plan out and put it in writing. What are you going to test first? Throughout the year? Set up the tests properly, execute, learn and roll-out. Commit to testing consistently and make optimization a key priority for 2009.
Automate. Triggered messaging (set up to run ongoing) can give the consumer a sense of personalization and customization while providing greater efficiency for you.
Push the ESPs to innovate. From advanced dynamic content and viral programs, campaign tracking, database integration etc. Give your ESPs a list of the things you want from them this year and ask them to work with you to develop.
Fall back on cross-industry basic best practices - or simply on what has worked in the past. Test for yourself and see how you can move the needle. Let's all push ourselves and see if we can create new best practices.
Don't forget about consumer research. Tap into your corporate research on your consumers. Make sure that your email programs utilize this research as a primary jumping off point. Marry that with your business goals and objectives and the nuances of the channel and you're on your way to a sound email strategy.
Retailers , don't rely entirely on free shipping; test in some additional offers. We're all getting desensitized to free shipping these days. Make sure it's part of the overall offer -- but see what other incentives can drive sales.
Don't forget to ask your consumers how they're doing and what they think of your products/services. Implement a customer satisfaction survey and hear from the horse's mouth what you can do to improve.
Don't let up on QA and testing. A few simple missteps and a consumer can be quickly turned off.
Don't forget to say thanks, we miss you and happy birthday -- simple consumer relationship communications can go far.
Don't sell yourself short. Email may not be the sexiest of channels -- but it is highly effective. And those of us who work in it are highly equipped to build successful customer management programs.
So... what dos and don'ts do you have for 2009? Share your thoughts with me and let me know what I should add to this list. Maybe your ideas will spur Insider article topics for the coming year -- ideas that we can all share and try out ourselves.
Thanks for a great 2008 and I wish you all luck for an experimental, innovative, outside the box, and most important, prosperous 2009! Cheers and Happy New Year!