It’s so easy to get caught up in the details, the big and little decisions that need to be made every day and then tracked and managed and… well, you know. At the same time, as marketers we all want to focus on strategy, on the vision of what we are trying to achieve and who our audience really is and all the great thought leadership that goes along with that. It’s hard to find the balance when you’re stuck in the trenches. That’s why a guide can be helpful.
When you can’t spare the time to focus on strategy as a whole, it can help to have a structure that allows you to zoom in on one or two areas. Keep doing that, and over time you will have rethought your strategy entirely.
The nice thing about focusing on a strategic approach in smaller pieces is that every piece you do focus on can give you amazing benefits that allow you to shine in your job. Here’s an overview of the six areas of email marketing strategy that you can choose from.
Of course, goals come first. They’re the most important part of any email marketing strategy, and they are critical to get right. Like that old “if a tree falls in a forest” riddle, if you don’t have goals to measure up to, then how will you be able to talk about your hard work and success? Who will believe you?
When should you focus on Goals? If you don’t know your goals, that’s a big warning sign of course. But assuming you do know your goals, you’ll want to test them to make sure they are achievable and supported by the rest of your organization. Plus, you want to make sure they are measurable. Lots of organizations have legacy systems that make it impossible to measure certain things. Don’t sign up for a goal if you cannot measure your ability to impact that goal.
What’s the benefit from Goals? You won’t get an ROI boost from just having good goals, but you also won’t have an ROI to measure if you don’t have good goals. That makes Goals a “just do it” part of your strategy refresh.
Do you know who is getting all your emails? How about who reads them, or clicks on them, or interacts with them before going to the website? It’s great that we can get so much data on how our customers progress down the purchase funnel, but now we have to figure out what to do with the information and how to (re)define our audience segments.
When should you focus on Audiences? Chances are, your brand has invested in some segmentation and/or modeling, a bit of market research, and if you’re lucky you have some personas or audience profiles to work with. But over time, these tools age and become less accurate. If you haven’t updated any of your audience information in the past year, you definitely need to prioritize Audiences for your strategy refresh. And if you’re missing any of these important tools, then it might be a good idea to invest.
What’s the benefit from Audiences? Segmentation and other audience tools can boost conversions, clicks, and opens. MailChimp reported 100% higher click rates on average across their clients who used segmentation versus clients who did not. When you know your audience, you can deliver greater relevance and that will get you better results. Of course, you need to have the content to deliver, so keep reading before you settle on Audiences for your strategy refresh focus.
We have all heard a story about how bad data somehow got into the list and caused horrible damage to an email send. Actually, most of us have lived that story at one point or another. But there is more to data than just quality. Gathering data is a big hurdle in some organizations, where certain actions may not be tracked by systems or where data may be locked in a database that marketing cannot easily access. Even if you have the data, sometimes it is hard to do anything with it. Thanks to legacy systems, often data sets are so large or so buried that it is impossible to glean any marketing insights at all.
When should you focus on Data? It’s a good idea to always keep an eye on data, but that doesn’t necessarily mean focusing in this area. Marketers should always keep a good relationship with their analytics teams so that you hear about potential issues before they become big problems. If you are worried about using “first name” information in an email campaign, then it might be time to focus on Data so you can clean up the database. If you keep getting the “we can’t access that” response to your queries, then focusing on Data may support your Audience strategic piece. In short, when you start hearing negatives, it’s time to start focusing on Data.
What’s the benefit from Data? Cleaning and making data more accessible can help you make significant progress in two other areas: Audiences and Measurement. In addition, better data translated to better audience understanding can then translate to better content and channel selection down the line. Data really impacts every other area of your strategy. The benefit from focusing on Data in your strategy refresh may not be realized unless you can immediately translate it into another area. However, if poor quality data hurts your campaign you’ll definitely see a negative benefit. Keep that in mind before dismissing Data entirely.
Have you thought about your email marketing cadence recently? Especially when it comes to your best customers, who typically get more than the average number of communications, it can be critical to have a firm grasp of what is going on here.
If you work in retail or e-commerce, it’s likely that you’ve been asked to add an extra email “blast” that you wish you didn’t have to send, just to push the revenue numbers up a bit. It can be disheartening to see your carefully thought-out cadence be dismissed with a quick, “we need the revenue” comment. But some extra work here could give you the support you need to either say “no” to the next request, or to embrace it.
When should you focus on Cadence? Cadence is an important consideration when adding new programs to a email marketing strategy. If you have grown your email marketing channel in the past year, it’s time to audit the cadence across all programs to ensure your audience isn’t being inundated with communications. You might also want to focus on Cadence if you are getting a lot more requests to do incremental “blasts”, or if you find that you’re missing conversion or revenue targets.
What’s the benefit from Cadence? You’ve already read above that having a strategy for Cadence can give you the support you need to say “no” to an extra send. Cadence can also help you drive incremental revenue if you find that certain audiences or audience segments are being under-emailed. That means there is measurable conversion and revenue potential in taking a look at Cadence as part of your email marketing strategy refresh.
Content is the backbone of any email marketing program (really, of any marketing program at all). Because it is a cross-marketing need, some brands have responded by creating marketing calendars. A marketing calendar is designed to align all marketing areas – direct, brand, digital, etc – to the marketing drive periods, themes, offers, promotions, etc that the brand thinks are important over the length of the calendar (usually a year). The nice thing about the calendar is that it is very good at driving content, and helps make the case for creating new content that all of marketing can benefit from throughout the year. This focus in turn helps keep content fresh and relevant.
When should you focus on Content? If you’re not lucky enough to work with a brand that supports a marketing calendar, then content is likely a struggle for you and your marketing colleagues. See if you can partner with them for budget and support. Content is constantly in need of refresh, so if you cannot pull it from your colleague’s efforts, it will need to be a big focus for your team.
What’s the benefit from Content? This is an area that feels like a cost-center, but that can be proven to drive ROI. If you need to justify investment in this area, simply test old versus new content series and show management the results.
A long time ago, my boss’ boss’ boss decided that in order to achieve a big set of goals she would ask senior management to hold off on asking for results until phase 2, when we would put measurement in place. Senior management graciously agreed. And long after we picked our jaws up off the floor and moved on with getting things done, our boss’ boss’ boss was fired for not having results. I learned: measurement is really important.
But measurement isn’t just about measuring. Good measurement strategy also includes a fully developed testing strategy. Measurement strategy circles back to audience and data strategies to ensure they are measured in addition to results. And as a marketer, you need to make sure management agrees with (really agrees with) the way you plan to measure results. See the story above for proof.
When should you focus on Measurement? Measurement is always important, of course, but here we’re talking about measurement strategy. It’s a good idea to focus on measurement strategy when you’re planning a significant change to your email marketing. This could be a really big test, such as dynamic marketing or AI. Or you might find that you need to focus on measurement after creating profiles or adjusting your data strategy. A change elsewhere will generally drive a need for change here.
What’s the benefit from Measurement? Assuming you have the basics in place, the benefit from focusing on your Measurement strategy is that you have the chance to effect significant improvement worth investing in. Consider your baseline measurement approach as getting you access to your baseline budget. If you want investment dollars for your email marketing efforts, then it’s likely that a refresh of Measurement in your email marketing strategy is needed.
This is just a brief summary of the biggest areas to look at when you’re refreshing your email marketing strategy. Check out the slideshare online [https://www.slideshare.net/gscheiman/boost-your-results-refresh-your-direct-marketing-strategy] for a bit more depth into each of these areas, a handy one-page guide to the highlights of each focus area, and a broader look across direct marketing. The slideshare also includes a seventh focus area: Channels. After all, email marketing may be the biggest and most important channel, but it works great when it is integrated with others.