Four keys to a Kick-Ass Email Program

Four keys to a Kick-Ass Email Program

I’ve been lucky in my career – I’ve been brought in three different times to turn around and/or grow an email program. Two were (and are) rousing successes. Let’s just call the other one... a valuable test.

In looking to maximize the utility of an email program, there’s a plan you can implement to make sure ANY email program is delivering on the substantial promise that email provides. It’s not overly complicated in theory – it just takes a bit of art to deliver successfully. Follow these four key steps and you’ll be well on your way to a rousing success.

Step 1 – Fulfill your brand promise

The key weakness I’ve seen in email programs is a failure to properly align with the brand promise. I’m not talking about look and feel – I’m speaking about a more fundamental lack of alignment. The key question is, what does your brand stand for and how can email help make that real? While brand and digital marketers can occupy opposite camps, it’s critical to understand what your brand is trying to accomplish. It’s not all that hard to do but it essential for success.

For example, if you’re a daily deals site, your brand promise may be that you’ll bring interesting things to your subscribers that they might not find on their own. If you’re an entertainment company, your brand promise might be behind the scenes and/or early access to your entertainment content.

There’s a lot of chatter about squishy terms like “relevance”…when it’s clear that lack of relevance is simply a lack of either definition of your brand promise or integration with that same brand promise. Let’s face it, people don’t choose to be part of your email universe because you have a fantastic email program – they choose to be on the email program based on their perception of your brand promise.

One huge failing I continually see is using email as simply the execution end of a deal or coupon. While an aggressive level of invitation to transact is important, it’s not all your email program should be doing unless that’s all your brand is about (which is totally OK, btw.) Many times, this sort of limiting behavior arises when (a) internal marketing teams have been pitted against each other and/or (b) someone is not very good at measuring the brand impact of email marketing (hint, learn SQL.) Your goal as a marketer should be to keep your customers coming back for more. Unfortunately, that goal can get bastardized into “keep the customer coming back for more as long as my channel gets the credit.”

So go cozy up to your brand compatriots (or the CEO), figure out what the hell the brand is trying to accomplish and deliver on THAT promise…along with a little commerce, of course…because aligning your email program with your brand promise is the single fastest way to drive email success.

Step 2 – Give customers lots of choices to interact

Here’s a simple observation…if you give people more places to click, then they will click in more places. If they click in more places, you tend to make more money. Sometimes, a LOT more money.

Despite having lots of data, marketers (thankfully) are not very good at knowing every thought and/or motivation of their customers. Having different places to click allows you as the marketer to find out what you consumer wants without having to directly ask. If it’s a newsletter, have sets of content that are different from what you “expect.” If it’s a single call to action, have multiple places to click and drive a visit to your site. For example, we tested “Buy Now” versus “Learn More” buttons in email. The winning combination was to use BOTH terms as clickable buttons in an email. Some people respond to some words better than others. You don’t have to choose – you can use them both!

Step 3 – Optimize frequency

All too often it seems that email send frequency is largely a function of the marketer’s (or their management’s) – rather than the consumer’s – tolerance for email. Some people will take this as a mantra to SEND MORE EMAIL…which it is… and is not. Sort of like the Schrodinger’s Cat of email.

Ask yourself one question – what’s the optimal send frequency for my customer base? If you don’t know, you’re probably not sending enough and/or are too scared to test it. It does not mean you need to send multiple times per day…it means you need to figure it out. In some cases, it may mean that you send even less to a consumer – especially those who are going to come to your site anyway.

The key here is to eliminate your own personal bias and that of others in your organization who will call you a spammer. In reality, the “spam police” are only reflecting a lack of integration with the brand. All the more reason to make sure you focus on Step One.

Testing into the optimal send frequency will both quiet the naysayers, please your customers AND make you a pile of cash.

Step 4 – Don’t be afraid of “failure”

The good news about email is that it’s a proof-based medium. The bad news… it’s a proof-based medium. If you want to be a great email marketer with a robust program, you MUST be willing to constantly test what you’re doing. Whether it’s design, content, button color, subject lines or any other possibility you can think of, continual testing is the life blood of any email program.

Testing means failure. Which is a tough nut for people to swallow. Especially if someone has a vested interest in the outcome, either positively (I thought of this!) or negatively (Jimmy thought of this and he’s a jerk!) Testing is the fastest way to expose what you don’t know…which is something a lot of people simply can’t handle. Sort of like Classical Music. But testing is also the best way to find what works for your customers. After all – we’re not in this to keep ourselves happy. We’re in it to keep our customers (or soon to be customers!) happy.

Follow these four steps and you WILL develop a more successful email program.