The Biggest Bang for your Email Marketing Buck: 5 Critical Areas to Invest In

The Biggest Bang for your Email Marketing Buck: 5 Critical Areas to Invest In

With endless approaches christened “best practices” and infinite blog posts on the latest email optimization tactics, it can be difficult to determine where it’s worth investing your email marketing money and manpower.

Questions like these (asked of me at a recent conference) abound:

  • Does my company need abandoned cart/browse campaigns if we’re not an ecommerce or retail marketer?
  • Are reactivation campaigns worth it, or should I just cull unresponsive subscribers from our list?
  • How much marketing automation do I need? Do I need an ESP or MA platform?
  • Do multi-touch campaigns (like a welcome series) outperform single message-campaigns? Is the extra effort to create a series worth it?
  • Would my company benefit from reputation management and delivery services? What’s it worth?
  • Does dynamic content really pay off?

. . . and the list goes on. It’s often said email marketers “live in the weeds” because email as a marketing channel involves far more nuances and decisions than other channels, as well as far more pitfalls and devilish details to beware of.  Those in the trenches are consumed with the “necessary evils” of email – tactical specifics and technicalities – surely challenging enough. Add to that distracting questions from curious/less-informed co-workers or superiors and it’s easy to see how one can barely get the chance to come up for air in order to understand – let alone focus on – what truly moves the needle.

So let’s crawl out of the weeds to at least level ground and gain some altitude by way of a refresher on what’s really worth doing to get the biggest bang for your buck in this channel (regardless of your industry or business model). Here’s my take on five critical areas smart email marketers are investing in today:

  1. Strategy
  2. Strategy tops the list because too many companies are still lacking either a general marketing strategy, channel-specific strategies, or both. Your email marketing strategy should align with your overall marketing goals, but even if those aren’t well established, you can set channel-specific goals for what you’d like email to accomplish.

    A Strategy IS: An outline of your goals, plans for how you will achieve them, and the specific tactics you’ll employ in doing so. It further details the actions you’ll take to execute those tactics.

    A Strategy IS NOT: An email message calendar, mission statement, or campaign schedule. Those may be components of a strategy, or developed once you’ve determined strategy, but they fall far short of actually being a strategy.

    Given the “in the weeds” nature of email marketing, it’s rare that email specialists have time to lift their heads long enough to think through – let alone actually create and deploy – an email marketing strategy. Managers and directors are often too removed from channel specifics or solely focused on developing broader marketing strategy to do the job. All the more reason it’s critical to make the commitment to strategy, even if that means doing so with the help of your agency or ESP, or outsourcing it as a consulting project (something I do a lot of).

  3. List Growth, Maintenance and Integrity
  4. If you’ve yet to hear that “the gold is in your list” allow me to introduce you to this long-held maxim from the days of direct mail. It’s no less applicable to email – in fact it’s even truer because of email marketing’s basis in permission (we all know how well those third party rented lists work, right?). All of which translates into the fact that:

    Are you investing in new subscriber acquisition through a broad spectrum of channels (online and off?) You should be, as well as continuously monitoring and analyzing those sources by both quality and quantity.

    The job doesn’t end with subscriber acquisition. Data can be flawed to begin with plus it ages over time, so treat every email address like a newly found golden nugget by also investing in email address verification, hygiene and correction services.

  5. Creative
  6. The palette of ways to invest in email message design, content, and customization is ever expanding and worthy of exploration. At a minimum, it’s my personal recommendation that you have in-house vs. outsourced digital design and copywriting expertise on hand. These folks should be adept at writing, designing and coding not only for the web, but the inbox too. A logical exception would be if you’re completely outsourcing the execution of your email marketing program to an agency; in that case they should have those resources and not be using subcontractors or freelancers.

    I recently worked with a B2B client who hadn’t previously done much digital marketing. They’d outsourced development of their web site and had a fledgling email newsletter to a small list run from an entry-level ESP, but no one internally who could write or design email messages, landing pages or supporting content, nor anyone who could “own” digital. Outsourcing the creative and content development needed to expand their email efforts was a short-term solution, but will not be as viable or cost-effective an option for them in the long-run as hiring a full-time staff member who has ongoing ownership of the channel.

    If you’re well beyond the basics of having the necessary talent on staff, it’s time to expand your investment in creative by looking at real-time content optimization services like Live Clicker, Power Inbox and Movable Ink.

  7. Marketing Automation
  8. Next to Strategy, if I had to pick an absolute “must” for getting the most from your email program it would be Marketing Automation. It’s no longer an aspirational “someday” for successful email marketers, it’s here and now; comprising a majority of their efforts in the channel. If your current ESP doesn’t support triggered, automated, timed, behaviorally-driven campaigns (or if it does but you’re not taking advantage of those capabilities) you’re about to be seriously left in the dust.

    An investment in this area doesn’t have to mean investing in software billed specifically as a marketing automation (MA) platform. Most ESPs these days include at least some basic automation capabilities. However, investing in this area might mean:

    • Investing in a new vendor. It might be time to upgrade to a new ESP or MA provider with more robust capabilities than your current one.
    • Investing time in learning to use the marketing automation features of your current platform, or learning to use the more advanced ones.
    • Investing in automated campaigns you haven’t implemented yet – like up-sell, cross-sell, NLP recos, abandonment, lead nurturing and even re-purchase/reactivation. All can be fertile ground for untapped revenue.

    • Investing in education and expertise to optimize the application of marketing automation in your platform, or learn what’s possible and how to do it.
    • Investing in manpower (hired or contracted) to concept, set-up and monitor automated campaigns (which can be much more time-consuming to get going than traditional “batch-and-blast” email)
    • Investing in technology. Perhaps an API to your CRM or eCommerce platform needs to be developed so you can use customer purchase or response history to power automated campaigns?

    This is one of the most complex and resource-intensive investments in email you can make, but by some studies pays off 20-fold or more, making it well worth the growing pains.

  9. Analytics
  10. Last but never least is campaign and data analysis. After all, what good are your precious investments if you don’t measure their impact?

    Investment in this arena goes far beyond producing basic email campaign reports or tracking process metrics (opens/clicks/unsubscribes/bounces). A successful investment here includes:

    • Conversion tracking with web site/page analytics connected to subscriber response data
    • A revenue/sales attribution model in place
    • Conducting routine Engagement Analysis on email subscriber files at specific points in time (quarterly, semi-annually or annually)
    • Knowing the value of an email address, either via measures such as revenue-per-email (RPE) or cost to acquire (CPA).
    • A dedicated individual or team responsible for tracking and benchmarking channel metrics, analyzing subscriber response and response trends, and accountable for turning data into insight and sharing that within the organization.

By now you might be thinking I’ve overlooked an obvious area of investment – people! So I’ll add Talent as a sixth bonus area. You’d be hard pressed to sink time and money into the five areas above without also investing in people. Whether that means adding to staff, beefing up talent via consultants and freelancers, or investing in the education of the team you already have, successful email marketing requires not only technology, but also brains and bodies!  It thrives on dedicated channel ownership and oversight, and that’s not likely to happen well (or at all) with team members already spread too thin.

Do yourself a favor come budget-time this year: assess your investment level in the five critical areas above and remember to earmark dollars for the additional expertise you’ll need in the form of people to master investments in those areas. After all, it’s people who make the difference between a championship team and a losing season.

Karen Talavera teaches the two-day "Next Generation Email Marketing Strategies” seminar again June 2-3 in Chicago. Save 10% when you register with code eec10 at