Unsexy But Essential: Why Documentation Matters in Email with Tips for Creating and Maintaining It


Personalization. Automation. Metrics. Audience segmentation. Deliverability. And now, ChatGPT. These are the buzzwords that dominate discussions in the world of email marketing. The intriguing, sexy side of the job, if you will. But there's one more term that, though often overlooked and admittedly less glamorous, plays an equally pivotal role: documentation.

Yes, you heard right. Documentation: that seemingly tedious and mundane task of detailing every step, every decision, every result. Who would have thought this unglamorous entity would be so crucial to our sexy world of email marketing? Yet, it is. It's the unsung hero, the supporting actor that lets the lead shine.

Documentation is easy to cast aside, especially in the hustle and bustle of meeting deadlines and getting campaigns out the door. But here's the catch - neglecting it will cost you. It might be a little, or it might be a lot, but rest assured, there will be a price to pay.

I recently had the privilege of speaking with Genna Matson, a Salesforce Marketing Cloud Technical Architect, founder of HowToSFMC.com, and 2021 Salesforce MVP. When asked about the importance of documentation in email marketing, Genna emphasized how it is a time-saver. Thorough, well-maintained documentation saves time in the email campaign-building process and eases the onboarding of new team members.

Why Documentation is Important in Email

Email marketing campaigns, especially automated and repeatable ones, often involve multiple touchpoints. We carefully plan, execute, and evaluate each of these touchpoints. Documentation serves as the playbook, providing a roadmap for planning and execution, and a historical record for evaluation.

Documentation also saves you from the dreaded audit by the next professional. Have you ever stepped into a role and tried to decipher the work of a predecessor who didn't believe in documentation? It's like trying to navigate through a maze, blindfolded, with a dozen squirrels running around you. It's nothing short of chaotic. Good documentation helps avoid this chaos.

Genna described how seasoned agencies, despite some clients not willing to pay for it, document their processes internally. It's because they understand the value it brings. They know that it's better to have an associate document, learn, and have a lead review and add any missed details than not document at all.

Tips for Creating Documentation for Email

Now that you're (hopefully) convinced about the importance of documentation, here are some practical tips for creating it:

1. Start with Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs): These are your lifelines. SOPs provide a blueprint for your team to follow, ensuring consistency in your campaigns.

2. Develop Campaign Briefs: These help to keep everyone on the same page about the objectives, strategy, and execution plan of a campaign. 

3. Use Email Templates: Not only do they save time in the campaign-building process, but they also serve as a form of documentation, providing a reference for the layout, structure, and design of your emails.

4. Document your Testing and QA Processes: This helps to ensure that your emails are always up to scratch and prevents any "oops" moments after hitting the send button. 

5. Embed Documentation in Your Time Estimates: Treat documentation as part of the process, not an afterthought. If it takes an hour to document a process, then the process takes an hour longer. It's as simple as that. 

6. [For Agencies] Leverage Your Accounts Team: Genna suggests that the best documentation happens when the accounts team manages it. They ensure it's up to par with the client's standards and even include creative elements, making it a comprehensive resource for the entire team.

Best Practices for Maintaining Documentation

So you've got your documentation all set up, nice and pretty. But what's next? How do you keep this beast well-fed and up-to-date?

1. Regularly Update and Review: Documentation isn't a "set it and forget it" kind of deal. It needs to be reviewed and updated regularly to reflect changes in processes, strategies, and tools.

2. Organize Effectively: Use clear headings, bullet points, and visual aids to make your documentation easy to read and understand. When your documentation is organized and easy on the eyes, people are more likely to use it – think gourmet meal, not buffet table aftermath.

3. Train Your Team: Ensure that everyone understands the importance of documentation and knows how to create and maintain it. This isn't a one-person job. Everyone has a part to play.

Conclusion: The Unsexy Hero of Email Marketing

Yes, documentation might not be the most glamorous aspect of email marketing. It won't be the star of any marketing conferences or the subject of many trendy LinkedIn posts. But, as we've discovered, documentation is like the secret sauce that ties together all the flavors in our email marketing dish. It might not be the star ingredient, but it sure makes a difference!

It's time to give documentation the recognition it deserves. Make it part of your process, allocate time for it, and ensure your team understands its importance. When you're able to repeat a successful campaign without scratching your head or avoid an audit nightmare, you'll be glad you did.

Editor's Note: Kisha will be leading a discussion on this post during the May 25, 2023 OI-members-only Zoom Discussion. OI members, watch the list for the link to join us. Not a member of OI? Register and join today

susan q yin Ctaj HCqW84 unsplash 600Photo by Susan Q Yin on Unsplash