Kordek: What Email Marketing Books won’t Teach You
Email marketing books are only as good as the authors who write them and for those who implement their recommendations.
There’s no shortage of email marketing books to choose from to learn how to run an effective email program. Some great authors have penned some excellent advice on best practices, all while offering their objective and expert opinions on email’s power and ROI to any organization.
Although some books contain great theoretical information and advice on research, trends, innovation and audiences, many lack key information. This can leave email marketers bewildered or even frustrated if they can’t achieve what has been promised in those books.
Many books written about email marketing are written by people who have never actually run an email program. That might not be a huge problem for some, but it is for people who are eager to learn from someone involved in the day-to-day running of a program.
Organizational turmoil can impede progress
The ideas and tactics that these books teach don’t account for turmoil within an organization, such as turnover at the senior and junior levels. This can affect progress and sometimes the program’s direction.
Senior-level people can have illusions of grandeur about their own abilities. They want to “run the email program” the way they did at their last jobs. Given that the average tenure of a CMO is 44 months, almost half of that time could be spent going through the request-for-proposal process and migrating to a new email platform before any real optimization can happen.
At the mid- to junior level, learning process and procedure takes time. Problems like misfired welcome emails, transactional emails that don’t display data and changes in engagement and deliverability trends can go unnoticed. If the email program is complicated, that learning curve and path to optimization can take 12 to 18 months. During that time, things can and most probably will change.
Besides the marketing turmoil in some organizations, a fair amount of issues also can arise with development/IT integration. Have you ever been inside an organization where the IT department is not overwhelmed and backlogged with priorities and projects?
The last thing on an overworked IT department’s list is development work to improve the email program, which already suffers under the company mindset of “If it’s working, then leave it alone.”
So, with recent talk about AI integration along with big data, is it any wonder why some organizations are 18 to 24 months behind the curve for true optimization and cross-channel data and technical integrations?
Bottom line: Being a long-term employee responsible for email marketing can be supremely frustrating for some. This can lead to higher-than-normal turnover. I certainly moved on from companies out of sheer frustration at not being able to get things done and for caring too much about the discipline to wait it out.
Bright shiny objects distract from more pressing needs
Bright shiny objects are fun and exciting. Testing “cutting edge” technology and being the first to say that you did will probably get you a speaking gig at the next email conference.
In fact, everyone from email managers to CMOs watches what’s being done in the marketplace. Most want to jump on the bandwagon to see what all the hullabaloo is about. This can blind them to the pressing needs of their own programs.
Organizations today face a tremendous amount of pressure to be cutting-edge. But, the notion of trying something cool sometimes overshadows doing what should have been done years ago, such as updating your onboarding emails or refining a message strategy based on shifts in consumer sentiment.
Let’s say an email marketer is hard at work creating a new testing strategy. The VP of Whatever comes up and asks if the marketer has seen the new-fangled thingamajig in Competitor X’s email program, and he wants the marketer to explore it instead of finishing the testing strategy.
Precious time, which could be better spent on something that will benefit the company’s email program, could be wasted while the marketing team chases this latest shiny object.
The best advice for weighing the temptation to test these “new” ideas is to do a cost/benefit analysis. Study the potential impact this tool could have on the business compared with the well-known result from a specific journey or testing strategy that you have been meaning to do for several years. However, you must be honest with the cost/benefit analysis and weight it appropriately.
Address process and efficiency challenges first
Sometimes the biggest challenge to accomplishing something you read about in a book is that the efficiency, the quality and the cost to operate the email program just plain sucks.
Maybe the cost and time it takes to produce an email is slowing you down. Or, the level of accuracy in deploying campaigns and everything leading up to it is causing problems. Authors who have never dealt with the day-to-day realities of running an email program won't be able to account for these challenges in their well-meaning advice.
Operations is not sexy. Throw in the fact that we are talking about email operations, and you can hear nails screeching across a chalkboard. Go tell your CMO that you want to do an email operational audit and see the reaction.
What if that email operational audit could give you 10% to 25% greater efficiency from the painful stuff in a program? Think of all the bright and shiny objects you would have the time to try and all of the cool best practices and advice that the email books have taught us over the years.
Think about it this way: If your process to get an email out the door or to implement a behavior-driven technical project is the same today as it was 4 or 5 years ago, it’s time to look for efficiencies.
As someone who has read dozens of email marketing books in my time, I would like to thank the authors for sharing their amazing insights on the world of email best practices. Today’s email marketers face hundreds of challenges to run scalable and profitable programs efficiently and effectively. These books provide a great foundation, but the first step for any email marketer is having appropriate support and buy-in from the organization that allows you to focus on bigger issues.
Running an effective email program takes more than theories and best practices. If you have served any time on the client side of the email marketing equation, you know what I mean.
Andrew offers some very good advice here. Email marketers have many hurdles to deal with from strategy, creative and testing to tactical, programs, processes and upper management, also the lack of support both in man-hours and budget. Many programs lack proper foundations, data usage, and real testing protocols, not because the email marketers don't have the knowledge but because they lack internal support to execute properly within the day-to-day madness that surrounds many programs.