It's Time to Think Long Term
One of the most important things that you can do as your company's email marketing guru is to get over the notion that an email campaign involves nothing more than a single email. Organizations making the most of email marketing rarely, if ever, think only in terms of one email.
In the world of investing, the difference would be similar to day trading versus creating a long-term investment and financial planning strategy. Day traders are always looking for the big win, and will take enormous risks to achieve one. They do (on occasion) achieve short-term success, but they also leave themselves susceptible to potentially devastating losses.
On the other hand, long-term investors do not spend a lot of time focusing on the day-to-day ups and downs of the markets. They prefer to stay focused on their long-term objectives and use the power of time and historical trends to their advantage--and because of this long-term focus, they tend to be more successful over the long haul.
An email campaign in its simplest form is a grouping of email deployments with a similar purpose that are designed to create and build a cumulative effect. In other words, each individual deployment in a campaign builds on the success of the last, to achieve the desired objective over time.
When you think in terms of campaigns rather than single email deployments, something truly magical happens: You take the pressure off any single deployment to do more than it was meant to do. You also begin to see the long-term benefits, rather than dwelling on the success or failure of any single short-term effort.
With that strategy in mind, you can see how the concept of email communications planning takes on a whole new level of importance. It is imperative to take a long-term, high-level view of your goals before descending to individual tactics and targeted messages.
From the outset, you need to establish the reason of your email marketing program> In other words, why are you doing this in the first place? Are you trying to acquire new customers? Retain existing customers? Generate qualified leads? Make sales online? Drive sales offline? Decide what your objectives are, and then stick with them.
Choosing the right vehicle(s) for the task
If you determine that you have multiple competing objectives in your program, then you need to look at creating multiple vehicles. Simply put, a vehicle is a component of your email program that has a single purpose and performs a single function.
For example, assume that your program will have a prospecting and lead generation component, as well as a customer retention component. Given that these two objectives require completely different approaches, you need to create two different vehicles to achieve your objectives.
Customer retention: the e-newsletter vehicle
A newsletter is often the most popular choice for retaining existing customers. Newsletters typically contain a number of feature stories or articles, several smaller bite-size news items, and interactive features such as polls, surveys, or contests.
In addition, newsletters typically contain an upsell or cross-sell offer targeted directly at the individual customer, or a particular group segment. These offers tend to work well because they provide a good balance of value-added content and relevancy that keeps customers interested and informed over the long term.
Prospecting/lead generation: the solo offer
When it comes to prospecting for potential customers, it often makes sense to create a specific offer geared toward these qualified prospects. Often, you will find your success rate improves when your prospecting offer is staged. Rather than attempting to close a sale on the first contact, email marketers will typically make a less committal call-to-action, like "download our free report," "enter to win," or "request an information package."
This staged conversion approach allows prospects to demonstrate their level of interest without making a major commitment. Then, over time, prospects will often become more receptive to your messages and more likely to continue along the conversion path that you have laid out.
It's all about timing
Once you have established the vehicles for your campaign, your focus will shift to scheduling. Do your customers want to hear from you once per month? Once a week? How about your prospects? Is once per month too often or too little?
The scheduling scenario gets even more complicated when you consider the possibility that different customer segments (or even different individuals) may have completely difference preferences when it comes to email frequency.
Don't panic, it is not all bad news. With a little research, a little trial and error, and a little luck, you will find the right frequency for each of your email vehicles.
However, your difficulties may not be over. Each email vehicle doesn't exist in a vacuum; every email you send to a recipient interacts with the other emails you send, as well as the other marketing communications they receive from your organization.
For this reason, it is important to have a master control--a calendar or planner where you receive a birds-eye view of your entire email program (and even your nonemail--based communications) on a single page.
Your master control could be something as simple as a dry erase wall calendar or computer spreadsheet, or as sophisticated as an integrated email campaign planning solution.
If you are purchasing an enterprise email marketing solution or using an ASP service, make certain that the user interface matches your needs. Does it seem intuitive? Does it allow you to view all the details of your email program at a glance? Does it allow you to drill down to see the details of every aspect of your campaign? If not, you might want to consider securing options.
The bottom line
Email marketing is just that, a marketing
activity that happens to incorporate the medium of email.
As much as you need to involve your information technology department (or your technology expert) in the development of your program, it does not mean that the email campaign is an IT function. Be firm on this aspect. IT is an important conduit for your email marketing campaign, not the key strategy or messaging.
Resist the temptation to focus only on the technology and bring your program back to a foundation based on sound marketing fundamentals. Do that, and you are well on your way to making your email campaign the most effective that it can be.
About the Author
Mike Allan is vice president, strategy, at MethodMail, the full-service strategic email-marketing arm of RareMethod Capital Corp. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org