Long-term strategy key to successful e-mail marketing campaigns

The 'buzz' we're getting from e-mail marketing is fueled by promise of quick results. As marketers, we're seduced by the availability of real-time tracking and instant feedback. E-mail marketing is also compelling for its innovative and cost-effective nature. We've all bought into the extravagant promises promoted by e-mail marketers because of our need to believe in marketing's latest 'silver bullet.'

The ‘buzz’ we’re getting from e-mail marketing is fueled by promise of quick results. As marketers, we’re seduced by the availability of real-time tracking and instant feedback. E-mail marketing is also compelling for its innovative and cost-effective nature. We’ve all bought into the extravagant promises promoted by e-mail marketers because of our need to believe in marketing’s latest ‘silver bullet.’

Calm down. Forget the hype for a second, and get back to basics. The simple fact is that a strategic, long-term approach to e-mail marketing is more likely to out-perform any one-off shotgun campaign. Like the ‘buy and hold’ strategies recommended by prudent investment professionals, a sound e-mail marketing strategy requires patience, discipline and a willingness to think long-term. Here’s a brief five-step process that we employ at MethodMail:

1. Define your objectives

2. Plan your strategy

3. Test, test & re-test

4. Analyze

5. Refine

Defining objectives

The allure of using e-mail marketing to produce fast results can be overwhelming, often to the detriment of the results themselves. Don’t succumb to the pressure!

It’s no coincidence that many companies who approach us have time-sensitive projects that ‘must get out this week.’ Stop. Take a deep breath. Step back. Regroup. Now, decide what you really hope to accomplish – explicitly. Is your goal to build your in-house list and generate leads? Is it to generate sales from the e-mail itself? Maybe you want to research customer preferences and habits. Or are you just looking to enhance customer relationships between purchases with a newsletter? These are necessary discussion points before embarking on any e-mail campaign.

Planning strategy

It’s very easy to base one particular e-mail transmission on a single objective and call that a strategy. However, to reap the rewards of e-mail marketing on a consistent basis, there needs to be a long-term plan in place. Where do you need to be in the next three, six or 12 months? It’s surprising how often the short-term objectives change based on the longer-term vision.

In some cases, clients want transmissions to perform multiple tasks, some of which may be in conflict with each other. This myopic strategy is a recipe for failure.

The long-term strategy dictates how each individual transmission is an integral part of a larger vision. This approach takes the pressure off any one message to achieve more than a single objective – each individual piece becomes laser-focused – and the results generally reflect that focus.

Test, test & re-test

In traditional marketing circles, testing is an integral component to successful campaigns. Despite the lower price tag of e-mail marketing, testing is every bit as critical. Multiple creative elements can be tested easily against different customer segments, various offers, subject lines and even transmission times. For marketers, the immediate feedback allows them to assess and modify, without serious interruption to the campaign’s timeline.

Analyze

Let me clarify the terms measurement and analysis. Much of what is talked about in terms of performance and metrics is purely about measurement – the mechanical process of tracking and aggregating results into a condensed summary. Measurement covers metrics such as open/read rates, click-through rates, conversion rates, unsubscribes, bounces, etc. While these metrics are a critical component in determining the success or failure of an e-mail campaign, they are not the only factors.

In order to make truly successful e-mail campaigns, we must look beyond hard metrics and search for meaningful insight. This insight does not, as we’ve been lead to believe, come from any off-the-shelf software package. It comes from the analytical brains of seasoned professionals who have the experience and the expertise to transform data into insight, and insight into actionable recommendations specific to each campaign.

Refine

As good a marketing vehicle as e-mail marketing is for immediate feedback and performance measurement, it still requires that marketers learn from their experiences and then put that knowledge into practice for the next campaign.

In the final analysis, e-mail marketing is not some fix-it-all wonder technology. Like the other marketing tools in your bag, it has its own built-in set of limitations and opportunities – creative, technical, budgetary and otherwise. The challenge for today’s savvy marketing executive is to fully understand what it does best, and how to use it in combination with other marketing tools to achieve a successful, long-term marketing and communications strategy.

E-mail marketing

common mistakes

* lack of customization

* ‘who cares/why are you telling me this’ content

* difficult to opt out

* poor formatting

* over-frequency

* doing it on the cheap

(no personalization,

sloppy writing, poor design)

Source: Ariad Custom Communications

Calgary-based Mike Allan is lead strategist for MethodMail, a division of RareMethod Capital. He can be reached at mike@methodmail.net or (403) 543-4500 Ext. 303.