If you’re planning to utilise email as a marketing channel, then it’s imperative to put a plan in place. Econsultancy’s Jake Hird discusses how to execute a best practice email marketing strategy.
One of Seth Godin’s well-known quotes is that “selling to people who actually want to hear from you is more effective than interrupting strangers who don’t.”
Although relatively old, this adage remains explicitly true for most, if not all, forms of digital marketing–the most pertinently obvious being that of email.
With the first email arguably being sent some forty years ago, the channel has evolved through various forms, and recently, there’s been a great deal of debate around the concept that email is dead.
I firmly believe that it isn’t; it’s merely changing into something new–the most simplistic way of describing the transition within the channel being that it’s shifting as a medium used by consumers from an informal (personal, social) communication means, to a more formal (practical, corporate) state.
The evidence certainly exists to support this, with consumer research consistently demonstrating that email continually leads to the pack, whether it’s for marketing communications, direct sales information or even customer service.
This is something I see a great deal within Econsultancy’s own research. For example, our How We Shop report found that consumer respondents repeatedly indicated a preference to receiving commercial messaging via email, often twice as much more than other channels, across multiple scenarios.
As a result, the days of the mass-marketing, spray-and-pray approach to email seem to be numbered. Marketers are wising up to the fact that if done properly, the returns can be enormous: 84% of companies currently attribute up to nearly a third of sales (30%) to the channel, and over two-thirds of companies (70%) rate email marketing as ‘excellent’ (23%) or ‘good’ (47%) in terms of return on investment. (Econsultancy/Adestra Email Marketing Census).
The common misconception seems to still exist that because email is seemingly so cheap, minimal investment of time and resources is needed to drive high returns. This is simply not true.
The basic technical format of email may not have changed much over the past few decades, but the channel as a marketing concept has become increasingly complex. Commercial emails are no longer concerned with just pushing advertising towards users.
Good marketing emails have relevance at their core and can only be successful as a marketing channel if they contain personalised, relevant and targeted messaging. Nearly half of consumers feel that irrelevant information devalues emails they receive (Econsultancy’s How We Shop report) and it’s becoming increasingly important to have a structured approach to email marketing as part of a wider strategy.
As with most aspects of marketing, it’s often a good idea to take stock of the activities you’re doing, and email is no different. Ensuring the fundamental basics are covered is important, as they are core to seeing success, but fully recognising their implementation can (somewhat ironically) be extremely difficult.
As part of an email best practice health check, I’ve formed the ASSESSMENT approach, where keeping this acronym front of mind can help sharpen your email planning and execution:
A – Assessment
S - Strategy
S – Structure
E – Engagement
S – Systems
S – Sanctions
M – Metrics
E – Evaluation
N – Newness
T – Testing
As a simplified breakdown:
As suggested, you need to assess your existing email activity, if you’re carrying any out–or the current circumstances if you’re looking to start. This can come in multiple formats, depending on the context of your business, the situational circumstances of email, the target audience and more, but at the core of this, you need to consider your overall objectives. To make matters more complex, these should ideally be at a channel level, wider marketing level and business level, considering both long and short-term goals. It’s quite tough, but once you know where you stand, this will help you form a decent strategy.
This is the practical planning stage for email, which uses the information analysed during the initial assessment. The two are tied closely together, but with the difference that creating a strategy is the practical approach that will be taken. One of the key factors to keep in mind is how email will work in conjunction with any other marcomms activity.
Sitting within a strategy, you need to consider the structured approach you’ll take for email. Who will be responsible? Will it be automated? How will you segment audience types? Creating a solid framework of specific action points on the basis of a wider strategy will help inform this.
You need to consider the engagement factor of any of your email communications. This isn’t directly related to real-time response, as seen in social media, but instead is formed from the content of the email itself. Should it be short and informative, as with an automated confirmation message, or should it be image-heavy, as often seen in sales messages? This is formed form the context of the email being sent and should use the assessment and strategy elements as a point of guidance.
Think about the technology being used for your email activity. What systems are in place, or what are you planning to invest in? This raises the issue of automation versus manual email activity and transcends any software you might be using–what internal processes have you got in place and, more importantly, how confident are you in those responsible for your email programme? Technology can only be as powerful as the knowledge of those using it.
Legal compliance for email is a minefield. Opt in, or opt out? It’s important to make sure that you’re following the guidelines correctly, as set by the likes of the ACMA.
How will you measure the success of your email activity? Will it be based on conversions, open rates, etc? One of the most inherently important elements of digital marketing is the ability to measure activity and email is no exception to this. Without recognising what needs to be measured, you won’t be able to understand if you’re meeting your objectives or not.
Evaluating your metrics is directly associated to understanding success. Collecting data is all very well and good, but the real value is in being able to analyse it and recognise where–and how–activity can be optimised.
A somewhat loose term, but this is intended to reflect the process of optimising your emails; the creation of new elements within any activity, born from the insights gleaned during the evaluation stage.
Any new elements need to be trialled and then evaluated again, as part of an ongoing email strategy. This channel is no different from most digital ones; a continuous cycle of trial and error will ensure optimal processes are formed. Remember to test, test, test.