I’ve had a couple of experiences with some clients recently that clearly illustrated that a lot of marketers are still guessing (or worse, ignoring basic Marketing 101) when it comes to email marketing. Rather than sit and stew about it, I’m going to share their mistakes with you, Gentle Reader, in the hopes that you will learn how to plan your next email marketing campaign effectively.
But first, I would like to remind all you awesome marketers about the late 1990s. Remember them? We were still trying to figure out if we needed to include that http:// thing-y when we typed in a web address. Seinfeld was the hippest, funniest show about nothing. Y2K made many feel slightly uneasy. We were asked to consider what the definition of “is” was. Every man, woman, and child in the country had received a diskette in the mail from AOL. People knew who the Lemonheads were. And … my favorite … the internet created a new “dot.com” economy.
The new economy was going to be different! The new economy was going to take the Dow Jones and the NASDAQ to heights unimagined just a decade before – after all, the NASDAQ seemed like it was doubling every two months. The new economy was awesome. Yup. Sure was.
Oh, sure, a couple people muttered stuff about “irrational exuberance” but, when everyone is having fun most people don’t like listening to the party poopers – especially when the guy at the next desk is telling you about how his retirement mutual fund increased 28% last quarter … again!
It was awesome … until the old economy tapped the new economy on the shoulder and reminded us all that the old rules never really go away. The dot.com economy very quickly turned into the dot.bomb economy – any of us older than, say, 35 or so, will recall the sight of our mutual fund portfolios shrinking by a third.
The point here is the so-called old rules are the rules for a reason.
Okay, enough reminiscing – back to email marketing:
My client wanted to do a substantial, targeted email campaign. They decided to do three rounds of emails:
Round One: Test 10 different subject lines to a couple thousand records per unique subject line.
Round Two: Test 3 different creatives to 25,000 records each, using the winning subject line from Round One.
Round Three: Do a full blast to hundreds of thousands of emails using the winning creative and the winning subject line.
On the surface this sounds like a reasonably good plan. And, really, it is the beginnings of a good plan. However, the client, in my humblest of opinions, made a handful of significant blunders:
- They wanted to send Round Three on Saturday. Okay. This is not a bad thing, in theory. The offer was not an impulse-y kind of thing – it was very much a family decision and the client figured the weekend was a good time for couples/partners to consider the offer and then act. So far, so good. However – what days did they insist we do the first two rounds? The Tuesday and Thursday before the desired Saturday blast date. Why didn’t they test the best day of the week to send?
- They insisted on 24 hour rush reporting on the results. Bad idea. Email campaigns require at least 48 hours to get factual reports. First, many providers resend to soft-bounces after 24 hours. Second, in the cases of larger deployments, the blast may not even be completed within 24 hours. (You can’t just bombard various email providers – that is a sure way to get your important promotional message blocked – nobody wants that!) We shared our concern, but accommodated the request.
- Round Three was deployed the first weekend of December and it was not holiday related. Look, timing is everything. People’s inboxes were already chock full of Black-Friday-Cyber-Monday-Super-Duper-One-Day-Discount-Holiday offers. This one was not a December kind of promotion and likely didn’t create the same sense of urgency.
- Their offer didn’t create a sense of urgency! The creative didn’t give the recipient any driving need to click for more information.
- You might have caught the words “insist” and “rush” mentioned a few times above. This client did not plan on enough time to correctly test their offers. If they wanted to do the final, official blast on Saturday then a test should have been sent on Saturday! They messed with their control and were left wondering why their results didn’t mirror the Tuesday or Thursday results. Maybe they should have done the balance on the following Tuesday, the day with the best results. Either way, they didn’t give themselves the time to find out which was going to be more effective.
- The offer was not time-sensitive. They had no reason to send the promotion in this short timeframe except for a sense of “we have to spend this money this year so hurry up and get it done before 2012.” Folks, that is a terrible reason to rush through a job and ignore basic Marketing 101 principles.
This client obviously wasn’t paying as close attention as I was in the 1990s. If they had, perhaps they would have recalled the message from the Lemmonheads song, It’s About Time: you have to give yourself time. In this case, give yourself time to:
- Test every aspect. (Day of the week, time of day, subject line, creative, etc.)
- Accurately measure your results. (Have been sent before requesting a report?)
- Be aware of the timing of your promotion. (Any holidays or big events that your email is competing with for attention?)
- Create an offer with a sense of urgency. (What is going to drive someone to click right now while they’re looking at your email?)
- Did I already mention “test every aspect”? (Seriously. Every. Aspect.)
- Use the time you have wisely. (If you find yourself rushing, ask why. Is it necessary?)
Marketers must remember that email marketing is not some kind of magical marketing channel. It is simply another marketing channel. The channel may still be relatively new, but the rules marketers need to follow are not.