October 23, 2012

Essential Elements of a Successful Email Marketing Program

by Greg Zakowicz, Marketing Strategist

Carnac the Magnificent

Do you know who this is? If not, it is Johnny Carson’s character Carnac the Magnificent. Carnac’s great talent, other than being hilarious, was that he knew the answer to the question inside of the envelope without ever opening it. Well-oiled email marketing programs provide subscribers with the same amazing power to know what to expect simply by seeing the brand name in the inbox. The subscriber knows what he will find inside and, like Carnac, can deliver great results. But unlike Carnac, the answers for what it takes to build a successful email marketing program don’t just magically appear, they are well-planned and strategically executed.

Far too often, when I ask companies who are building their email program what they hope to achieve with their email program I get the answer, “drive revenue.” But when asked how they hope to achieve that, many times they don’t have a clear answer. Everyone wants high open and click rates, but don’t utilize lifecycle messaging, segmentation and/or lack true calls to action in their emails. Successful email marketing programs don’t just happen, they are built.

So I asked my fellow Marketing Strategists here at Bronto what they thought were the “must-have” building blocks of a successful email marketing program. Here are the most popular answers.

Have a Marketing Calendar

By not having a calendar in place, you leave yourself vulnerable to an inconsistent send cadence, lack of strategic planning for peak seasons, rushed campaigns that offer little value, and poor time management. Decide what is going to be sent, why it will be sent, when it will be sent, and who creates it. You should also plan your testing and include a back-up plan for emergencies. A calendar is especially important as you enter the holiday season when there is an onslaught of critical dates email marketers need to plan for. Here a list of some of those dates.

Have a Dedicated Team

Too many cooks in the kitchen can make progress cumbersome and slow. You will inevitably find yourself with too many edits to make, too much inconsistency, and too little accountability. Have a dedicated person who is responsible for coordinating and executing all aspects of the email marketing initiatives.

Set Goals/Have a Logical Strategy

Not knowing your goals means you will never know if you reach them. You will also never know if you don’t reach them. Set both financial and business related goals such as revenue per email/month, list growth and potentially engagement related goals such as social achievements. Focus your goals based on past performance not industry benchmarks. While benchmarks can be helpful if you have no previous data, they often have too many variables that can impact their reliability. Learn how you can dig into your data to set benchmarks for future goals.

Although they are two different things, I coupled strategy with goals because without a strategy your goals are meaningless. Think logically and tackle the low-hanging fruit first; crawl, walk, run. Create a welcome message before tackling more sophisticated projects like an abandoned cart, lapsed purchase or post purchase message/series. Move up in a logical manner.

Have an Optimized Signup

If you don’t attract new subscribers and grow your list, your email program is going to suffer. First, evaluate your current signup process from the user’s perspective. Here’s how to do it in 10 minutes or less. Utilize industry best practices such as moving the signup above the fold, bringing attention to it, offering an incentive and collecting segmentation information during the process. Check out this three-part series on optimizing the signup process.

Analyze Your Email Metrics

If you are not tracking your data, how do you know what impact your messages are having? How do you know when a campaign is a success or failure? Create a plan for what metrics to measure. Put together monthly and quarterly report on metrics such as opens, clicks, conversions, list growth, unsubscribes, and complaints. Do this for not only promotional messages, but also for transactional messages and individual types of messages such as remails, welcome messages, birthday messages, product specific messages, etc.

Honorable Mentions

There are two honorable mentions I feel I should include, the first being a welcome message. It is amazing how many companies simply don’t have one! Not welcoming someone, yet always asking for something from them, is like having that crazy uncle who only calls you when they want something. Eventually you will stop answering the phone.

The second is to have an optimized template. Templates can shorten the amount of time it takes to create an email, provides consistency to your email messages, and creates symmetry between your messages and your website.

If you are either getting your email program off the ground or making a dedicated effort to ramp it up, be sure to have the fundamentals in place. After all, you want your subscribers to be Carnac, not the person who thinks you are the crazy uncle. 

Greg Zakowicz
Marketing Strategist at Bronto

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Greg Zakowicz, Marketing Strategist

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