As a former venture capitalist, I've spent years evaluating investment strategies. A favorite quotation comes from the economist John Maynard Keynes, who once said, "Successful investing is anticipating the anticipation of others." Nothing could be closer to the truth when it comes to investing in email marketing.
As digital direct marketing continues its evolution into a customer-driven partnership, companies that invest in highly personalized, advanced tactics designed to anticipate customer needs and benefit recipients will generate extraordinary returns. Unfortunately, too many companies fail to invest truly in their email programs. Instead they fall prey to the same limiting email tactics. They force their campaign thinking into one of two categories: a single specific message that appeals to a subset of their list or a broad set of topics that applies to most or all of their list. They fall back on managing frequency rather than relevance to avoid damaging valuable customer relationships, rather than implementing programs to grow results and revenue.
Investments in email deliver strong returns. JupiterResearch found companies that deliver email lifecycle campaigns were twice as likely to achieve conversion rates of more than five percent, in contrast to those that send only static promotional campaigns. And email campaigns tied to recipient behavior at a sender's website improved revenue nine times over broadcast mailings. Even after taking into account the additional expense of setting up such campaigns, JupiterResearch found that they still lifted net profits by an average of 18 times over broadcast mailings.
So with that in mind, it's time companies invest in their email marketing programs to move them from marketer-centric messaging to customer-centric messaging.
Here are some tactics and strategies to help you invest wisely.
Get started with web analytics integration
Enabling a two-way flow of actionable information between your email and website analytics applications will allow you to target and trigger email campaigns based on website click-stream data more efficiently-- these are the details of how someone interacts with your website.
For instance, if you know an email customer is conducting product-specific searches or browsing particular pages or areas of your website, you could follow up with an email message that includes product information and incentives related to those products or categories.
Now is a great time to undertake this tactic. Over the last year, several large email service providers and website measurement firms have partnered up in order to make the integration of their applications faster and easier for marketers.
Incorporate lifecycle automation
Lifecycle automation adds another dimension to targeting-- time. Rather than assuming that every recipient wants to receive a message at the same time, lifecycle automation times each message so that each recipient gets a message when it's most appropriate. Some examples include welcome, subscription renewal or product replenishment messages.
With lifecycle automation, open rates can soar to 70 percent and clickthrough rates can get well into double-digits. But possibly the greatest benefit to lifecycle automation is its ease. Once set up, it will automate many of your formerly manual marketing and communications efforts. Your job will evolve from hands-on campaign execution to monitoring and fine-tuning ongoing campaigns.
Because it's inexpensive, immediate and easy to execute compared with other marketing channels, email doesn't tend to get the same attention or respect, despite what's truly a massive brand impact on recipients. But you can make a compelling case for the value of email to your company.
Back in 2002, my Silverpop colleague, Elaine O'Gorman, ran a large part of the email program for American Airlines. She wanted to understand how her day-to-day email campaigns affected the airline overall. Elaine's team performed a series of careful analyses comparing the airline's email customers to a control group of customers that did not receive email.
After compiling the results from various communications and promotions to both groups over a series of months, the team applied American's relative value calculations to each group. By subtracting the calculated value of the control group from the value of the email group and extrapolating that difference over the lifetime of the customers, the American team arrived at a figure approximating the value of their email list.
As it turned out, their list had about the same value as one of American's airplanes.
The point of the exercise was not to put a precise accounting value on the email list, but rather to put the value of the email list into perspective for Elaine's colleagues and peers. Before the study, Elaine regularly had to explain why a "free" resource like their email list should be treated with care. With the "value of an airplane" behind her efforts, she found it much easier to gain support for the list allocation policies needed to run American's email program.
Think ahead to an integrated, multi-channel world
Advertising, whether at your website or through television, print or direct mail, is only the first step in a modern overall marketing strategy. Once you have engaged someone's emotions, you need to involve that person in an ongoing relationship. And email is one of the most powerful tools for creating that ongoing relationship.
Email is most valuable in its ability to help you to build and act on knowledge about your customers. If you isolate email as a single channel, that ability is limited. But if you act on customer knowledge as part of an integrated marketing strategy, email can transform your customer communications into a rich, unified and relevant brand experience.
According to a Nov. 2006 report by JupiterResearch, email marketers say one of their top challenges is figuring out where to begin optimizing their mailings. Among its many recommendations, the report urges marketers to determine their use of multi-channel marketing in the early stages of the planning process.
Even if coordinating and integrating email campaigns with data from other marketing channels is still a ways off for your company, you can at least start to think about how these processes will work together in the future. For example, how you store and organize your email marketing data now could have a bearing on much how work will be required to implement integrated multi-channel marketing down the road.
The future has already begun
At the end of the day, if you are just spending money on email marketing, all you will have is the revenue that is generated by each campaign. But if you invest in your email program, you will be creating a highly automated resource that is continually growing and working for you.
Although none of us can predict exact lifetime ROI, one thing is certain: those who invest in their email marketing programs will reap a much greater return than those who never get around to it.
As we head into 2007, I encourage you to embrace the opportunities to become a trusted partner to your customers and prospects while cultivating long-term, sustainable ROI. There's truly never been a better time to be a marketer.