Send smarter email, not more email

It is sad but true that I wrote a column on using email marketing during a recession almost exactly a year ago. I know I certainly expected things to have cleared up by now. Times are tough and don't seem to be getting much better. So first things first, go back and read that before you proceed here. Don't check your 401(k), as you can't do very much about that right now. You can, however, change the course of your email marketing program to ensure it is a beacon of light during a very dark and troubling storm.

Email marketers and interactive marketers are the lucky ones. According to a new Epsilon study, more than six out of 10 (63 percent) of marketing executives surveyed said they had increased their digital marketing spending in 2008. Just slightly less (59 percent) said they had decreased traditional marketing spending. If you have a mission-critical communication or key promotion, email will likely get the nod as the delivery platform.

However, too many companies resort to more email marketing when times are tough, as opposed to being smarter and more strategic. An increase of frequency does not unlock the door to your subscribers' wallets. Nor do spray-and-pray attacks or the old "let's take our offline piece and make it a JPEG." Tough times call for deliberate and well thought-out efforts. The following areas are a few to consider for doing more with your email program, not just more of it.

1. More with less
If anyone watched the epic HBO show "The Wire" last season, they will know one of the key themes was that leadership at two central organizations (the police department and the newspaper) implored their rank and file to do more with less, due to budget and organizational issues. Now, if the email marketing managers of the world can agree on anything, it likely would be that these two issues restrict email from reaching its true potential. Being creative, effective and methodical can go a long way. So resist the shortcut of doing more. Instead, make each email campaign count and treat it like your only one for the month, not the first of six for the week.

2. Campaign lead cycle
One of the areas most untapped in the email universe is lead cycle management. This could include leads coming into a retailer who are not ready to buy but are ready to learn more about your product and service. So don't plug them into the batch-and-blast pile where all emails get sent with the same message regardless of their interest or profile. Integrate them into campaigns that are delivered based on stage of buying, and customize the message and deployment date. For example, send a welcome message followed by 15- and 30-day follow-ups before rolling them into a not-yet-converted segment. Many such campaigns can be automated, which can mean cost and resource savings. By taking such an approach, you will be delivering them more valuable and relevant messaging that should push them closer to your goal, assuming you have defined what that is.

3. Integrate, don't ignore
Now is the time to integrate your other interactive offerings, especially the much-hyped but deserving Web 2.0 platforms. If your company has a Facebook page, blog and search campaign (and very few companies should not), ensure your email program has a face into these. Just because some web users may be a fan of your product on Facebook or a member of your group on LinkedIn, don't leave them isolated on these platforms. The same goes for search campaigns. Extend your media buys and presence by making it very easy to sign up for your email newsletter. Make sure users are aware that there may be exclusive benefits to opting in to the email channel. The same goes for driving visits to these social networks via your email program.

4. Survey and segment
One of the best things to do during an economic downturn is to ask your subscribers (who should be customers and prospects) what they want. Do they want emails delivered to their mobile device, more coupons or whitepapers, or more choices of content or email products? You don't know until you ask. This then allows you to customize your offerings and even segment based on response.

5. Update preferences
Many people change their email addresses, titles, jobs and more. Send them an email asking them to update their preferences and profiles. This is truly a win-win. They get more relevant choices and content, and you get the data you need to develop better emails for each audience. Did I mention treating your entire email audience the same is not the way to go, especially in this economy?

6. Don't waste -- anything
Everyone seems to be tightening their belts to a certain degree. That may mean selling the yacht for some, or brown-bagging it for others. Email marketers can take their cue to make sure every part of their email message is a potent and valuable one. Optimize your transactional emails, enhance your newsletters and maybe above all, don't let half of your email show up as a giant red X. Yes, a sizable part of your email subscription base is blocking images. So make sure your message gets through. That likely means redesigning and coding your emails to deal with the elephant in the inbox: image suppression. Even your CFO may appreciate you aren't wasting any element of your email, much less your entire message.

G. Simms Jenkins is founder and CEO of BrightWave Marketing, an Atlanta-based email marketing and customer relationship services firm.

 

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