The most important question in email marketing

Last month I wrote about the two most important words in email marketing. This month, I am turning my attention to the most important question in email marketing. If you read the previous column, you'll recall that I posed many common questions relating to how one optimizes his or her email campaigns. But the most important question in email marketing wasn't one of those questions -- because the most important question in email marketing transcends the performance of a particular campaign. It's a question that applies to all types of email marketing, from email blasts to triggered emails, from life-cycle campaigns to transactional emails. It's a question that gets to the heart of why marketers use email marketing to begin with.

The most important question in email marketing

The most important question is email marketing is, "What do you do when you get them to do what you want them to do?"

If you did read my last column, you're sure to respond, "It depends." And you'd be correct. Because the central premise of this rather awkwardly phrased question is the idea that it is not enough to anticipate the outcomes of your efforts; they must also be planned for. On the simplest level, that can mean what you do next after you've gotten someone to subscribe to your emails or what you do after you've gotten them to click through an email to a landing page.

If you declare victory at gaining that subscription, or at achieving the click through, then you are declaring victory short of having actually achieved any sort of marketing objective. That's because real marketing objectives build your business and your revenue -- things like leads, sales, awareness, preference, loyalty, etc. Clicks and opt-ins fall short of that.

So how does one actually put this question and philosophy into practice? It requires adopting the mindset that your email marketing is part of a marketing continuum -- a continuum that encompasses a much broader set of channels and tactics than just email. (Yep, silos are bad.) By doing so, you can plan to avoid marketing "dead ends" -- that point where you leave a prospect, or even a customer, with no other option than to stop engaging with you. Life-cycle email campaigns are a good example of this, albeit on a small scale. They are an attempt to automate a stream of email communications that adapt the next communication based on your prior activity.

Let's go back to the examples I used earlier and apply this type of approach. We'll start with the new email subscriber. If you have gone through the process of asking yourself, "What do I do when I get them to do what I want them to do?" then you already have in place an automated welcome campaign that thanks them for subscribing and begins to set their expectations as to what they will be receiving in your ongoing email campaigns. You'd obviously like your new subscribers to open the emails in this campaign. And then? Well, perhaps now you ask them to visit a preference center or profile page to provide a little more information about themselves, allowing you to target them more effectively with content and offers. And then? If they do provide additional information about themselves and their preferences, you need to be prepared to use that knowledge in your future emails to them. Does your template allow for customization and dynamic content? If not, you've hit a marketing dead end.

Let's assume that you do have a nice and shiny dynamic template, and you entice your recipient to click on a link and go to a landing page. Perhaps she will convert off this page. Are you ready to provide additional offers in the purchase confirmation? One that is based upon the actual item(s) purchased? On the other hand, maybe there isn't a transaction at this time. Are you tracking what offer was originally clicked on? If several pages were viewed following the click, did you track those? This type of information helps you better understand that subscriber and what might motivate and interest her. This can make your next email that much more likely to get her to engage and transact with you.

After you have finished applying this philosophy to your email marketing, the next step is to apply it across all your marketing activities. As I've written before, the consumer does not engage with you in a single channel but rather engages across a number of channels. And because there is a connection between display, search, social, mobile, and email, it's not the single exposure alone that gets consumers to act, but the context of all the marketing that preceded it. As a marketer, you need to think multichannel when planning what you are going to do when you get the consumer to do what you want him or her to do.

A simple example of this involves search marketing. The objective of search marketing is to gain a new customer. It isn't just to get a consumer to click on a paid search ad (or a highly ranked organic result) and go to a landing page. But if you don't plan ahead and provide an alternative to a consumer who doesn't transact at that point in time, once again you've hit a marketing dead end.

Prominently displaying an email opt-in on the landing page is one way to keep the conversation going for those who don't immediately transact with you. But most sites don't have a prominent email opt-in after the homepage, and yet search ads often lead one deep into a site. That's something you need to be thinking about. Of course, you'd prefer the transaction right away, but since you went to the trouble to engage this consumer, it makes sense to provide an alternative path. With an opt-in (and an effective welcome campaign), you at least have the opportunity to eventually drive a transaction.

So as you approach your own email marketing program (and your broader digital marketing), try asking, "What do you do when you get them to do what you want them to do?" You might be pleasantly surprised by some of the simple things you can do to improve your customer experience and increase the probability of a transaction. After all, launching an email isn't the end of the job -- it's where your real work actually begins!

Chris Marriott is a data-driven digital marketing consultant.

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"Question mark sign"  image via Shutterstock.

 

Comments

Craig Swerdloff
Craig Swerdloff September 14, 2012 at 4:31 PM

"If you declare victory at gaining that subscription, or at achieving the click through, then you are declaring victory short of having actually achieved any sort of marketing objective." amen brother!

Pamela Philpot
Pamela Philpot September 11, 2012 at 9:25 PM

Good article. Following through on the specifics of the transaction is often overlooked, but very important.