Tuesday, June 30, 2009

How Many Ways Can You Mess Up An Email Program?

Sounds like a negative topic, but I'm really upbeat about this. If it weren't for marketing people making the same mistakes, half the agencies and service organizations wouldn't have jobs. While I'm enthusiastic about the email and CRM space, it's a bit numbing to watch organizations do the same thing over and over again. That's why my theme is five ways you can mess up your email program -- so you can learn from others' mistakes.

1. Continuing to rotate email vendors:

For years it's been a trend to go through annual reviews of your email platform partners. While I agree with this in principle, and actually wrote about it a few years ago, it is a colossal drain of time and energy. Most companies that go through this exercise and submit RFPs haven't really thought about what they need, have shallow requirements and even less insight into the vendor options available.

While you may save 25% in negotiating pricing, you will spend that going through the review and transition process in most cases. I firmly believe there is only a 20% variance in productivity gaps between the top 10 to 15 email platforms on the market. This means if you are in high production mode and send a lot of email, you will have more risk than others with a less optimal user interface (UI), or campaign management workflow or reporting layer. But if you operate under less production pressure, the variance between the platforms will not pay off because you think the UI is better.

Best advice is to commit to a partnership with your delivery partner and stay the course until you decide to make a corporate move to integrate transactional messaging or consolidate all your business units, or some anomaly blows your traditional volume and campaign needs out of whack. Otherwise commit and focus on the basics rather than spending a lot of energy making vendors jump through hoops; you won't learn as much as you think.

2. Benchmarking from the industry:

I've also written a lot about this. But I find that external benchmarks are virtually useless as performance or even forecasting tools. They are not contextual to your industry, to your approach, to the relationships you've developed with your clients and how you've built these through email over time. Don't waste energy trying to get your numbers to match industry stats or putting undue pressure on your teams to meet these. It's like comparing grading scales of schools in separate states; they just don't match and shouldn't be used for funding.

3. Mismanaging acquisition:

The best way to screw up an email program is to be irresponsible with the acquisition and building of a database. Gathering names and email addresses is not difficult, it's just a net/sum game. But so many companies don't realize the cost of acquisition when they have a poor game plan for retention through digital channels. You'll end up adding to the overburdened email staffs' issues by adding erroneous records to a database that gradually bring down performance, and create unrealistic expectations for return on investment.

Many companies would benefit from a 30% reduction of their database today. Don't let the allure of acquisition put a burden on retention principles. We ran into this problem with a client last year where they greatly overestimated the value of their database to find out that 20% were dormant at best. Talk about putting your team behind the eight-ball.

4. Not understanding social networking theory:

Forward to a Friend was a great idea years ago, but has always been a shallow strategy. It is critical that you understand the principles of networking theory and the innate nature of how people build their networks, tribes, and communities; how people use tools to enable these networks; and how digital has greatly changed the game. You will seek an alternate view where you place less value on individual attributes and more value on relationships and ties, and the dynamics of the networks each build. This is something you'd better know, or you'll never master direct marketing.

5. Continuing to churn the resource pool:

There are a lot of new people in email marketing, with very few who have a long tenure. Problem is, it's such an isolated channel in most organizations that the email people tend to recycle through the organization and stay for a limited time. I am a firm believer that a marketing organization doesn't need to have thought leaders in a channel per se, but employees do need to have domain experience to some degree. You won't ever retain that at any strategic or tactical level if you don't retain the channel expertise. Combine this issue with issue #1 (churning vendors) and you are reinventing your program every few years and not evolving it as you should.

The channel is strong, the vendors in the space are much more mature than they used to be, and there are a lot of voices in the space sharing thought leadership openly -- but the channel will continue to grow at a nominal rate if we continue to make these same mistakes over and over again.



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