Revamp Your Email Marketing

The first step to overcoming an addiction is admitting the problem. Ryan Phelan, VP of global strategic services for Acxiom, did just this and admitted that email marketers are “addicted” to the word “sale.”

“And sale’s cousin ‘discount’ and third cousin ‘free shipping,’” he confessed to the crowd at the closing keynote of the Direct Marketing Association’s Email Evolution Conference.

This “sale” obsession, he said, causes marketers to forget the customer mind-set. Once marketers lose this mind-set, they forget that customers experience different brands in different ways, he said. As a result, they start “naming” their customer segments. This approach causes marketers to blur customers together, send batch-and-blast emails, and ultimately, treat customers like a list, rather than like individuals, Phelan said. 

“[It’s] like we’re paying them to be friends with us,” he said. “Humans don’t act that way.”

And customers are beginning to detect this lack of empathy. According to Acxiom’s research, 72% of consumers read email when they’re bored. Not to mention, solely focusing on customers who don’t care detracts from the customers who do, Phelan noted.

“We have to be realistic in that consumers care as much about the email we send as we put into it sometimes,” he said.

So how do marketers design a brand experience when every consumer experiences a brand differently? And how can marketers service their customers when they don’t understand how to piece all of their multichannel experiences together? After asking these questions, Phelan said marketers need to initiate a new conversation with customers, as well as adjust the way they think, act, and market. “Look at the experiences our customers have with our brands…beyond, ‘What’s the discount for next week?’” he said. 

Here are the four ways Phelan said marketers can get back into the customer mind-set. 

Focus on strategy, not on tactics

Gather your social, mobile, and other marketing teams together for a day-long, strategy meeting.

“We’re in an industry that’s incredibly good at tactics…but we don’t spend enough time with the strategy of our program,” Phelan said.

During the session, focus on the following four objectives, he advised:

  • Define your current programs and optimizations
  • Discuss what you’d love to achieve. Don’t bring cost or system integration into the conversation. Remember, this is about strategy, not tactics.
  • Set priorities about what you can do now. Assign responsibilities and determine what needs to be fixed.
  • Track your progress and remember that mistakes are part of the learning curve.

“Remind yourself that it’s OK to not be perfect,” Phelan said.

2) Analyze current programs

Instead of hitting your subscribers with a hard sell, envision how they’d use the product and build a campaign around this notion, Phelan suggested. Then start small. Test one email, see how it performs, and ask the boss if you can try another one, he said.

“Develop one email that seeks to engage the consumer and have a conversation that talks about the experience of the product and the experience of the brand,” Phelan said.

3) Evolve reporting concepts

The world didn’t end at the end of 2012 like the Mayans predicted. But Google did introduce Gmail tabs five months later and that was sort of the same thing from an email marketing perspective. Phelan recalled marketers’ despair when they claimed that their open rates were plummeting. However, this calamity occurred, he said, because marketers looked at their open and click-through rates as a whole. So, they looked at one giant user base population instead of smaller segments, such as those who made a purchase or those who are new customers.

“We have to change our concept of reporting [and] look at not the aggregate number, but at the cluster number—our group of customers and who they represent,” Phelan said.

4) Test more

When it comes to testing, subject lines get all of the attention. But it’s important for marketers to test other email components, as well—such as calls-to-action, imagery, and placement and length of text—Phelan explained.

“We’re in an industry of people who know how to write really good subject lines. We have to be better at building really good emails,” he said. “You can only do that through testing.”

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