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Feb 05, 2009
How To

How to Centralize Control of Email Databases: 5 Lessons to Streamline Operations

SUMMARY: Companies with multiple divisions and product lines often operate email databases in their own silos. Centralizing the control of those email databases under one team can streamline campaigns.

Read about the benefits from a marketer who centralized multiple email databases. Includes five lessons on key aspects of the process, such as:
o Staffing the database team
o Spelling out duties
o Encouraging collaboration between teams
Email marketers must balance their strategic and creative duties with technical challenges that come from building and maintaining databases. Often, they must also integrate their databases with other systems, such as CRM and Web analytics. They end up acting as “underpaid, underqualified CTOs,” says Kathy Henry, Group Director, Strategic Community and Audience Development, United Business Media.

Tackling the integration of databases and other systems involves many steps. An initial step is to centralize the management of email marketing operations, such as list segmentation and message sending, under one team.

“You want the same group of people in charge of email communications,” says Henry, a speaker at Sherpa’s Email Summit in March. “When you have databases all over the place, you also have the authority to mail to those lists all over the place.”

Henry’s team solved this problem 18 months ago by creating a “marketplace operations team” separate from the brand and product marketing teams for two divisions of United Business Media. The marketplace operations team handles the scheduling and sending of all email promotions for the product marketing teams, and manages the opt-in and opt-out preferences for each team’s database.

Five lessons on how to centralize email operations:

Lesson #1. Choose team members with database skills

Look for personnel who can handle heavy database management responsibilities when creating an email distribution and management team. That should allow the database team to provide the metrics and data marketers need to plan campaigns and monitor performance without having to be expert database administrators themselves.

For example, Henry chose a former database director to head up the division when she created her marketplace operations team. She also was able to transfer experienced customer-support personnel from other divisions that were being closed or downsized.

Lesson #2. Assign duties based on brand-specific vs. brand-agnostic needs

Henry says it is essential to specify the different responsibilities of marketing teams and the centralized email distribution and management group. She breaks down those duties according to elements that are either specific to product or division, or that apply across the board to all the company's email marketing efforts.

Individual marketing teams retain control of brand-specific elements, such as:
o Developing marketing strategy
o Planning campaigns
o Designing tests
o Writing copy and other creative elements

The email management team controls brand-agnostic elements, such as:
o Creating distribution lists
o Scheduling email sends
o Managing opt-in, opt-out and other subscriber preferences
o Monitoring rules and guidelines for email frequency to different lists
o Collecting email metrics, such as open rates, clickthroughs, and bounce rates, to report back to marketing teams

Lesson #3. View the email management team as a partner, not a service department

Encourage close collaboration between marketing teams and the email management group. They are not there just to take orders.

The email management team can bring significant insights into lists and company-wide marketing schedules. They can be an important resource for marketers’ planning campaigns. Here’s an example of how the partnership works.

- A marketing team planning to promote a technology conference begins outlining a strategy for email promotions to certain types of prospects. They establish goals for the event and outline creative elements and a proposed marketing schedule for email messages.

- A member of the email management team becomes a partner early in that process. They identify email lists that contain the right prospect profile, and check the division-wide marketing calendar for the proposed marketing schedule.

- The email team member also can suggest promotional approaches for the event based on successful campaigns from other teams.

“You can share best practices more organically,” says Henry.

Lesson #4. Get buy-in from top management to drive the program

Marketers can be reluctant to give up control of their email marketing operations. To drive the shift toward centralized management, Henry got backing from the company CEO.

But even with a mandate to change the process, you can still outline the benefits for marketers when they hand over control of their lists and databases to the centralized team. Benefits include:

- More efficient email marketing operations
- Better customer service
- Freedom from maintaining opt-in/opt-out and preference changes
- Rapid turnaround on projects (Henry’s team can complete a campaign request within one day, as long as the selected list is available)
- Testing and segmentation assistance

Lesson #5. Plan to ride out a few early hiccups

Expect a few early hiccups when making a transition to a centralized email operation. A few early mistakes and scheduling delays made marketers feel the loss of control most acutely. Henry says it took a few months to get her team fully staffed and to streamline the processes to the point where everything operated smoothly.

Now, Henry says her marketing teams understand the role of the centralized management team. “They say, ‘Now I can focus on my products and my brand that I’m trying to market.’”

Useful links related to this article:

How Texas Instruments Centralized Its Global Email Marketing Into One Database

United Business Media

See Also:

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