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Nov 10, 2004
How To

Conduct a Company-wide Email Marketing Audit: 5 Steps & Lessons Learned

SUMMARY: Has your email program been running for a few years now? Do you create campaigns or newsletters in "routine-mode" instead of measuring, testing, tweaking? Are your house list building and maintenance processes absolutely perfect? Perhaps it's time for you to do an email audit. Here's the real life story of how marketers at Things Remembered (700 retail stores plus national ecommerce site) audited their email campaigns, and their lessons learned. Definitely inspirational:
Things Remembered was an early email adopter -- sending campaigns to online customers as far back as 1997.

The program was successful enough that in 2003 the other divisions decided to get in on the action. The company's more than 700 retail stores started collecting emails at POS, and sending them special campaigns. And the catalog team used an append service to gain some email addresses for their database.

But, Director of Marketing Terry Mulhern began to worry if this multichannel email exuberance would lead to a hydra-headed mess.

So he started 2004 by taking a step back and calling for a company-wide email audit.

How the audit process worked:

To gain perspective without politics, Mulhern hired an outside team of interactive marketing auditors. The entire audit took about 60-days from start to finish, including the following five key steps:

Step 1. Staff interviews

The team interviewed staffers in every single company division and department that touched the email program in any way. These included everyone from customer service, retail store managers, order processing, database managers, graphic designers, ecommerce staff, and of course marketers.

Plus they also interviewed all related outside vendors in person.

Audit questions weren't simply "How does your part of the email process work?" but also, "What do you think could be fixed?" and most importantly, "What's your primary goal for the email program?"

Mulhern says, "We wanted to discern not only who was in charge of putting email together and how they were doing their work, but also how they measured success, how they looked at conversions, and how they were getting incentivized internally."

Step 2. Delving into specific email processes

With the big picture nailed down, next the team created a series of flow charts and current process guides tracking the "birth to death of the email cycle".

The processes were broken down into:
- the name acquisition process
- list management and cleansing
- message header content
- message design and body content
- personalization and segmentation
- broadcast process
- deliverability
- reporting on performance
- opt-out process

"We mapped out all the activities that go into the bottom line success of an email campaign." The team researched and noted against each activity what the current industry best practices were versus what Things Remembered was currently doing.

Step 3. Revisit historic campaign data

Although Things Remembered's marketers carefully reviewed campaign results as they happened, they'd lost sight of trend data in the rush of getting each week's campaigns out. Also, it's the nature of memory itself that when you think back on past campaigns, you may not recall data perfectly.

The audit was a great time to revisit all past campaigns -- from start to finish -- mapping out what worked and what didn't for campaigns, offers, times of year, subject lines, etc.

Now lessons from history were compiled into one useful, permanent record that the team could start to build on.

Step 4. Reevaluate broadcast vendors

There are more than 75-companies offering email broadcast and campaign management services in the US alone. Mulhern wondered if his team had chosen the right one, and were paying the right price. The legacy vendor had done a fine job, but were they still the best choice given the changing nature of Things Remembereds' now-multichannel email environment?

Step 5. Delivery records

Last but not least the team examined every bit of data they could find regarding delivery, including:

- Open and click rates by ISP, such as AOL and Hotmail
- Amount of reply messages funneled to customer service reps
- Percent of mail being delivered in text vs HTML
- Bounceback handling

Key lessons learned

The audit revealed problems that are common for many multichannel retailers, especially those with longstanding email systems that haven't been overhauled in a while, including:

o AOL delivery was bad to sometimes non-existent, mainly due to the list's percent of bad addresses.

o Names collected via append were churning at a much higher rate than other names, and had lower value as buyers.

o Email collection tactics in stores didn't use best practices in opt-in. Customers writing their addresses on in-store order forms didn't always realize they were thereby being signed up to get sales alerts and announcements outside of information about their orders.

o Store staff were slightly suspicious of email, wondering how it could have any value for them and why they should help collect names.

o Campaigns weren't integrated. Lists of store buyers and Web shoppers received completely separate offers and campaigns, despite the fact that a high percent of Web shoppers also shopped in stores.

o Customer service was receiving a pitifully tiny number of email replies from the messages. Obviously some customer replies to campaigns were being lost in transit.

o Some marketers and managers believed a good email list is a big huge email list -- quantity over quality. Many didn't know to expect normal 30% churn per year from address changers and unsubs.

Implementation Scheduling

The audit report was several hundred pages long -- which is far too much data to act on even with everyone's best intentions. So, Mulhern prioritized the actionable insights.

"Where's the low-hanging fruit that will make a dramatic impact and high return on investment? Then we'll ultimately expand the revamp program."

These quick changes including switching broadcast vendors, focusing on list hygiene, cross-promoting channels (such as including Web links in messages sent to store buyer lists), and making strict rules about how names are to be gathered with permission.

One of the smartest changes was adding individual store manager's names onto the creative of email offers sent to names in their zip area.

"I needed to get 700-plus stores on board, so there's something in each email customizing it to the store-level. Email will come 'from' the local store manager. The customer may not care, but it's important to stores. It helps buy-in when managers see their names on printed emails held in customers' hands."

Mulhern now schedules a quarterly review meeting with all email managers and the audit team to review progress and re-vamp priorities.

So, now Things Remembered won't forget.

Useful links related to this article:

Optiem LLC, the interactive marketing audit specialists who helped Things Remembered

Things Remembered

See Also:

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