March 19, 2009
We’re back from four jam-packed days at our annual Email Marketing Summit and want to share the highlights. The event showed that concerns about email’s declining significance have been greatly exaggerated.
Speakers at more than 30 sessions shared inspirational examples for meeting challenges and optimizing email strategies for long-term success. Here are eight top takeaways from the Summit, covering topics such as:
o Segmentation and triggered campaigns
o Testing methodologies
o Integration with Web 2.0 technologies
o International opportunities
Hundreds of email marketers descended on Miami earlier this week for MarketingSherpa’s 2009 Email Marketing Summit. This year’s four-day event included Landing Page Optimization and Email Marketing Professional Certification Courses offered by MarketingExperiments, two days of general sessions and breakout tracks, an expo of 20 exhibitors, and plenty of time for networking to share best practices in email marketing.
The mood was upbeat, despite the ongoing challenges of the recession and tightening marketing budgets. Marketers in attendance seemed to understand that with challenges come opportunities to out-market your competitors through strategic planning and better tactics.
Here’s a recap of the event, featuring our top eight takeaways from the sessions:
Takeaway #1. You can rise above email clutter
There was a lot of discussion about the impact of rising message volume (both spam and legitimate) on marketing. But swamped in-boxes are no excuse for poor email performance.
Stefan Tornquist, MarketingSherpa’s Research Director, kicked off the event by sharing data that indicates that relevance and quality of email messages have a bigger impact on campaigns than external factors, such as the overall quantity of email, do.
“We are not overwhelmed by the amount of email in our in-box; we are underwhelmed by what we receive,” said Tornquist.
Marketers who optimize their email strategies will be the ones who connect with their subscribers. That might mean taking a step back and re-examining all of your email programs to find strengths and weaknesses.
Marc Majers, Manager Web Development, The Cleveland Institute of Art, shared the methodology his team used to transform their email campaigns. The collaborative process called on all team members to:
o Analyze their existing processes
o Develop new goals for their email campaigns
o Create consistent design standards
o Establish a centralized email distribution process
o Optimize through regular testing and measurement
The result was improved metrics, lower costs, and better collaboration among the CIA’s four different email groups.
Takeaway #2. Target your measurement and testing activity on actionable data
Testing is essential, but knowing which elements of your email process to test can be tricky. Several presenters recommended planning tests that provide immediately actionable data.
- Heather Marsh, Director, Customer Information Management, Johnston & Murphy, described dealing with a host of requests for her team to test aspects of their email segmentation capabilities. Her first question: “What can you do with the data?”
If the answer was simply, “It would be nice to know,” then the request was dropped to the bottom of the list.
- Michal McCurdy, Director CRM, TheLadders.com, showed how his team’s tests target incremental improvements at several stages of their customer conversion funnel, such as:
o Email incentives for new customers
o Creative elements for cross-selling messages
o Landing-page layout to boost conversions
- Siara Nazir, Director Customer Acquisition and Retention, E-LOAN, recommended creating control groups within your email database to test and prove concepts before rolling them out to the entire list.
Her team’s use of control groups helped identify cross-selling strategies from which they could project revenue growth when rolled out to the entire list. That data was used to get approval for a marketing budget increase.
Takeaway #3. Segmentation data is at your fingertips – use it!
Segmentation emerged as one of the most effective ways to rise above in-box clutter. Most email marketers have data available to perform some kind of segmentation in their campaigns -- the key is making a commitment to use it.
Here are two ways summit speakers segmented their database:
By customer profile
Don McNichol, Director eCommerce and Direct Marketing, Intermix, analyzed purchase records to identify three types of customers:
o VIPs who spend tens of thousands with the company annually
o Sale shoppers who only buy when there’s a sale or discount
o Brand shoppers who are loyal to a specific brand
By targeting messages and offers to each group, the team achieved a 90% increase in open rates, a 46% increase in clickthroughs, and a 28% increase in email marketing profit.
By email activity
Brooks Bell, President, Books Bell Interactive, revived the AARP’s email newsletter program by performing a series of tests on segments of the audience identified by email activity:
o Active – clicked in the last four months
o Passive – opened in last four months but did not click
o Inactive – no opens or clicks in the last four months
Through several tests and campaigns aimed re-engaging passive and inactive subscribers, they were able to increase their active subscribers by 59%.
Takeaway #4. Keep moving toward triggered email
Like database segmentation, triggered email campaigns provide relevance that will help your messages connect with subscribers. It can be hard to break the habit of batch-based messages, but you may be sacrificing long-term improvements for the short-term bump you may get from those one-off campaigns.
John Heidrich and Joe Nettum from Allstate described how their team is moving toward a triggered email strategy tied to major customer events, such as policy purchases, renewals, claims filing and payments.
They compared results from a campaign to encourage customers to sign up for an online account service system. One set of messages was sent batch-style to the entire list, and another set was sent to new customers, triggered by policy purchases:
o Open rates for the triggered email messages increased 84% over the batch messages
o Clickthrough rates for the triggered email messages increased 32%
Takeaway #5. Highlight email’s cross-channel impact
During an economic downturn, marketers have an opportunity to highlight email’s contribution to the company’s bottom line. That means measuring your own campaigns’ impact beyond direct sales, and aligning your strategy to support broader revenue or lead generation goals.
Several summit presenters described how they align their email campaigns with cross-channel sales and branding efforts:
- Rok Hrastnik, International Internet Director, Studio Moderna, uses a series of email campaigns to generate long-term leads for the company’s bedding products. Based on analysis of metrics and customer behavior, the team adjusts messaging as needed to move prospects closer to a sale. These include:
o Sleep-related newsletters
o General lifestyle newsletters
o Gender-specific lifestyle newsletters
o Behavior-based lifestyle newsletters
o Sales promotion campaigns
- Roshni Cox, Group Manager Email & Mobile Marketing, Sprint, showed examples of her team’s campaigns that tie into the company’s broader branding standards and major offline promotions.
For example, in advance of a major new handset launch that was heavily promoted in print and broadcast campaigns, the team created a teaser email program that let customers sign up for an announcement when the device was available. The subsequent email that announced the launch generated a 64.9% open rate and a 39.4% clickthrough rate.
Takeaway #6. Make email work in tandem with Web 2.0 and user-generated content
Emerging tactics, such as Web 2.0 and user-generated content, shouldn’t be considered replacements for or threats to email campaigns. The tactics can enable and complement each other.
Jim Harper, Interactive Marketing Analyst, Olympus Corporation of the Americas, described how his team boosted readership of the camera company’s Capture it All newsletter by allowing customers to submit photographs and participate in contests that involved photo entries.
Dan Heimbock, CEO, HyperDrive Interactive, reached out to online communities centered on health issues, such as diabetes, to help promote Dreamfield’s low-carb pasta products. They encouraged these groups to write reviews or discuss the product with their peers, and provided samples, email coupons and other incentives that helped boost sales.
Takeaway #7. Respect your international audience
Marketers facing declining sales in domestic markets need to offset that slowdown. International audiences provide a great opportunity to do that, but must be approached with a clear strategy.
Sergio Balegno, Senior Analyst, MarketingSherpa, provided data that shows how some marketers are missing that opportunity:
- 49% of all marketers don’t track the international subscribers in their email databases. If you don’t track them, you’re not thinking strategically about how to leverage that asset.
- 21% of large organizations and 58% of SMBs aren’t localizing their email content by region, country or language. However, localized content is essential to boosting performance of email campaigns.
Continuing on the theme, Uwe-Michael Sinn, Managing Director, rabbit eMarketing, shared best practices for building lists, handling regulations and localizing content for European markets. His top tips:
- Always work with local resources to properly localize campaigns for language and cultural differences. For example, although German is spoken in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, each country uses different terms and email salutations.
- European audiences in general react differently to U.S.-style campaigns. For example, most European audiences prefer a softer, less direct tone than the one typically employed by U.S. marketers. And multicultural stock images that work in the U.S. often appear out-of-place in more racially and ethnically homogenous European nations.
- Manage deliverability with care in European countries. For example, email senders in Germany must be affiliated with the German Certified Sender’s Alliance. If your ESP is not a member, encourage them to join or find a dedicated German ESP for your campaigns.
Takeaway #8. Email and email marketers are poised for an expanded role
Email is once again favored by executive managers looking for low-cost, high ROI channels.
Email and social media are the only budget line items that more marketers plan to increase rather than decrease in 2009, according to a recent MarketingSherpa survey.
That means email marketers will be playing an even more important role in the success of their companies this year. It’s a perfect time to put advanced tactics and data-analysis capabilities in place to make your email campaigns as powerful as they can be.
Useful links related to this article
Brooks Bell Interactive
The Cleveland Institute of Art
Johnston & Murphy
Olympus Corporation of America