August 06, 2009

Protect Your List: How to Fight 3 Internal Battles over Email Strategy

SUMMARY: We’re roughly halfway through the six-city tour of our Email Marketing Essentials workshop, which has allowed for in-depth conversations with email marketers about the state of the industry. Along the way, we’ve noticed repeated questions about common internal battles email marketers must fight.

Marketers under pressure to squeeze more revenue from their email lists have been defending against “quick fix” strategies that can sacrifice the long-term health of their database. In this article, we outline how to fight key battles over email frequency, list-building strategies, and infrastructure.
Email marketers are in a unique position. The recession is driving companies to focus on high-ROI, low cost tactics such as email marketing. At the same time, the challenge of acquiring new customers in a down economy is forcing companies to look more opportunities within their existing customer and contact base -- i.e., their house email list.

The benefit of that trend: Email marketers are getting more attention and more opportunities to drive their organizations’ overall marketing strategies.

But the downsides include:
o Pressure to grow opt-in lists
o Requests for increased frequency of mailing
o Higher expectations without additional budget or internal resources

The situation can create some tricky political battles. Under pressure to help the company survive the recession, it’s up to the email marketer to remember the long-term implications of additional campaign activity on your email list.

"No one else in the organization is going to be thinking about list members -- they’re going to be thinking about the numbers," says Stefan Tornquist, Research Director, MarketingSherpa.

That means email marketers must take on the role of chief protector and representative of their email subscribers. Below, we offer advice on fighting three common battles over email strategy that can have a long-term impact on the health of your email database.

Battle #1. Make the case for list quality over list size

It’s easy for non-email marketers to fall in love with the idea of a big email list. But you have to explain to those people that list size (by itself) shouldn’t be an important metric -- it’s more important to focus on the number of qualified prospects on your email list.

If you’re feeling pressure to deliver a huge boost in email subscribers, emphasize these key points about list quality:

- For almost every email list, the percentage of opt-in names that actually purchase or interact with your company falls into a 90/10 or 80/20 split.

That is, only 10% to 20% of those opt-in names are actual buyers. As a result, you should emphasize the importance of increasing the percentage of actual customers on your list, or qualified prospects who demonstrate interest by taking a specific action.

- Low-quality names can hurt your email reputation, which can end up reducing your reach.

Few people outside the email marketing department understand deliverability issues and the details of email reputation. So try to explain the situation to non-email marketers in terms that any businessperson would understand.

The more low-quality names you add to your list, the more chance that someone who’s not really interested in your email messages will hit the spam button. And when a company gets too many spam complaints, it can close the doors to major ISPs or big company firewalls. Now is not the time to have your messages blocked to large swathes of your database because of a handful of complaints.

- Seemingly fast techniques to grow your list -- such as co-registration, sweepstakes, and list rental -- don’t always generate high-quality names.

In fact, the proper way to manage those processes requires strategies that can be just as time and resource-consuming as the tried and true way to attract subscribers: Investing in high-quality content that gets people to register.

(Next week, Part Two of this article will explore strategies to produce high-quality names from co-registration, sweeps, and list rental.)

Battle #2. Explain the risks of increased frequency

Other members of your company may have a misconception about the resiliency of your email list. Non-email experts may assume that you can simply send more and more messages to your subscribers to boost results.

If you’re faced with that request, explain the risks of increased frequency:

- Subscribers are more sensitive to the frequency of email from a specific sender than they are to the overall volume of email in their inbox.

When MarketingSherpa asked email subscribers why they unsubscribed or stopped reading messages from a company:
o 58% said the emails weren’t relevant to them
o 44% said they received too much email from the sender
o 31% said they simply receive too much email overall to pay attention to it all

Clearly, the volume of mail from any one sender is more troubling to subscribers than overall inbox clutter. If you attempt to send more email to hit your numbers at the end of the quarter, your subscribers are going to pick up on it, and that’s cause for concern.

- Your email list is a long-term relationship. If you’re trying to boost quarterly numbers with a quick boost in frequency, you have to calculate the potential negative effects on your long-term results.

- Benchmarks for the appropriate email frequency are tough to come by. How often you can send to your subscribers depends on the nature of your mailings and your audience.

Some subscribers may welcome daily emails, if there’s information they need on a daily basis. Other audiences may only tolerate a message once or twice a week.

For that reason, frequency testing by segment is essential. It takes time and resources, but it’s the only way to change the rate at which you’re sending messages without potentially damaging your relationship with subscribers.

Battle #3. Petition management for the tools you need

If you’re asked to squeeze more from your email marketing programs, you are in a position to explain what you’ll need to achieve results. Receiving additional resources in this economic climate may be a long shot, but don’t pass up the chance to explain how you can achieve greater value from your email list if you have the appropriate tools.

Outline the potential impact of investments in areas such as:

- Content development

Hiring an in-house or freelance copywriter can recharge your email marketing efforts. It’s common for marketing teams to experience "idea fatigue" when one person or team has been writing email content for several years.

If you feel like you’ve hit on all the major points already, bringing in another writer from outside can take the load off your team, and provide new ideas for content that resonates with your audience.

- Email platform

Facing a potential change in your email strategy provides a good opportunity to examine the technology you use to power email campaigns.

If you’re already working with an email service provider, are you receiving the data and capabilities you need to enact new strategies? If you’re managing email on in-house systems, compare that system’s capabilities, data quality, flexibility, and costs (in terms of time and resources) to an outsourced platform.

- Database interconnectivity

If your email and CRM systems are not tied together, lobbying for more robust integration can help you develop better data on your subscribers and the effectiveness of your campaigns.

Database integration is essential for lead nurturing, closed-loop reporting, and a much clearer picture of ROI. Those characteristics are the hallmark of a great email program that’s going to provide value in the long term.

Useful links related to this article:

Check Your Email Reputation to Improve Deliverability with Easy, No-Cost Tools

New Chart: Email Recipients Give New Meaning to ‘Spam’: 3 Takeaways

Boost Promotion Frequency Without Taxing Your List: 5 Steps to Lift Revenue 69%

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MarketingSherpa’s 'Best Practices in Email Marketing Handbook'

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