April 05, 2011
How To

Email Marketing: LEAPS methodology for improving performance

SUMMARY: There is a staggering amount of information available on how to improve your email marketing. It can be a challenge to know which tactics will give you the best results. Some sources offer opinions, while others offer research.

Check out the LEAPS methodology with five research-based fundamentals to improve your program, created by Jeffrey Rice, Research Analyst at MarketingSherpa.
by Adam T. Sutton, Senior Reporter

Email marketing is not a new channel. Marketers have been creating and refining its tactics for almost two decades. The list of tactics is so long that it can be challenging to pick the best ones from the many good ones.

This is why Jeffrey Rice, Research Analyst, MarketingSherpa, created the LEAPS methodology.

"I know what it's like to be pulled in a million different directions as a marketer," Rice says. "So what we've done with LEAPS is focus on the key areas to give you the best results. It outlines five fundamentals to improve your email program."

The LEAPS methodology is based on the research and data that Rice and other MarketingSherpa analysts have used to build the new 2011 Email Marketing Advanced Practices Handbook and the 2011 Email Marketing Benchmark Report.

Here are the five fundamentals outlined in LEAPS as well as Rice's suggestions for each:

Fundamental #1. L -- Leverage all tactics to build quality lists

A company's email database is the foundation of its email marketing. A database loaded with dissatisfied and unresponsive subscribers provides a poor foundation and yields poor results.

Email marketers were once encouraged to have the largest lists on the block, but size is not as important as quality, Rice says. A good list contains active subscribers who are relevant prospects for your business. A big list is just that a big list. It could be loaded with irrelevant or unresponsive people.

Tactics Rice suggests for improving list quality:

- Go to the source

The means by which you acquire email addresses will directly impact your performance. For example, if names are added to your list without opting-in, they will likely perform poorly.

Analyze all the ways a person could opt-in to your email. Make sure the information you provide sets accurate expectations for what subscribers receive.

You can use contests and incentives to help attract attention, but make sure they're relevant, Rice says.

"Do not give away a free trip to the Bahamas if it has nothing to do with your brand. Instead, if your company sells suitcases, give away a suitcase."

- Offer options

Be sure to collect information about subscribers' preferences early in the relationship immediately after confirming opt-in or in the first welcome messages. This will reveal the types of messages subscribers want and when they want to receive them

"At a minimum, you can create a robust preference page so they can change their options down the line," Rice says.

- Cut the chaff

Every list has subscribers who haven't opened an email in months or routinely mark emails as spam. At best, these subscribers are dead weight that inflates the cost of sending campaigns. At worst, they are harming your reputation with Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

For inactive subscribers, you can try to win them back with a re-engagement campaign. If your entire list is riddled with subscribers who are inactive or prone to complaining, you can start from scratch by launching a campaign to ask everyone to re-opt-in and deleting the names who do not respond.

"That can be scary, but these people aren't helping you. They're hurting your deliverability reputation," Rice says.

Fundamental #2. E -- Engage with relevant content

Targeting subscribers with highly relevant content is the most significant challenge for email marketers today. A message's relevance is directly related to its performance.

Rice mentioned three components to improving relevance:

- Send content your audience wants

Your team needs to consistently deliver content your subscribers have indicated they're most interested in receiving. Subscribers will indicate their preferences when signing up, and you can look to your email analytics to understand which types of content are getting the most response.

- Segment audiences

You should "slice and dice" your audiences based on their indicated preferences, as well as data showing which types of content they're interested in. Be sure to incorporate other data about your subscribers, such as data from your customer relationship management (CRM) and social media marketing systems. After you've identified targeted segments, design emails and content that specifically meet the needs of each segment.

- Real-time communications

Sometimes the most relevant email is the one that must be delivered now. This can be when a major news event hits, or when a customer abandons a shopping cart on your website.

A key challenge to sending emails at near-instant speed is combining the data silos that make it possible. For emails to be sent immediately after a subscriber calls your customer service department, certain barriers will likely have to come down.

Fundamental #3. A -- Act respectfully to ensure deliverability

The greatest content in the world will not help your program if its emails are bounced or sent to a spam folder. Marketers have to respect their subscribers' preferences to avoid the wrath of the ISPs.

Key parts to ensuring your deliverability:

- Understand your relationship with ISPs

The first step to ensuring deliverability is to understand how your emails are viewed by the gatekeepers of the inbox, the ISPs. Two tips:

o Research whether your emails are sent from a dedicated IP address, or if you share the address with other companies.

o Reach out to the major ISPs represented in your database and inquire about your reputation or black-list status.

Although not completely accurate, you can establish several email addresses with major ISPs to get a rough idea of your placement rate. Send test emails to these addresses and check whether your messages arrive in the inbox or land in the junk folder. You can also hire companies that specialize in monitoring your placement rate.

- Directly related to other fundamentals

The deliverability of your emails is dependent on many factors in your program. Sending emails to a list filled with invalid or abandoned addresses will hurt your reputation with ISPs, which makes list hygiene an important part of your deliverability.

The relevance of your emails will indirectly impact their deliverability. A subscriber is more likely to mark an irrelevant message as spam, which hurts its sender's reputation with ISPs. Also, email services such as Gmail and Hotmail are increasingly using engagement metrics to place emails.

"Many of these fundamentals are integrated," Rice says. "When you improve one area, it's going to help improve two or three other areas in the top five."

Fundamental #4. P -- Place email in pipeline to quantify ROI

Your email marketing can generate a ton of interest and satisfy many customers, but all that is irrelevant if it does not help your company.

You need to understand how your email marketing affects bottom-line results. It is the only way to focus on the tactics that have the strongest impact. Just because a message has the most opens and clicks does not mean it has the best results.

This is true whether your email marketing moves subscribers further down the B2B sales pipeline or boosts revenue by selling consumer products. In both cases, you need to define success, measure it, and tweak your tactics to improve it.

"Your email marketing has to be in line with what's going on in the rest of your company and helping to meet the company's objectives," Rice says.

Furthermore, knowing the bottom-line results of your effort will help you communicate the benefits of your email program to company executives using terms and metrics they're familiar with.

Fundamental #5. S -- Sync email with social media and smartphones

Email marketing is an evolving art. Many of its fundamentals have remained through the years, but its tactics often shift as new technologies or user behaviors emerge.

Email marketers have to be aware of emerging trends. Two that have been steadily on the rise are the integration of email with social media networks and smartphones.

- Build strong relationships

Social marketing tactics have enabled some email marketers to help spread their messages to new platforms through social sharing buttons. Others marketers have stoked a flurry of online conversations about their brands by engaging their subscribers with compelling, relevant, well-timed messages.

"Integrating social tactics into your email marketing means more than just having a social sharing button," Rice says. "It's really about having a relationship with your subscribers and encouraging them to take that relationship onto another platform. You can also bring content from those platforms, such as comments and posts, into your emails."

- Accommodate and monitor smartphone users

The growing popularity of smartphones is a big opportunity for email marketers, Rice says. Reading email is one of the most popular uses for the devices, and subscribers will be using them everywhere.

"Smartphones present a different environment. You have the screen-size issues, as well as the fact that people use them everywhere, whether they're standing in a checkout line or sitting in a meeting at the office."

Rice cites two potential opportunities for email marketing on smartphones:

o The ability to leverage location data in real time to deliver messages relevant to the subscriber's exact location

o The abundance of data that will become available from people interacting with email on a new platform.

Useful links related to this article

MarketingSherpa 2011 Email Marketing Handbook

MarketingSherpa 2011 Email Marketing Benchmark Report

Email Optimization: Improve response with 5 insights from 10,000 tests

Social Email Marketing: KFC's Double Down email launch

Email Subject Lines: Longer subject increases opens 8.2%

How Cutting a House List 95% Helped Double Sales: 5 Steps

Email Marketing: FedEx Increases deliverability and clickthrough rates with preference centers

B2B Marketing: The FUEL methodology outlined

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