In 2002, a client leaned over to me in a meeting and asked me what the “best practice” was for an upcoming email deployment. Last week I was asked the same question via a Zoom call. This tells us: first, that I’m still working toward that beachfront retirement. But more importantly, this demonstrates that many clients ask the same questions regardless of the year. And the best ones express a curiosity to ask what works, and an eagerness to apply winning formulas to their email marketing.
Although defining email best practices can be shaped around industry or a particular operation, some things remain constant. But what about the global disruption over the past year, new marketplaces, industries and ecommerce being transformed so quickly – do best practices even exist anymore? Yes. However in 2021, I want my clients to move from ‘practicing’ certain email behaviours to becoming ‘habitual’ with them. What I mean by this is to incorporate these acts into every email team, and if you don’t think there is room, then make room for them. The process of learning and experimenting in an important channel like email is crucial, and we want them grounded in good, consistent habits that point us in the right direction. Here are five habits to master in 2021:
The size of your email platform doesn’t matter, whether it has advanced journey mapping capabilities or CDP-like features to apply business rules -- if you don’t know your available technology you are putting a limit on your email program immediately. Am I overspending? What can I do in the second half of the year with new funds? Is this a good long-term play? Can my team be more efficient? What more can I learn? If data is the fuel, the email platform is the engine. How do you know when it’s time for an oil change, something isn’t driving right, or you’re ready for a new car? Create good habits here by routinely auditing your platform, understanding their roadmap for new product releases (and holding them accountable), and formalising training/certifications for your team.
Can you run an email campaign without documentation? Sure you can, poorly. The purpose for documenting everything from your technical setup to email templates to checklists is far-reaching but it comes up time and time again as an area for clients to improve. Onboarding new team members, cross-training, quality assurance, legality, all need documents to set your teams up for success. And if you ever want to employ sophisticated automation or advanced AI to your campaigns, you’ll need those documented rules and requirements again.
Email remains one of those channels that is tailor-made for testing. A constant in decades of change. The old hacker mantra of “code wins arguments” applies here. In email, “testing wins arguments”. Creative, audiences, cadence, subject lines, CTA’s – if you need to express what is working to your Executives, how are you going to do it? What data are you going to rely on? You have to test it. And if the test isn’t so successful, that’s ok, that’s still a helpful data point that decision makers are interested in too. Testing becomes a habit when your team adheres to a larger learning agenda to build a logical sequence of tests against, not just 1-off experiments.
A recent survey by Litmus of 2,000 marketing professionals found that “… less than one-quarter believed their company measured the ROI of email marketing efforts well or very well. An incredible 45% cited the measurement was poor, very poor, or non-existent.” There are so many email marketing metrics, how do I know what to focus on? It is important to recognise that there is no silver bullet. First, know your benchmarks. There are many starting points for industry resources (for example HubSpot, Campaign Monitor, the DMA). Open rates, for example, vary widely by industry, but only in conjunction with conversion, churn and testing results can you begin to drive value that will inform strategy. What did your audience really do beyond the open? Today, 'opens' simply open the door to further engagement – and that deeper engagement, although smaller, provides much more insight to your audience: where they go, do they buy, etc. You’ll see agencies really drive home the importance of engagement as part of their overall CRM strategy, because it remains one of the best indicators of gauging customer interest.
To me this is the easiest practice to turn into a habit; but few client teams have mastered this, or do it consistently enough to call it a habit. Perhaps because many email teams are driven by the operation itself and not necessarily on sharing success. But it is crucial, not just for your company but for your career. If you deployed a journey that worked, a test that showed strong return, a twist on a CTA that bumped activity – chances are there are people within your company that can recreate a version of this success on their projects. The best thought leaders in the industry share what works, and what doesn’t. They speak, write and train others. They get exposure within their company and across their partners. They become advocates for their team, and foster a team that works together. This habit should be extended from email platforms all the way through to campaign results.
These techniques all have value when done periodically, but the best email marketers do each one habitually. They turn the practice of knowing technology, documenting everything, testing, knowing the metrics and teaching others into habits. And they’ll be the ones answering when their clients ask what the next best practice is.