The Battle for the Inbox: Giving Your Email Campaign a Fighting Chance

Inbox_OverflowI don’t know about you, but my inbox is a war zone. I’m fighting a losing battle daily.

It is under constant barrage from companies, organizations, and campaigns that at one point I trusted enough to exchange my email address for a ride through their marketing funnel. However, for some of these companies, that trust was quickly eroded once I became bombarded by an endless barrage of uninteresting updates, overly aggressive offers, and endless e-begging for change. By the way, if anyone needs a coupon for Bed, Bath & Beyond, let me know. I can make it rain coupons.

But seriously, as a marketer, I understand and appreciate the ease in which email allows my brand message to be crafted, targeted, and scheduled exactly how I want and to whomever I want for only pennies a send. It’s magical. However, marketers also have to understand that our job is far from over once we hit send. Our email is now just one drop in a tidal wave of emails, making it look less like the carefully crafted brand message chocked full of utility that we intended it to be, and more like a groaning zombie in a mob of other groaning zombies with one single-minded purpose, to eat your brains. And by brains, I mean your attention.

Earlier this year, a study released by the National Center for Biotechnology Information noted that the average human attention span dropped from 12 seconds in the year 2000 to 8 seconds in 2015, which as the study noted, is 1 second shorter than that of a goldfish. No shock there. Humans have a lot going on. We have emails to delete, zombies to kill, etc. What do goldfish have going on? Exactly.

As marketers, we know that we have a fraction of a second to pique our audience’s interest before our email’s fate is determined with a single swipe (no pressure). With so many messages competing for those 8 seconds of attention, your email is going to need a little help.

To give our email campaign a fighting chance at relevancy, we need to ensure we’re effectively communicating our brand’s value to our audience. We must first ensure that we’ve employed a sound segmentation methodology that groups targets by quantifiable value metrics. Depending on campaign objectives and visibility into the audience data, we may determine that value is measured by the audience’s likeliness to respond, say from previous responses, or their projected business impact.

We also want to ensure that we’re measuring success with metrics that actually matter. Oh sure, we might glance over our post-campaign email report to see some double-digit open rate and some non-zero click-through rate and conclude that we just did marketing. But why stop there? Email open and click-through rates alone only provide clues, not insights. In addition, these metrics can be misleading, as they are often over- or under-reported due to different email settings. For example, aggressive spam filters may activate links within an email prior to it reaching an inbox to determine if the links contain malicious content, which is usually reported as an email open.

So instead of just scratching the surface, why not look to understand how well your campaign did at driving the desired on-site responses that it intended? By designating a hierarchy of desired on-site actions and tracking our campaign to those actions, we can begin to see a much clearer picture. From here we should be able to make some strong assumptions about why actions were taken or not taken on our site and prioritize areas of focus in order to get better results in future iterations. Did our message properly communicate utility? Was there enough of a value tradeoff for our audience to take a desired action? Was the right message targeting the right people?

Now we’re getting somewhere. We now know that we sent this message to these people and this percent performed at least one of our desired actions on the site. Knowing things is cool. But as we are reminded by the great philosopher, GI Joe, this is only half the battle. Although I can’t recall GI Joe ever actually revealing what the other half of the battle was, I think it’s safe to assume that the other half of the battle is “doing.”

So what actions can we take to bring our performance to the next level? Based on what we know about how our segmented email audience responded to our recent email, we can begin to formulate and test some additional hypotheses using A/B split testing. One thing to note here is that we must ensure that we have a cohesive testing framework in place where our tests are driven by our hypotheses about our audience segments and those tests must prove or disprove those hypotheses.

After the conclusion of our tests, we should have answered some of our burning questions about our audience, which we will then use as insights we can apply in other areas of the campaign in future communications. Insights such as: people may not want to be e-stalked with daily branded emails. Who knew?

At the end of the day, we’re seeking to change behavior by providing value to our audience in the quality and relevance of our communications. Force-feeding our brand’s message will likely end with a quick swipe to the Deleted folder, or worse, on the unsubscribe list. Your campaign deserves better than that.

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