Message to email marketers: Show me something different in 2018

Ryan Phelan on
  • Categories: Channel: Email Marketing, Email Marketing, Email Marketing Column, How To Guides: Email Marketing
  • I anticipate Christmas and the holiday season as eagerly as anybody. I even look forward to the flood of emails that begins to build in late October. No, I’m not a masochist. I just want to see how today’s email marketers are putting everything they’ve learned about email into practice and sending me emails that are a creative delight and a data-driven joy to open.

    And every year, I get disappointed.

    That ol’ Christmas letdown continues

    Once again, I’m seeing the same old stuff in my inbox. The same old irrelevant emails. They might look a little prettier, but most of them still don’t show me that the marketers who sent them have any idea about who I am, what I want or how they value me.

    I’m still getting tons of stuff that doesn’t matter to me. It borders on spam. And I’m an email professional! If it annoys me this much — and after years in the business my pain threshold is high — what’s the average subscriber thinking and doing? No wonder so many go dark on your mailing lists.

    A tiny ray of hope

    Every once in a while, though, I will run into emails from a marketer who is pushing the envelope in a new way, such as using my customer data to send me not just relevant messages but, rather, messages that appeal to me in new ways, that get me to think differently about engaging with the brand.

    That doesn’t happen often enough in my inbox, though. Every day, it’s the same old same old, as if we had learned nothing over the past two decades about how to reach out better to our customers in email.

    9 ways to make 2018 a better email year

    1. Let’s make 2018 the year we reduce our dependence on batch-and-blast.

    You don’t have to abandon it. Just resolve not to do it as often, to rely on it to make money or connect with customers or bring them back to the table.

    Sometimes, it does make sense to send undifferentiated email. Sometimes you’re given no choice. But the time comes when you say, “I’m going to do better this year, and I’m going to do it regardless of what my team, my boss and my organization wants.”

    We all have the power to make this change. I would like to look at my inbox at this time in 2018 and see a dramatic change — or even an incremental one. Any improvement is worth celebrating.

    2. Let’s make 2018 the year we start using incremental innovation to transform our email marketing programs slowly but steadily.

    Start in January with one small change, and then build on that change with another change, and then build on those changes with another change. By this time next year, you will look back at how far you’ve come and be proud of your achievement.

    3. Let’s make 2018 the year we start using the customer data we’ve been collecting for years.

    Use that data to create messages that tell customers, “Yes, we know who you are, what you like and what you might be interested in.” Build closer ties with the departments beyond marketing that will help you achieve this goal.

    4. Let’s make 2018 the year we become “first-person marketers.”

    First-person marketers use data for personalization, email automation, data integration and message optimization to send 1:1 messages at scale — instead of relying on batch-and-blast and treating customers as if they were all cut from the same bolt of cloth.

    5. Let’s make 2018 the year we see fundamental change in the way we do email.

    Email has become easier to send, but good email is hard. Each time we try harder to send better email, whether we use data to create personalized messages or modernize the template to make it readable and actionable on all devices, we see better results.

    But, too many of us are still pushing the “easy” button and sending the same message to everyone on the list.

    I know the challenges that keep an email program dependent on batch-and-blast. I’ve been there, working in an organization that didn’t care if I sent 1 million or 5 million messages. I know there are companies that value email only as a low-cost channel that can still drive business with minimal effort.

    An analyst once told me that email wasn’t at the forefront of his research firm’s digital marketing challenges because “it isn’t broken enough.” That’s the problem with email today: You can send bad email and still make money, so why change anything?

    Because when you try harder, you can make even more money. It’s that simple.

    6. Let’s make 2018 the year we adopt one new email strategy.

    In the down time between Christmas and New Year’s Day, let’s take a collective deep breath. Then, let’s think about one thing we can do differently in the coming year.

    Take five minutes. Hunt down some case studies about people who are making a difference. Look for ways you can do something differently.

    This is where incremental innovation can help you drive significant change just by making small changes, one at a time. Over time, you’ll find you’ve taken a big leap forward.

    7. Let’s make 2018 the year we ask ourselves and our teams, “Is this the best we can do?”

    Look at your promotional emails, your transactional messages and your triggers. What one thing could you change in each one that would make them more valuable or meaningful to your recipients and to your brand?

    • Could you find a third-party vendor that could help you associate a purchase with another item?
    • Could you use data to segment your mailing list and create different versions of a broadcast message to appeal to those different customer segments?
    • Could you add a triggered message that reflects your knowledge of customer behavior? If you know that when someone does X, they often do Y, you can create a trigger to encourage that Y action.

    8. Let’s make 2018 the year we call on our vendors and tech partners to help us achieve success.

    When was the last time you called your account exec at your ESP (email service provider) or your marketing automation provider to say, “Hey, I need to step up my program this year. What can I do?” They’re all invested in your success, too. Let them help you take those important next steps.

    9. Let’s make 2018 the year we digital marketers realize that email is our smartest marketing channel, so we stop treating it as if it were the dumbest one.

    Here’s to a 2018 that will help us keep email as the success driver of all our digital marketing efforts. Remember — the zombies attack the laggards first. Sprint to the front of the pack and save yourself and your email program!


    About The Author

    Ryan Phelan
    Ryan Phelan brings almost two decades of worldwide online marketing and email experience. Ryan is a respected thought leader and nationally distinguished speaker with a history of experience from Adestra, Acxiom, BlueHornet, Sears Holdings, Responsys and infoUSA. In 2013 he was named one of the top 30 strategists in online marketing and is the Chairman Emeritus of the EEC Advisory Board and is a member of the Board of Directors for the Email Sender and Provider Collation (ESPC). Ryan is also involved many companies in the start-up space as an advisor, board member and investor.