"Our messages go out monthly. We used [them] to announce new products and product updates, and to keep people loyal to the brand," she said. "So we didn't really make many changes along the way."
Carl and Responsys decided it was time to update the program. They began by segmenting the entire list, splitting it into four segments based on job function as well as products used. They also revamped the e-mail template and re-evaluated calls to action. Almost immediately after Armstrong implemented those changes, all the company's e-mail analytics—about 10 different metrics, including opens and clicks—shot up. "Everyone is more interested and engaged now," Carl said.
Armstrong's experience highlights what should be the No. 1 best practice but often isn't: E-mail marketing programs should be evaluated and updated often.
"E-mail is one of those things that people want to set and forget," said Michael Wunsch, director of interactive marketing for interactive agency LeapFrog Interactive. "The goals they started with in January are the ones that they may or may not have hit by the end of the year."
You can avoid falling into this trap by committing to a periodic e-mail evaluation, experts said. And the best time to strike is the summer months, when there are fewer leads being produced to begin with, said Scott Olrich, CMO at Responsys. "The raw leads are going to decrease in July and August, so it's a good time to look at your best practices," he said.
Here are four questions marketers can ask themselves to assess if their e-mail marketing program is on track and delivering the best return on investment possible.
Is your e-mail program making money?
It's easy to see if your e-mail marketing messages are making you money—you'll see sales and leads come directly from them. However, there's one more thing you can do to turn your e-mail marketing program into cash: Get someone else to fund it.
In July, the newest CAN-SPAM Act rules went into effect. There's one in particular that may help your company make a little extra money that can be reinvested in your marketing program. The rule provision, one that clarifies the definition of "sender," requires one company to take responsibility for a joint e-mail. Although in the past, companies could take advertising and sponsorship for their newsletters, who owned the copy—and who was responsible for handling opt-outs—was a little fuzzy based on the previous CAN-SPAM rules. The CAN-SPAM update makes all of that clear. "There's finally clear guidance for marketers who want to monetize their e-mail resources," said Jordan Cohen, senior director of industry relations with e-mail certification firm Goodmail Systems.
You don't need an ad sales team to capitalize on this. Call partners and those with complementary products and services and offer them placement in your newsletter, Cohen said.
Are you maintaining a permission-based list?
Today, e-mail databases are populated with data from multiple sources. It's not just your marketing team adding new names; salespeople as well as customer service and support have access to the e-mail database. This means there's more of a chance that your list contains e-mail addresses of people who haven't given their express permission to be contacted, said Margaret Farmakis, senior director, strategic services, for e-mail service provider ReturnPath.
"Sales reps are out there collecting business cards, people are adding names manually. This can be incredibly risky," she said. "These [prospects] are the people who are much more likely to report your e-mails as spam."
Mitigate your risk by creating a companywide policy and education program so nonmarketing employees understand the rules and the risks. In addition, make sure opt-out links are prominent in your marketing message.
Are you focusing on building relationships, not just the number of names in your database?
The big buzz on the street at the beginning of this year, said Brett Brewer, director of strategic services for e-mail service provider ExactTarget, was the idea of relationship-nurturing via e-mail.
Marketers can achieve this goal through a multitiered approach that includes sending triggered e-mails based on behavioral data. As long as someone has signed in to your Web site, you can send them special e-mails based on which pages they view or what marketing materials they download. You can also pass on this information to salespeople, who can follow up with their own calls or e-mails. This is key to the most important element of any 2008 campaign, he said: prioritizing your leads so you take extra care with those who have the potential to be your best customers.
"You probably know a lot more about your customers and prospects than you think, so it's really important to respond to each one depending on where they are in the sales funnel," Brewer said.
You can learn more about your prospects and customers, Responsys' Olrich said, by employing progressive profiling. Ask for a nugget or two of information each time someone comes to your site, downloads something or clicks through to a landing page. "It's always worth asking," Olrich added, "Is there anything we can do for you?"
Does your design—both in e-mails and on landing pages— promote signups and interaction?
Between 50% and 60% of corporate e-mail administrators turn images off, said Jordan Ayan, CEO of e-mail service provider SubscriberMail, but that doesn't mean you should ignore design elements. There are plenty of things you can do—and test—to make sure you're getting the lift your campaign deserves.
"It's about putting the call to action in the right place, making sure key elements appear above the fold," he said. "And there are things you can do with HTML—like putting colors behind it—so things appear more attractive even if images are turned off. There's still so much you can do with design."
Landing pages should have the specific call to action prominently displayed, as well as your brand, logos and anything else your customers and prospects might identify with your products and services.
"You can test a page, putting the copy on the right and the images on the left," Wunsch said. "Keep clutter to a minimum, too."