Creating an email marketing strategy can be a daunting task that even the most experienced marketer might find intimidating. In this blog I will show you from start to finish, how to create an email marketing strategy. This guide will help you regardless of the size of your organisation or the industry or geography that you are located. I hope it helps!
First things first - analysis
The first stage of creating an email marketing strategy is analysis. If we don't understand the current situation in extreme detail, how can we decide where to take our email marketing program from here?
Now this is where most marketers fail, at the first hurdle. The reason for this is because most of us tend to overcomplicate this phase. At this point we don't need to be concerned with perfection. Only consider what information you can obtain and how you can analyse your email marketing performance with ease. Analysis should consider the following:
- Performance and benchmarking metrics to understand your email marketing performance in context of the entire industry and your individual sector
- Industry analysis to understand if you are up to speed with current strategies, tactics and
- Technology audit to determine if your technologies and tools are still cutting-edge and serve your purpose for the future of your email marketing program
- Individual campaign analysis to analyse and benchmark engagement metrics such as open rate, click rate and click to open rate As well as conversion metrics
- Design, content and code critique to explore how effective your current email marketing creative is. This is an essential first step in any redesign or creation of new templates
- Competitor analysis to understand how your email program is performing in the context of your competition. If you don't have access to stats from your competitors, just analyse what you can obtain - don't be concerned with what you cannot analyse
- A data audit. This is arguably the most important factor to analyse. Determine if you have the data that you want within your CRM / ESP / DMP / Marketing cloud
- Review any split testing you might have carried out in the past that could yield insight into your future strategy
- Review your customer lifecycle and automation activity. I find that the best way to do this is to look at the entire customer lifecycle, regardless of marketing channel or tactic. Ask yourself questions such as "does this positively serve our customers?" and "are there opportunities to improve the customer experience or business performance?"
- Review your personnel - is it working with your current team? Do you need more internal resources or could an email agency help you in some way?
- SWOT analysis. Summarise the situation analysis in a SWOT. Be explicitly clear about the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that your email marketing program is facing
This list might seem quite exhaustive, so be kind to yourself and start small. Remember at this stage we are just seeking to understand. We are not trying to create a new strategy just yet. Therefore, this entire phase of analysis is perhaps best approach from the perspective of creating a gap analysis.
Broadly speaking, I recommend that you seek to discover the answers to the following five questions for each element of the analysis phase:
- What is missing?
- What could be improved?
- Where is their opportunity to innovate?
- Where is performance below expectations / requirements?
- Does this serve our customers well? Does it add value or improve the experience?
How you choose to record your findings, is entirely up to you. My advice is to keep it as simple as possible initially.
Finally, a summary of your findings is critical. You need to be able to summarise your situation analysis on one page. This is important because it enables you to present the current situation to others in the business, especially senior folk. If you cannot summarise your situation analysis in one page, I suggest that you just show a SWOT.
Run an internal workshop
Now you've completed your analysis, you have your worldview nicely down on paper. What's missing, is what others think. Why is this important? Well, for two reasons. Firstly, it's going to make your job a whole lot easier to have a broad mix of people with you from across the business. Secondly, by bringing these people on the journey with you, means that you're including them in your plans and this is a bulletproof way to creating a great strategic plan. Right, time to run an email marketing workshop. I suggest inviting:
- The CEO
- The CMO
- Your email marketing team (if you're fortunate to have an email team)
- At least one person from customer service
- Someone from the product side of your business
- Design and UX
- An analyst (if you're fortunate to have one)
This is the ideal company diversity you want to have in the room. It might seem a little broad, but these people will go some way to illuminating your blind spots. Of course, it's going to be challenging to get everyone together - again, we don't need this to be perfect, but it will be better and it will make your job so much easier if you can get a good mix of people together from across the organisation.
Now, you're going to need some rules for your workshop. Rules are important with workshops, otherwise they can turn into subjective arguments (and you'll lament me for telling you to run a workshop!). The only rule I make for workshops, is that every idea is a good idea. Every single one. This workshop is not the time to decide if ideas or suggestions are good - it is the time to listen to them and capture them. The best advice I can give you, is to really control the workshop - lead it, be clear about the goal and be clear about what you don't need too. Finally, keep it short - two hours is perfect. I'm not a fan of all-day hacks for this kind of thing - they're too long and your CEO will definitely decline your invite.
What do you actually do in the workshop? Good question. I suggest a variety of 20-30 minute exercises where you look at:
- What does everyone (honestly) think about our email marketing?
- Customer experience with email marketing - how can we improve it?
- Customer journey and how email fits into that - what could be improved?
- Multichannel / cross-channel / decisioning - how could email work better with other channels?
- Design and content - what could be improved?
- If we could do anything with email, what would it be?
Capture everything on post-it notes and get your attendees to write their own notes and stick them up themselves - you want them as emotionally and physically involved as possible. Play the coach and the conductor - don't do it all for them. At the end, photograph each wall that you fill with ideas and work it all up into a document.
Create an opportunities report
Now you've completed your audit and got the opinions and ideas of others in the business firmly recorded, it's time to create your opportunities report. The best way to do this, is to map it across all of the different areas of your email marketing. So, you want to be thinking about all of the different areas of your email marketing as buckets. For now, we're not interested in deciding how important each opportunity is - that comes later. For now, we're just creating categorised buckets for all of your opportunities to improve.
Here's how I sort my email marketing opportunities into buckets:
- Campaign strategy
- Segmentation (who will you target, when and how frequently)
- Personalisation (how can you personalise with explicit information held?)
- Design (your email template(s) and what needs to change / improve)
- Content (static and dynamic / smart content)
- Development & Interactivity (AMP / interactive content)
- Customer lifecycle (automation, customer journey, service messaging)
- Analytics & measurement (how do you measure, what do you measure - models)
- Testing & optimisation (what is your testing plan and how will this change?)
- Everything else (that doesn't have an obvious category)
It doesn't matter too much how you do this, but as with all things, keep it simple. Once you have all of your opportunities down into buckets, work with your colleagues to refine it and decide what stays and what goes. Hint: keep all the ideas you decide to throw out - these should be your first port of call whenever you revisit your strategic plan.
Build your email marketing roadmap
Now for the roadmap. This bit is my favourite - deciding what to do and when to do it. Take your opportunities report and load it all into an excel planner. I've created this strategic planner for you to use for free that's very similar to the fancy-pants one we use with our clients here at Enchant.
What you really need within this plan is the ability to be able to score each element of the plan in priority order. I do this through a matrix that I've created, scoring each new element of the strategic plan on a scale of 1-10 based on:
- How important is it to the company for this to be executed quickly?
- How quick will it be to implement?
- How expensive will it be to implement?
- How much design time will it require?
- How much development time will it require?
- Will it require integration into other platforms or channels?
- What will the positive impact be to the customer experience?
- What will the positive impact be to the business?
This will produce a score for each element of your plan. The purpose being, those with the highest score, automatically get prioritised as the projects you start with.
All you need to do now, is manually sort them into months or quarters. I tend to plan on a quarterly basis and then tag each project with a month and as mentioned previously, we've created this strategic planner for email for you to get started with.
The only other thing to mention, is that I really believe that a great email marketing roadmap should be split into three categories:
- Cultural change: What needs to change at a cultural level? This is all of the really deep opportunities that you want to do at the deepest level. What's really, really important to you and your customers? One example could be testing. I always describe testing as being a cultural issue in email marketing - it needs to run through everything we do as marketers. So, what's important on a cultural level with email for your marketing team?
- Strategic change: What should you do at a strategic level? This will be things like redesigning your main template, selecting a new ESP, integrating platforms or new strategies for automated campaigns
- Tactical change: What will we do at a tactical level? This will be things like testing, optimising, review and improving existing work such as your welcome and onboarding program. This is all of the stuff that's "bitty" that is small, but important. Hint: some of your tactical opportunities are going to be more impactful than anything else. I recommend starting with these...
You're ready to go make an awesome email marketing plan
That's it. If you do have any questions with regards to creating an email marketing plan, please do get in touch with me and I'll gladly help. Also, make sure you grab the free strategy planner for email - it's a great place to start. Oh and here are some other tools that will definitely help, if you're overhauling your email marketing strategy: