Hundreds of articles have been written about how you can improve your email marketing. The world’s best email marketers aren’t just data-driven – they’re results-driven.
But to get to those results we would like to know: What ultimately is the perfect email marketing campaign?
First off, move Beyond Opens and Clicks
Knowing how many people open and / or click links in your email is definitely important. It allows you to know how well received your email was, whether you had the right subject line, whether your content was compelling, etc. At the end of the day, opens and clicks don’t actually tell you whether or not an email added value any to your business.
Opens and clicks are easy to measure, but don’t let that keep you from measuring what really matters. As the old saying goes, “what is measured improves”, so make sure you’ll be focused on improving the right thing.
How the Obama campaign did it
One of the most famous examples is found in the email marketing of the Obama campaign. In one notable example, the campaign’s email director shared that one specific email led to $2.6 million dollars in donations. By having the ability to directly tie emails to donations, the campaign team was able to extensively experiment and evaluate email performance.
Set Goals for each Email Campaign
Ask yourself, why are you sending email? To get customers to buy or donate? To get them to use your product more often? The best email marketers set goals for each email they send and then measure the results.
For the Obama campaign, these goals were donations, and each email was clearly benchmarked against the donation-driving power of other emails. For Amazon, these goals are likely dollars of purchase value. For the software companies I work with, the goals are usually usage-based – features used, time spent on site, etc
By setting goals, you will:
- Measure the right things (because you will focus measurement on the goal and not just on what is easy to do)
- Have a way to evaluate emails to know whether or not they are working
- Be focused on why you are investing in emails.
Isolate the Effect of your Email Program
Once you’re measuring the right results, you know if you are achieving your goals with your emails. The next important step is understanding whether the impact is actually being caused by the email or something else.
Whether it’s holidays, special sales, customers who would have bought anyways, other emails you’re sending or anything else going on, it’s tough to know how much of the impact of an email is actually the direct effect of that email.
Smart email Attribution techniques
From smart attribution (i.e. choosing which purchases you tie to which email) to testing, there are lots of ways to try to better identify the effect of one particular email. Even if you can’t perfectly identify the impact, think through the result and anything else that could be going on.
A historic example of effect isolation
One of the most dramatic historical examples of this type of analysis is detailed in how James Lind used experimentation and analysis to cure scurvy. He had a lot of ideas about what might cause scurvy – so he tried them all on a similar group of patients and then compared the result. It turned out that two oranges and a lemon did way better than did vinegar and glasses of seawater – even on similar patients.
James Lind conducted that experiment almost 250 years ago, but for example retail and ecommerce companies like Amazon are doing the same thing with their emails every single day. Send different emails to different groups, see what happens, and then go with the winner.
A simple way to see the impact of email on results
The simplest way to mimic this approach is probably to select everyone who you know opened or clicked your email (metrics you should be able to get from your email service provider). For those customers pull the metric you hoped to influence (say purchases) over the time period you would have expected them to act. This relatively straightforward analysis is by no means perfect, but it’s a very positive step in the right direction.
Don’t Over-Analyze It, use a pencil
From the above, there are a few essential takeaways for every email marketer:
- Measure the metrics that matter
- Watch out for other events that might skew your result
- Set goals and be accountable to yourself
Once you’re doing these, there’s one more that is just as important as all the rest: don’t over-analyze it.
There’s an apocryphal story that when the United States was planning their initial missions into space, they invested millions of dollars into developing a pen that could write in space. The Soviets took a different approach: they used a pencil.
You measure emails so that they get better – not so that you develop the perfect analytic techniques to analyze them. If the measurement is so complicated that you’ll never do it, you’re back where you started. Likewise, if you’re going to send the same emails regardless of the result you see, there’s no point in measuring either. Only by making different decisions does measurement and analysis matter.
In my work with Ecommerce and Web companies, I consistently see that the biggest barrier to email marketing success is getting started and sending that first email – but the second is having the discipline to tie email to results.