Reducing chaos and stress in email marketing

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Email is a powerful medium. It has a unique combination of scale and speed. It’s one of the few levers marketers have to drive short-term results, from online revenue to event registration to app downloads and so on. And because it is relatively low-cost on a per-piece or cost-per-thousand (CPM) basis, it doesn’t get the planning and discipline that a channel like direct mail does, especially in the retail industry.

Working in and around email can get chaotic and stressful. Some people thrive on the excitement of the pace, while others find it difficult to navigate. Here are recommendations for reducing the chaos in email.

Spend more time planning

Let’s start with the obvious. Real emergencies are rare and need to be acted on when they occur. But for normal email marketing, we can all benefit from more planning for both normal workloads and peak times such as holiday, back to school, Super Bowl and others.

The key is to understand what you’re going to need to hit your numbers, but also to plan for some contingencies in case you need to quickly turn around a campaign to catch up. You shouldn’t have to start from scratch if you need to add in a campaign.

Have a defined workflow outside of corporate email

Too many companies rely on corporate email, Excel spreadsheets and Word documents to communicate campaign planning. Using a workflow tool combined with a messaging app will increase clarity of status and allow specific threads to occur and be commented on without generating new emails.

Several workflow tools exist. I personally prefer those that are more corporate-focused, rather than being limited only to email, so that most, if not all, of the stakeholders can leverage the tool. Stakeholders include legal, compliance, executives, internal/external creative agencies, the data team and more.

The presence of a workflow tool itself doesn’t address all of the issues. Campaign briefs and intake need to be clear and regimented, so the work streams can do what they need to without a lot of back and forth for clarification.

And people need to be held to their dates. Everyone is busy, but usually, campaign launch dates don’t move because there is a slip in the process upstream.

So, as creative and data come together, chaos can be created and risk introduced when rushing to get a campaign out the door. A workflow tool helps define visibility into issues and allows the team to identify problems ahead of time and mitigate some of the risk to schedule.

The issue, of course, is that thorough planning and workflow tools don’t address the reality of getting campaigns out the door. So, we need to free up time in our daily lives, so that we can be nimbler and less stressed as campaign timelines get squeezed. Following are some time-saving options marketers should consider.

Automate where possible

Repetitive manual tasks are time-killers that drive up costs and drive down efficiency. In the context of email marketing, easy automation candidates include:

  • recurring manual campaigns that are not automated or triggered. Dig into the roadblocks to automation and make the business case to prioritize that project.
  • manual data movement between platforms, such as from a campaign management tool/marketing database to a marketing cloud/ESP. Look at ways to automate data load and file audits so people can focus on marketing, rather than data validation. In a similar mode, if you are importing and exporting different files to get data into a format for a campaign, this is another area that’s ripe for investigation.

Further, take advantage of platform features that save you time and organize at least some of the way you work with them. The most common areas for speed improvement in this realm are:

  • targeting. Can you define segments that just need to be refreshed? If so, you may be able to eliminate movement of campaign-specific files.
  • templates. Templates don’t have to be rigid, one-size-fits-all scenarios. In fact, I think that approach overemphasizes production speed over customer experience. They need to be balanced. Templates can be very flexible to handle different layouts. Also, you can have multiple templates. The key is to work with the creative teams to be clear on what works from a coding standpoint for topics such as image sizes, copy amounts and design ratios for stacking and Gmail. Once a template is coded and tested for mobile rendering, a lot of time can be saved related to HTML coding and render-testing.

Consider content modules

Too often we create completely new emails for every send. That takes additional time. Content modules are evergreen pieces of content that can be reused for several campaigns and reduce design and coding time. They are often used in the context of templates, but they don’t have to be.

Content modules are built once and dropped into campaigns as needed. Common content modules include nearest store locators, loyalty balance sections, recommended products and common profiling/dynamic content modules.

In fact, in certain cases, most of an email can be developed using content modules. Examples are new product emails or best-sellers. These can be created using internal technology and/or real-time content in email technology vendors. How you approach the building of the module depends on your existing systems and your budget for external vendors.

Email marketing is fun and drives real results. But at times it can be chaotic. We don’t all live in a perfect world where we plan well ahead, use workflow tools and have internal and external partners who hit all of their dates.

To reduce the stress of everyday life, assess your program for areas to automate. Look at how design and copy can be put into flexible templates to speed the work of the creative team and reduce time coding and testing. With some or all of these in place, your team will be nimbler and better able to react to quick-turn campaigns.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Jose Cebrian is Vice President and General Manager of Email and Mobile Messaging for Merkle. He came to Merkle after spending nine years at Acxiom, where he grew to Managing Director, Global Client Services for Digital Impact, Acxiom’s email and SMS division. Jose led a global team responsible for optimizing interactive direct marketing campaigns across the web, email, and mobile.


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