3 gears of a successful marketing program: Looking beyond email click rates
Don't just focus on email open and click rates. Columnist Jose Cebrian discusses the three areas that make up your marketing program and how to effectively grow your business.
Could the first quarter of 2016 really be almost over? The reality hit me as I was speaking with a client recently.
After we exchanged some jokes about the passage of time, he said, “Can I make a confession? I feel like we’re off to a slow start. I started the year by laying out a long-term growth strategy that included things like building a loyalty program, developing a 360-degree view of the customer and creating an annual plan that outlines our specific campaigns with their respective budgets and forecasts. Over the past quarter, our email open and click rates are solid, and revenue growth is up year over year, but I’m starting to get some pressure to grow faster. My long-term projects are going to be huge in the long run, but I probably won’t see return on them for at least a year.”
While every business has a different set of circumstances, I hear a version of this story time and time again. Even businesses that have their campaign plans down to a science and are looking forward to game-changing long-term initiatives seem to struggle with short-term results.
Run, grow and change
The way I see it, there are three main gears in your marketing program: run, grow and change.
The smallest one is how you run the business. This is your campaign plan and the financials that go with it.
The largest one is how you change the business. These are long-term projects and goals like a 360-degree view of the customer or implementing a loyalty program.
It’s this middle wheel that people seem to neglect. I understand why: There’s a very immediate need to keep the run gear cranking at different intervals throughout the year, and the big gear gets a turn when management checks in on progress toward these big goals.
But there’s not a lot of focus (or sometimes, accountability) around the middle wheel.
The grow the business wheel is about your plan for the next three to six months. It outlines what you are going to get accomplished, why, and how much will it cost.
It answers questions like: What are the trade-offs against your current spending forecast? Will the project generate incremental results? If not, does it make sense for your company to invest in such an activity?
This type of prioritizing across channels and teams requires thought and a process to sift through it all. Rarely can it be done effectively as one person. Success can be achieved as a team with these basic steps:
1. Get the team together with a clear objective, and structure the roadmap meeting in a way that allows you to set strategic direction for what you want to accomplish.
2. Once that direction is set, create a suitable framework for ideation. Invite ideas that drive the strategic outcome, but also have a component of immediacy and payback.
This is not necessarily a “four-box” or “nine-box” consulting exercise. Map it out as you see fit. The framework could be built around acquisition, cross-sell, retention and win-back. Or it could be some cross-section of what you control, such as data collection, technology and content.
3. Once the ideas are mapped out, give the team the assignment to identify and justify the top few priorities for the business.
4. Determine what you really need to get the job done and in what order to pursue projects. This is where the rubber meets the road.
All of the steps above generate ideas. There are hundreds of things you could do, so figure out what you should do and in what order.
5. Figure out what resources you need. Resources include internal people, technology, money for outside services and time.
Be realistic. This is part of the prioritization process and also part of the business case process. You don’t want to ask for money and resources in dribs and drabs — force a decision based on the merits of the case.
6. Make a decision and act. Work on funded projects with vigor.
(Remember: This is short-term marketing planning. Long-term planning requires similar steps, but when projects take over a year to complete, you are not going to complete your workshop in a day. And your business case development will require significantly more involvement and vetting.)
Know your goals and metrics
Stepping back for a moment to the conversation with my friend: I knew when I was answering his question that he had already gone through a painstaking process to outline metrics and goals. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that it’s absolutely critical to know where you stand and how you’re measured.
Different companies have different goals. I personally prefer monetary goals because they are fairly straightforward, but it could be marketing qualified leads (MQLS), engagement, adoption of a particular service (e.g., online banking or e-statements), app downloads and so on. They all tie back to money at some level, but some are leading indicators that are within the control of the marketing group.
If you don’t know your goals or where you stand, getting that information is priority one. If you don’t have clear goals, make them for yourself and communicate them.
Understand what is important to the business and how you drive those aspects. This is the only way you’ll ever be able to measure your impact.
My team meets every month to discuss where our clients stand relative to their goals and how we are going to either catch up or use momentum and overachievement to try new things and to innovate. Being ahead or behind on targets is simply a report about a point in time, so I challenge my team to understand and explain what is working and what isn’t — not just point to spreadsheets and data.
Does it matter that an email campaign had a 25-percent open rate? Does it tell you anything that year-over-year comps are better or worse? Not really.
What might matter is how many people were targeted and why, what content was shown and why, and how the content and the segments intersected. See the difference? It’s essentially the difference between true analytics vs. just reporting.
Finally, I have a couple of suggestions for the grow program:
• First-party data acquisition: What projects can you drive to get more high-quality first-party data to leverage for marketing campaigns? These can be cookie pools, email address, SMS permission, push permission, physical address or any number of other types of data.
The point is that if you put more people into your current marketing plan, you should get more out of it. It doesn’t work perfectly in the real world, but the approach is sound.
There are several people who argue that you need to “optimize” the experience before spending money on acquisition. I agree to a point, but acquisition is one of the most important components of any marketing program.
• Channel optimization: How can you connect two or more channels? Optimizing one channel is great, but since customers will interact with several channels, that experience needs to be coordinated.
At its most basic level, coordination reduces conflicting messages or offers that leave money on the table. In a more positive light, coordination enhances the user experience and facilitates the outcome.
I’ll close with a question: How many items do you have on your project tracking spreadsheet with a status of “on hold?” Frankly, “on hold” is not a status. It is code for “not active” and should come off your project tracking and be replaced by updated, prioritized projects from your grow-the-business plan.