This article is reproduced from Econsultancy’s report, Email Marketing Best Practice: Communications Strategy, authored by Kath Pay, and one of a suite of nine email guides available to members.

One ongoing challenge that many email marketers face is the lack of an overarching strategy in email communications in favour of a campaign-by-campaign approach.

Although this lack of a guiding vision can be understandable for one-person email departments or teams burdened with more work requirements than employees to meet them, it can lead to chaotic communications, wasted time and budget resources, and an increasingly ineffective channel.

For many marketers, the most difficult step is simply knowing where to begin. Making that first step an audit of the email marketing programme delivers two significant benefits:

  • An audit lays out a formal process the marketing team can follow to systematically review all key areas of the programme where the brand might be performing well, underperforming or not addressing in any way.
  • The audit report can help marketers identify opportunities for both short-term and long-term gains as well as prioritise next steps, which could include making incremental changes to capitalise on low-hanging fruit before or as changes are planned to overhaul the whole email programme.

An audit can also reveal problematic acquisition sources, outmoded or broken templates or copy, misfiring automations, deliverability weaknesses, reporting inconsistencies and other problems.

Email teams often conduct an audit to identify problems when revenue is falling or consistently fails to hit annual goals. However, an audit need not wait until an issue arises. In fact, the best time to launch an email audit is before a problem develops. In some marketing teams a new team leader might order an audit to determine the lie of the land if one has not been done within the past few years.

For other teams, email success itself can prompt the company’s leadership team to assign an ambitious email goal for the coming budget year. An email audit in this case could reveal overlooked opportunities for adding revenue, improving acquisition or other strategically aligned goals.

In any event, the marketing team should perform an email audit before undertaking any major changes, such as changing email service providers or significantly increasing investment in email automation and other technology.

Criteria for an email audit

An email audit will consider the following aspects of an email marketing programme, many of which should be part of email marketing strategy for an organisation:

  1. Email objectives and overall strategy
  2. Deliverability status and trends
  3. What the company’s competitors are doing and how its programme compares
  4. The customer journey, including PPC, website, landing pages and social media touchpoints
  5. List growth trends and statistics
  6. Lifecycle programmes (welcome/first purchase, loyalty, win-back, etc.)
  7. Newsletters, including frequency and content
  8. Design and copy for both promotional and transactional emails
  9. Data use in personalisation and segmentation
  10. The current testing programme
  11. Analytics and metrics

Applying the learning: Consider whether to bring in an outside email auditor

As the list above indicates, the email audit can reach beyond the email team into other departments, including other marketing channels, as well as CRM, IT and database, so it is important to have coordination among departments for an effective audit.

Note also that marketers can often be too close to the email programme to impartially judge its strengths and weaknesses. Inter-department competition and relationships can also hamper the goal of an unbiased and effective audit.

For those reasons, a team considering a full email audit might seek the services of an outside expert who can review all aspects of the email programme objectively.

An experienced, external auditor brings the outsider’s perspective to the email programme, has no allegiances to any departments, can pinpoint problems and possibly suggest solutions the team may have either overlooked or learned to tolerate or work around.

The industry view:

Strategic planning begins with objectives

Mar Juárez, CRM Manager, IVI RMA Global:

“To create our yearly email strategy, we start from the basics – what are the business objectives? Having this in mind, we start planning all the actions we will perform with the email channel and create our roadmap for the upcoming year.”

“If one of our focus points is to increase the conversion of our webinars and to attract new leads to enter the funnel, then we look at the current events’ journeys, copy and design and think [about] how to optimise it so that we can achieve these objectives.

“We always have room for improvement during the year, so the strategy is never set in stone. From past experiences we’ve learnt that it is most important to be flexible and agile when the circumstances require quick changes.”

Email strategy planning leaves room for changes

Kelly Haggard, VP – Marketing Innovation, Synchrony:

“Our email creation process begins at the start of the year, when we sit down and put pen to paper and think about the things that might come up during the year, like a vendor’s new set of features or something in the organisation outside of our team that we might have to support.

“The overall strategy remains pretty consistent throughout the year, but we do leave space to think about new pilots or new proofs of concepts that we can launch throughout the year to provide efficiencies back to the company or deliver against some revenue numbers.”

Audits require impartial review and action on recommendations

Beata Linz, Global CRM Director, AdBirds:

“Brands should do more in-depth analysis and on a constant basis to be able to pinpoint missed opportunities. A comprehensive audit, such as a six-month review and a robust yearly review, helps with this.

“The internal stakeholders often don’t have the time to sit down and look at these from a distance. Having external or fresh eyes to look at it from the outside is always helpful for the organisation. Furthermore, no audit is successful if the actions identified are not being followed up on with an action plan and implementation.”

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