How to get your email operations under control
6 tips for staying steady – and nimble
Managing a brand’s email marketing activities can be exceedingly rewarding. As a one-to-one digital channel, email creates instant and measurable connections – and can drive powerful business results.
Precisely because of its success, there can be huge demands on the channel from various stakeholders and product groups, putting pressure on what are usually small in-house teams. While the volume of activity goes up, the size of your team rarely does!
Plus, as we get into mass customization and truly dynamic content, the old tried and true practices for managing static or “versioned” emails no longer apply.
How do you manage multiple streams of programming, and respond to last-minute opportunities, without sacrificing these important measures of professional email campaign management?
Quality and accuracy of content
Consistency and quality of design and coding
Integrity and security of data
Adherence to contact strategy rules
Here are 6 tips for staying in control in a fast-paced email marketing environment:
Plan ahead – to manage baseline campaigns
The bedrock of a fast-paced email environment is the overall marketing or editorial plan. Think of it as a blueprint – in calendar format. Each year, sketch out a high-level plan, thematically or by business objective. Then each quarter, fill in details so that content assignments can be made, scheduling conflicts identified and resolved, and general deployment dates determined. Each month, add still more detail: make data requests, or plan and test queries, and finalize deployment dates. And weekly, finalize content build, test, and deploy the emails. The goal is to have standard or planned campaigns follow a predictable schedule, with built-in buffer time, leaving room for “what if” communications.
We’ve seen some organizations have success assigning regular email communications (for example, e-newsletters) to a dedicated team that works to a predictable schedule, with a separate “task force” working on emergency or ad hoc email projects. Sometimes outsourcing one or the other is a good solution, depending on the particular strengths of your in-house team.
Prepare for the “what ifs”
Having a team in place for emergencies is a good approach. But anticipating the what ifs will also get you ahead of the game when it’s crunch time. One of our clients, in the entertainment industry, has created templates for unpredictable but inevitable types of communications – including the death of a celebrity.
Another client in entertainment has templates and processes in place for event announcements, last-minute updates, cancellations, and more, when news needs to be shared with fans and members in a hurry.
But even in industries with fewer winds of change, templating is critical: for special offers or flash sales, Black Friday/Cyber Monday, product recalls, and other bulletins.
The “templating” goes beyond design too, to process. In the case of emergency communications, what is the “express” process for development, testing, and approvals? And what are the triage rules?
De-layer and empower your team
You likely have a program owner or lead project manager. While it’s great to have an individual to quarterback the many tasks involved with email program management, not all communications need to pass through them. Let the email specialist talk to the content lead, or, in an agency environment, to the client. And let the developer and designer collaborate in real time, in person. If the project brief is clear, and the PM is advised of any departures from the specifications, there should be minimal risk to cutting out intermediaries in the development process.
Hire “Swiss Army Knives”
The best email specialists can stretch across the deployment/QC role and into HTML development and even design. Look for people who love the channel, the technologies that drive it, and even its constraints.
Many of our designers and email developers came from traditional digital design and web development backgrounds but enjoy the challenge of making email render beautifully across clients and devices and of finding new ways to create engagement. Like a sonnet, whose beauty comes from knowing its arcane rules, a striking and well-rendered email communication is a puzzle that a great developer works through with passion. Look for talent with that attitude.
But Don’t Mess with QC
Quality assurance and control is one area where you don’t want to take a “swiss army knife” approach. Always create structured and disciplined testing plans and have a fresh set of eyes – ideally professional eyes – review content and test functionality.
The human brain has an amazing ability to fill in gaps and find meaning. Try reading this sentence:
Qluatiy contorl rqeuires us to trun off the wdnoeruflly adpative prats of our barins.
If we’re reading fast, small transpositions and missing letters are easy to miss. So we need dedicated eyes following a strict process – which may even involve reading backwards – to make sure our email headlines or subject lines don’t shout “ACT NOW FOR A CHANCE TO WIN A TRIP TO FARNCE.”
Be sure as well to separate QC for content from QC for data. Your QC professional should understand the data environment intimately and know how to construct bullet proof testing plans. He or she will need to perform “negative” testing scenarios and know the difference between dummy and live data.
Make roles and responsibilities clear
There’s a balance to be struck between lightening up process and ensuring quality and accuracy. While you empower and delayer, everyone should be clear on who is responsible for content, who for data (accuracy and security), and who has overall ownership and signoff authority.
Do you have backups? What happens if the person with signing authority is out of the office? What happens if a content or data deadline is missed? (It had better not be “skip QC.”)
Clear ownership will serve you well. One client we’ve consulted with managed several email newsletters a week, each of which contained content contributions from multiple lines of business. Unfortunately, each LOB’s content contributor had veto power (more power than the newsletter owner), in an environment where there is no time for consensus, or “day of” changes. This created daily bursts of stress as last-minute opinions and changes sent the hard-working email specialists spinning.
Fortunately, this kind of scenario is easily solved by communicating timelines, authority, and consequences to all concerned. Same song-sheet, great sound.
Is there room to improve your “email campaign management” machine? Feel free to reach out to us. At Conversion Digital we manage the high-volume email communications for global and national brands everyday. We just might have some more tips to share.