Practical Ecommerce

Email Marketing: The Three-Part Plan

Editor’s Note: We welcome as our new email-marketing contributor. She’s marketing manager with S&S Worldwide, a direct marketer of arts and crafts, sporting goods and educational supplies. She is responsible for the planning and implementation of S&S’s email marketing programs, which includes sending over 25 million emails per year.

Email marketing typically has a high return-on-investment for ecommerce merchants.

It reminds me of my previous career, when I was a licensed financial advisor. I helped clients meet their financial goals by taking what assets they had, and growing them with a diversified investment plan. I worked with people who wanted to retire early, maybe buy a boat and sail to Bermuda, or open a bed and breakfast. I just started with their objectives and designed strategies to reach them. The secret was to stick to the plan and constantly review it. It was as simple as that. And it worked.

Diversity Is Key

To build a successful email marketing program, think like a financial advisor. You need to diversify your strategy. Sending out weekly or monthly emails to your subscribers is like putting all your money in one savings account at 2 percent interest. You may make money and play it safe, but you aren’t really maximizing your return. And neither are your subscribers. Instead, focus on diversifying your program and putting your email program to work for you.

What are your goals? Every email you send should have a different goal. Some emails may be a simple customer service communication, while others are designed to bring traffic back to your site and sell products. Developing a clear goal will also make it easier to measure the success of a campaign.

The Three-Part Plan

Every email program should consist of three major parts.

  1. Transactional-based communications. This includes customer service emails that are auto responders, such as order confirmations or shipping notifications. These emails are a good opportunity to talk to your customers and typically have much higher open rates then the average promotional email. Take advantage of that and optimize the design and message to highlight things your shoppers may not know. Use them as tools to build relationships with your customers.

  2. Promotional or content based communications. These are the emails you send to your subscribers on a pre-determined schedule to, say, promote product sales or your content. Your promotional email schedule deserves much attention and fine tuning. Test everything from subject lines, formatting, offers or calls to action.

  3. Triggered-based communications. These emails are based strictly on actions taken by the visitor on your site. They could be simple instant-welcome emails when a subscriber joins. They could also be sophisticated, personalized abandoned cart communications. Triggered emails are your opportunity to talk to your consumers at various points in the purchase cycle. They will typically have the highest conversion rate and earn the most dollars per email sent. They are the most technically difficult to set up and get going. But, once rolling, they can function on an auto-pilot mode with some frequent updates and optimization tweaking.

A successful email program will use the proper mix of all three kinds of messages in different ways. Think of it as a well-diversified portfolio of optimized communications. Like diversifying your 401(k), do the same for your email program.

Map and Track

Use a simple flow chart to map each campaign in your program. Track the actions of a site visitor needed to deploy each campaign. Tack it near your desk and look at it every day. Drawing out different behaviors will give you ideas of areas for opportunity where an email communication may be useful. It will also allow you to visually see the different paths a visitor can take and the potential communications that follow. This can help resolve frequency issues and avoid over-emailing the same subscriber.

Summary

As emailers, we tend to focus on results and reporting, including open rates, click-through rates, and conversion dollars. We launch campaigns quickly to get people to the site. We are frequently rewarded by instant gratifying results. It’s really no wonder we don’t have time to review our overall strategy to ensure is in line with what our subscribers signed up for, or the overall company objectives. Keep your game plan in check, and everything else should follow through.

Carolyn Nye

Carolyn Nye

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Comments ( 4 )

  1. cord August 19, 2010 Reply

    Hi carolyn,

    Very good article and i cant agree more. We actually recently implemented both transaction- and trigger based email campaigns using the free opensource addon "mailbeez" which is compatible with zencart, cre loaded, oscommerce and probably other carts as well.

    We get very good response from our customerbase e.g. on asking them for a review, Cross-selling, aftersales services etc.

  2. Steve @Erraticblog August 19, 2010 Reply

    Great article Carolyn. Made me think again how I need to implement a few trigger based emails. Haven’t done it yet because as you said…technically difficult, at least the ones I’m thinking of.

    BTW, glad I found your article and site S&S Worldwide, it’s a goldmine of stuff for my two daughters :-)

  3. Carolyn Nye August 24, 2010 Reply

    Thanks for the comments! Cord- thanks for sharing the recommendation for a free open source add. Sounds like it’s working well for you.

    Steve- They can be technically challenging to start – I feel the pain :) Good approach is start with a basic trigger, once you get comfortable, go on to more advanced. Glad article helped, and you discovered S&S too (I am always getting things for my daughter as well!)

  4. kcbannister February 10, 2011 Reply

    Good overview here Carolyn. I’ve found with email marketing that a lot of it has to do with finding your audience and trial and error. Got to find what works and then stick to the plan.