Night and day

9 minute read

Several years ago, as Marketing Manager for a computer services company, my CTO came to me and asked why didn’t we have a nice HTML email newsletter like everyone else? Good question.

Night and day

We certainly had the content – a wealth of great customer focused stories describing some of the coolest computing installations and applications in the world. Exactly the sort of content you need for a compelling, high impact newsletter.

However, there were some serious issues. I’m sharing because I suspect that many of you will have faced similar situations.

Subscriber data

Data was a big issue. We had a medium sized database, housed in a homemade CRM system. Like many CRM systems it was designed as a sales progression tool rather than with external communication in mind. The permission credentials of the included contacts had good intentions but were largely undocumented and with no prior history of regular email contact much of the data had clearly been untouched for several years. There was also very little in the way of profiling – that is captured information that could be used to effectively segment and target a marketing outreach.

Understanding performance 

Tracking performance was another major issue. As you’d expect from a CRM, each contact had an associated contact history, but completion was sketchy and inconsistent, and there was no in-built capability to extract meaningful intelligence from any stored information. There was certainly no way of tracking the effectiveness of email (or any other form of marketing) and no way of linking such activities to sales progression and ultimately to revenue.

Email service provider

Delivery, in fact the whole process of an email marketing infrastructure, was also challenging. Creating in-house HTML was possible but in terms of time and effort it was not a cost-effective solution. There had been some basic email deliveries directly from the in-house servers but any meaningful scale of email marketing strategy would require the facilities and safeguards of a dedicated external supplier. We needed an ESP.

The Journey

Selecting an ESP was actually an easy first step. Although several ESPs were investigated our sister company in the USA already used a popular US-based system. For consistency it was concluded that this factor would take priority and so duplication of our US set up was the preferred choice. ESP sorted.

Although relatively basic the chosen platform itself was functional, and to be fair, at that stage in our email marketing journey our requirements and ambitions were well within the program’s capability. There were templates for the main newsletter styles and although restrictive in terms of ultimate creativity they allowed enough freedom to create our relatively simple newsletter design. Integrating a home grown CRM system was not an easy process so we deferred to the common denominator of using CSV files to import our subscriber data.

Without much in the way of profiling data we were relatively limited in our ability to organise the imported data into segmented lists. The consequence was of course that even had we wished to (as a pan-European operator language localisation was one such wish), creating personalised content was not possible. Even including a simple personal salutation required a considerable clean-up of the stored data, not least because of the lack of European internationalisation available in the system.

Our first email newsletter was duly created and delivered. The bounce rate still horrifies me to this day. Over time, re-engagement campaigns and both natural and manual data cleaning improved our delivery rate but it was still consistently well above what we should consider to be acceptable. There was no contact from our ESP or guidance as to how to improve matters so I suspect that we continued to create our own further delivery issues.

In terms of tracking, of course the platform returned all of the normal performance metrics like open and click-through rates. Subscriber level analytics (which subscribers took which particular actions) were also included, but there was no direct way of exporting this intelligence back to our CRM and no way of linking this data, either immediately or over time, to the subsequent purchasing behaviour of our contacts.  As marketing it worked, but in isolation from the rest of the sales process.

I like to look back on the positives

For a company with little in the way of marketing infrastructure we had come a long way, We had moved from no external communication to a regular schedule of generally well received email newsletters. Although a little standardised by the template, our design was fine and incorporated the necessary brand styling of our company, and the content sections allowed summaries of each story to successfully link through to further online content. We were still severely hampered by our data issues but although there were notable exceptions, it would be hard to make a general cast iron case for ROI.

One day…

As one of the originally shortlisted ESPs, one day I visited the website and downloaded the latest annual benchmark report. I received a call from one of the team which initiated an informal discussion of my needs and ambitions. As it happens my ESP circumstances were limited so as a potential provider switch the discussion was interesting but commercially speaking a non-starter. Nonetheless, the permission driven philosophy of the company, the elegance of the system and the personal attention of the in-house team created a lasting impression.

Email marketing is a crowded market. There are literally hundreds of email platforms and thousands of email service providers out there. However it’s not difficult to create differentiation.

Like the seaside rock, cut open and you will see the concept of permission running all the way through. As well as being a legal requirement it’s the principle that underpins all of the good practices which make the more exiting data driven marketing features possible. Despite the inclusion of advanced features the platform itself still retains the elegance of a simple 5-step process. It’s complex, so addresses the needs of those wishing to step up from a more basic provider, but not complicated, so it’s easy to learn and integrate into existing workflows and environments. And it’s easy to say, but the team are experts and, dare I say it, like me enthusiasts who genuinely care about helping businesses elevate their marketing performance.

Fast forward 3 years from the start of my story and I’m now proud to be part of the team. Yes of course I’m biased, but with good cause, and as I described to someone earlier today, for me, discovering was like moving from night to day.