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Marketing ROI

Does Your Email Marketing Strategy Get the Most out of Your Email Addresses?

7 Minute Read

You, a weary content marketing manager, walk out of an email marketing strategy meeting with your director on a Thursday afternoon. It’s nearly the end of the day, and your manager has been tasked you with a seemingly simple question: “How much is an email address worth to us?” It seems like an easy answer. But as you and your manager continue to think about it, the complexity starts to settle in.

From the technical difficulties of tracking to complex customer lifecycles, determining the ROI for a given user email address is a hard task for marketers. Sometimes even more difficult is the natural follow-up question—how do we improve this ROI? If you’re an email marketer with a sizable (and growing) email subscriber list that’s only used for a monthly newsletter, then you’re in the same boat as many brands today.

You’re also like many brands today in that you’re not taking advantage of your address list’s full potential.

The Value of an Address

There are a number of different models that marketers use to estimate the value of each of their email addresses. The formula frequently comes down to average likelihood of an email recipient converting multiplied by the average lifetime value of a conversion minus the costs of acquisition. It’s a tried and true method that speaks to how email has long been used as a tool for sales.

But even as email marketing itself remains a powerful driver for businesses, brands continue to hamstring themselves by siloing email marketing to its own channel. From rapidly developing automation tech to new uses across other marketing applications, the potential value of an email address has never been higher—so long as you have a plan for using them.

Email addresses, at their most essential level, provide value in two ways: they assist in communication that eventually leads to a sale, or they serve as support data for another marketing activity. Just sending out the same messages week after week won’t do much to improve value per address. Something has to change in how you target your audience and serve them messages.

Public mailbox

Image attribution: Jay Mantri

Working Smarter, Not Harder

Automation is a term that has quickly grown to buzzword status over the past five years as a sort of panacea for all marketing issues. Spending too much on your marketing efforts? Automate some of the process to save overhead. Having difficulty keeping up with a fast-moving audience? Let your machines do the work for you. Aren’t certain what material to serve your user next? Don’t worry, there’s an automation for that.

The difficulty with automation is that while marketers are aware of how powerful the tech is, so few of us are actually using it or even understand it: 79% of marketers report their familiarity with automation as average or less. Sometimes this is due to technical limitations, but other times it’s just hard to know where to start. Here are three common automation tasks that improve the value of your email sends.

1. Re-Engage and Disengage (Easy)

Just because you have a long subscriber list doesn’t mean you have a list of useful addresses. Brands often get left with reams of fake handles, one-time-interaction emails, and incorrectly typed addresses. Any email client worth its salt will handle anything that results in a hard bounce from a send, but what about addresses that never seem to open anything?

Consider setting up an automated campaign that sends a re-engagement email to users who haven’t opened any of your messages in a long time. This message should try to get the user’s attention, quickly address that it’s been a while, and offer some options for content they might be interested in. Anyone who opens stays on your master subscriber list, and anyone who doesn’t gets removed. This will keep your list down to addresses that matter and also saves you money over time if you’re using an email service that charges based on number of sends.

2. Confirm and Reward Customer Actions (Average)

It’s always astounding to see brands forget this type of messaging because, as consumers, we interact with them all the time. Confirmation messages reassure users that an action they took on your website actually went through and makes sure they have a record they can reference should they ever need customer support later. But confirmations don’t just have to be transactional. Rewarding on-site behavior with additional related content or useful information can be a great way to earn trust and encourage future engagement.

3. Recommend Content, Segment Leads (Advanced)

For marketers with automation and CRM enabled, you can use newsletters and other content-related emails to automatically create interest-based segments out of your audience. By serving newsletters with diverse content, you can then sort users into publication groups based on what types of content they tend to click on. This segmentation not only allows you a hands-off way to create highly targeted mailing lists, but it can also indicate what topics area should be a priority for your content creation team, improving returns on each piece of content you produce.

Building Audiences for Visibility

A second—and often overlooked—way to utilize your email lists is to improve the targeting for any search, display, or social ads you may be running.

While content marketers tend to shy away from advertising as a rule, small amounts of advertising continue to be a necessary part of SEO for most campaigns. Ideally, you won’t want much of your budget going towards these promotions, which means whatever ads you do run need to be highly targeted to reach only people that matter.

Enter custom audiences. Many major ad platforms, including Facebook, AdWords, and Twitter, use custom audience services to allow marketers to construct audience personas through an existing email list (cross-checked against email addresses used to create accounts on the displaying service) rather than through a filtering tool.

There are some limitations to custom audience building, with the primary one being that the health of your emailing list will directly affect how good your custom audience becomes. Uploading a list of one-off email addresses or dead accounts can result in inaccuracy or the number of relevant emails being lower than expected. To start trying these services, first clean whatever list you intend to use, and then A/B test an ad group based on your custom audience against an identical ad group based on your regular filtering. If the custom audience performs better after a week or two, it’s easy to just shut off your other ad group and keep driving relevant traffic.

Row of mailboxes

Image attribution: Mathyas Kurmann

Understanding the Playing Field

Perhaps the simplest way your email marketing strategy benefits from subscriber lists is by taking the time to read through them on occasion.

Particularly for B2B brands, it’s not unusual for competitors or potential partners to sign up for emails, download a whitepaper, or otherwise look into your brand. It’s likewise not unusual for these investigators to use their work email. While you shouldn’t use this information to specifically reach out to these folks on an individual basis (depending on what type of list they opted into, this could be considered an unethical use of their information), knowing what competitors or potential partners are researching you is valuable information for your executive team. It may help redirect your own business intelligence efforts or give a lead for your C-suite to consider a new strategic cooperation.

Overall, understanding your email list should be the essential goal for any content marketer. From knowing where your addresses can be put to good use outside of publication to simply seeing who’s actually on your list, your addresses will continue to be the lifeblood of your content marketing efforts—so long as you maintain their health and put them to good use!

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Kyle Harper is a writer, editor, and marketer who is passionate about creative projects and the industries that support them. He is a human who writes things. He also writes about things, around things, for things, and because of things. He's worked with brands like Hasbro, Spotify, Tostitos, and the Wall Street Journal, as well as a bunch of cool startups. The hardest job he's ever taken was the best man speech for his brother's wedding. No challenge is too great or too small. No word is unimportant. Behind every project is a story. What's yours?

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