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Marketing Content Strategy

How to Properly Diagnose a Failed Email Campaign

5 Minute Read

As Mark Twain said after his latest marketing promotion, “The reports of the death of the email campaign are greatly exaggerated.” As any marketing maven knows, email lives, with a vengeance, and remains one of the biggest hammers in any marketer’s toolbox.

But as you know all too well, bad email promotions are death warmed over: email done wrong does your promos and your products a lethal turn.

Consider this scenario: You’re the VP of marketing for an SMB company that sells luxury goods online. The company is doing okay, though you’ve been trying for a while to ramp up sales, but the cash registers are silent as the tomb. You’ve tried a number of email angles: FOMO on moving on up, funny videos with cats wearing your fancy togs, positioning the products as the ultimate lifestyle enhancers . . .


What if it’s not the products that are flat-lining, but the way you use email? Let’s find out. Check out these root causes of failed email campaigns so you can turn things around, stat.


Expired Lists

If you have a customer list that you’ve grown over time, filled with active subscribers, and ones relevant to your target market, excellent! If you have a list that you purchased or rented, a “one size fits none” bulk address dump, filled with zombie AOL names from 1996, you are hosed.

Whether you are using a purchased list to supplement an existing one or you bought it whole-cloth from which to weave your marketing magic, you will suck the air out of your email campaigns quicker than a flash fire. Purchased lists are random, irrelevant to your market, and often filled with dead addresses, and they can bring down the anti-spam cops on your precious head. You can do better. Build your list organically, with appealing opt-in forms, product giveaways that require sign-ups, landing pages that promote fun newsletters with signing up—there are lots of approaches. Buying a list is buying stale food: no sales nutrition there.

Failure to Segment

But let’s say you have a decent list. The best way to win the war is to shoot all of your cannons in every direction, right? No! If 20 percent of your customers only buy your mink socks, they shouldn’t get the email blast pushing crystal-studded coffeemakers. Think about a bull’s-eye target. There is that center sweet spot and then all of those outer, wide circles. Your content strategy has to target your lists to their bull’s-eye, and to do that, you must segment.

Your sock customers want to get notices about socks, and perhaps for other high-end footwear. And your male sock wearers (probably) don’t want ads for pearl-laden pantyhose . . . and your 75-year-old sock wearers (probably) don’t want promos for fishnets. Segmentation takes care of that, serving up content that people—individuals—care about. Group your customer addresses by their purchase histories, and your emails will have more zing.

You can segment with a conversion vengeance by using some A/B testing so you can offer unique, focused content to targeted clients. Customers will appreciate that you seem to precisely anticipate what they are looking for next—and you can bask in your sales genius.

Adam Vavrek, director of marketing operations at Skyword, said that one of the most successful email campaigns of the year involved getting more readers for the highly nutritious content of this very Content Standard. The reason for the success? Personalized content recommendations in the mailings, A/B tested against a control without those recommendations. Subscribers increased by 5X—victory!

Bad Subject Lines

Your email’s subject line can swing a welcoming door wide open, or slam it in your prospect’s face. There are myriad ways you can botch a subject line: you can be vague, deceptive, even insulting—all unintentionally. Many times, content marketers love the sound of their own voices (guilty here), and make their subject lines from puns or literary metaphors, or pull some of the latest lingo from Urban Dictionary to make the subject scene sound hip, man. This can often backfire.

As is often true in life, clarity is key, here. Of course, you can still give the line some character, some verve, some life (after all, you do want your customers to jump on the mail). But don’t get too cute—or perhaps even worse, send out mailings with a draft subject line or some random code. Yikes.


Lack of Analysis

Perhaps you breathe a sigh of relief after you’ve sent out all campaign mails—to an active, segmented list, with great subject lines—and think it’s time for lunch. No, it’s time for more coffee! You want to find which messages bounced, which were delivered, who opened them (and when), what links were clicked, what content downloaded, what sites visited (and when), who put goods in the cart, and who purchased what. And those are just some of the highlights.

You won’t know how well your email campaign performed without digging into the data. Data digging is a distinct content strategy, and dig results should shape email campaigns to come. The last few years have brought shiny new marketing technology to the forefront, and a good analytics program should be part of your arsenal. Skyword, for example, uses Marketo’s marketing automation tool to dissect leads and put content into our email editor.

Low-Protein Content

Speaking of content, we won’t waltz around a significant email content strategy: the content has to be good! If your sales pitches are boring, confusing, misleading, or just plain lame, no matter how spiffy your cashmere, no one’s going to spend any cash on it.

This is the era of meaty storytelling. If you’re starving your customers with low-quality email content, they’re likely to seek a more satisfying solution elsewhere. Cook the meat of your emails so your clients can smell the spices, lust for the sauce (and if they are vegetarians, segment to match). Stories are, indeed, the food of modern marketing—feed your customers and prospects the good stuff, and they will hunger for more.

A strong email marketing campaign is crucial to your brand’s ability to build relationships, convert prospects into leads, and drive your overall marketing efforts. Watch out for symptoms of campaign failure, and avoid the root causes of the disease that mediocre email can become. The value of the return on your investment into email health simply can’t be overstated.

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Tom Bentley is a content marketing copywriter and editor, a magazine feature writer,  a travel writer and a published fiction writer and editor. He's published articles in Forbes, The American Scholar, the Los Angeles Times, Wine Enthusiast, the San Francisco Chronicle, Wired, the San Jose Mercury News, Draft magazine and many more. He has won several nonfiction and fiction writing awards.

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