The Case for Outsourced Email Marketing

By EXCLUSIVE team
TOPICSEmail Marketing

The biggest thing on my mind lately has been how I can help merchants have the best Q4 they’ve ever had. Most folks that I talk with week after week are looking for the different magic bullets or breakout ideas. For many of them, when the conversation turns to Email Marketing, the breakout idea is simple – just do it well! As an ecommerce marketer, you know the value of staying in touch with your customers. You work hard at optimizing so much of the sales funnel, beginning first with making customers aware of the products you sell, then driving them to your site as opposed to your competitors, and providing enough value and information to help them understand that you are the best choice for them to purchase from. Unfortunately, more often than not, I’m finding that email databases are a significantly mis- or underutilized asset.

If you’re reading this, you most likely fall into one of two camps:

  • You’re an entrepreneur that has been at the ecommerce game for a while, and in that time, you’ve amassed several thousand emails addresses that you could reach out to but just don’t have the know-how to get it done in a way you would be proud of. Or, you’re a
  • Marketing executive that is responsible for brand equity as well as driving sales. You only have so much budget so it’s critical for you to marketing dollars to go as far as possible. You have some email campaigns going out and they perform ok, but you’re at a loss for how to really ratchet up your effectiveness with your sends.

In either scenario, you’re probably strapped for time or expertise around the proper execution of your email campaigns. Before I talk about execution, it makes sense to take a step back and examine the “why” of outsourced email marketing.

Direct benefits

1. Cost Savings

In a perfect world, you’d be able to hire the guy or gal that can perform all of the functions necessary to execute emails campaigns to be proud of, locally. Consider this, the salary of that person that can “do it all” ranges anywhere from $60,000-$110,000. That means (not counting benefits) you’d be looking at a monthly investment in this person of around $5-9,000!

An alternative could be to outsource overseas, but then you run into potential language and skill barriers that can create inefficiencies. It’s never fun to wake up to something done wrong , only to have to wait 12 hours to get a revision.

2. “Smarter” campaign management

Most folks that work with us come to us with about 5-6 ideas of things that they want to implement immediately. These usually fall into the category of customer service related emails, cross sell emails, and the occasional “ratings request” emails. After that, they regularly defer to our judgment on creating specialized segments based on their customer demographic, product set, and promotional strategy. We match our expertise and knowledge of their customer demographics to prioritize campaigns that we have a higher degree of success.

3. Greater Lifetime Customer Value

At the end of the day (or month in most cases) what truly matters is the bottom line. By properly executing your campaigns and building up your loyalist base through your email marketing program, you’ll be able to improve the return of all of your other marketing efforts. Think of it this way, all of the traffic you drive from SEO, PPC, Shopping engines and other sources, as well as all of the money you invest in increasing your conversion rate through site features and design work is all made more valuable by smaller, regular investments in your email marketing program. Again, the path to achieving this by utilizing experts is in creative and proven idea generation, executed properly.

Indirect benefits

1. You look better (to your boss, to your customers)

Customers today respond when they are “wow’d”. If you show them something that looks professional or is novel and catches their attention, they are more likely to interact with your store. They may not necessarily purchase right away, but you’ve been able to grab some of their brainshare, and that recall will get them thinking about your brand when they have needs. They may also feel that your email promotion is something that they need to share with friends as their needs come up in conversation!

It’s a relief when you can simply be in position to approve campaigns and creative because your team is on top of it for you. Even if revisions need to be made – as they occasionally do – you don’t have to soak up your own valuable time to get them done.

2. You get more creative and actionable ideas

With all of the different campaigns we have run for many different types of online retailers, we’ve certainly figured out ways to think outside the box and get creative with campaigns that will get people’s attention. We also have the benefit of listening to, and implementing, creative and sometimes wacky ideas that are clients come up with that we have been able to learn from and define. You get to benefit from this bank of ideas so you can run and implement campaigns that can potentially do the same for your company.

3. Things get done on time

Let’s face it; email campaigns are a full time job. Delivering effective emails campaigns is not something that you can dabble in and many times the people that I speak with start with the best of intentions and 60 hours into their week they realize that their email program has been cast off to their “someday I’ll” list. Working with experts, you turn your ideas into actions faster. You learn about your email data base quicker, and that leads to more sales faster.

Now that we have a sense of what the endgame is with respect to outsourcing your email program, it makes sense to understand what the extension of your team should be focused on in executing your campaigns.

Goals

First up is getting “the 3 Rs” right – The Right message, to the right person, at the right time. What does this mean? Lots of companies promote this as the way to go in order to increase your sales with email marketing, but when you stop and think about it, what does this really mean to you? Anyone with basic knowledge of an ESP can do 2 out of these three things without much effort.

  • Right Message – Is the right message a discount? Is it a new product announcement? How do you know? The last thing that you want people to do is train your customers to simply wait for a discount. In order to accomplish this goal, you could do several things. First, you could position your BRAND as a thought leader in your space. Next, you can test your messaging over time (if your ESP allows for testing of elements of your email template). If you do elect to do a promotional email, you can learn a lot about your customer base by using different messages and layouts to see what gets people excited enough to click through.
  • Right Person – I’ll speak more about strategic segmentation later in the post, but finding the right person is about more than just picking out a few attributes to send a special deal.
  • Right Time – this is perhaps the greatest challenge of the 3R equation. The ideal time to send your potential customer your message is right around the time that they are opening up their browser, so their phone pings or their email client notifies them of your message. Simple, right?

Your next goal should be to build brand recognition and brand equity. It’s no secret that the major search engines have emphasized building your brand as a way to get ahead. My favorite marketers to talk to are the ones understand that if you have great brand equity, you don’t have to play a pricing game with your competition. Your customers are willing to pay a premium for your product over a generic and the small incremental investments that you make in building your brand can pay off big. Expert email marketers know that fortification of your brand can be achieved by creating a perceived “special relationship” with the consumer – which can be strategically achieved by proper use of email marketing. Additionally, growing your brand equity with email allows you to introduce new SKUs and products on your existing site and sell more units faster, by leveraging the positive impressions you’ve created in the minds of your database.

The final goal to strive for should be positive outcomes. Here are the most important ones:

  • Sales!We can’t forget the most important point. They get the product that they need, you get some margin – everyone wins. Repeat sales are especially important as they are key to achieving brand recognition and building the brand equity that was discussed above.
  • Positive Customer reviewsThere are many impacts of positive customer reviews, from better PPC extension utilization, to unique, user generated content for your SEO. Overall, people have become more careful with their purchasing decisions since the onset of the recession here in the U.S., and what has been clear is that they trust what their peers tell them with respect to purchasing decisions.
  • Knowledge of your user basePerhaps the greatest benefit of a properly executed email marketing campaign is that you get to learn more about the demographic s of your customers, faster. As I had alluded to above, you have the ability to testing some critical elements that can tell you quite a bit about what important to your database including what kinds of promotional messages get them excited, what layouts and usability oriented features are important to them, and other key industry of niche specific information that they can’t get other places.

Resources

So what does it take to make all of this a part of your strategy? What do you need to get the job done “better than good”?

Technology

Email Service Provider (ESP) – there are lots of choices out there. Here are some of the features that you want to make sure that yours has:

  • Segmentation – A critical component to achieving the 3 Rs. This will allow you to find your loyalists (your most important segment) to reduce send volumes while maximizing revenue and increasing brand equity.
  • Split Testing – Allows you to know with certainty what your customer base really reacts to. ESPs allow for A/B split testing in many varieties. Some have limited capabilities, whereas the more powerful ones allow for A/B split stream – which allows you to test a small sample and send the winning campaign to the larger percentage of your database.
  • Triggered messaging – You will need to be able to create rules around who to send to specifically, based on their timing and actions that a customer took when interacting with your site or emails.
  • Dynamic Functions – allows for maximizing click-through and conversion rates by connecting with a customer based on their past purchase history, and other stored, non-financial personal information. This helps to foster the “special relationship” you want to build with your customers.
  • Analytics – you’ll need a good dashboard in order to make your data-driven decisions. Ideally, you’ll have good aggregation for testing, segmentation, and sales data.
  • Deliverability – You’ll need an ESP that has a proven track record of getting emails to the inbox. Part of this is dependent on the quality and opt-in policies of your list. When it comes to ESPs, different policies that range from low unsubscribe tolerances to clean IP addresses based on sandboxing new accounts can all impact your deliverability and the amount of time it takes to ramp up your program and send out individual campaigns.
  • Social Media Integration – Cross promotion should extend beyond the reach of your opt-in database. Lots of platforms will allow you to cross promote to your social feeds.
  • Pricing – the final consideration is to look at the platform from a subscriber based pricing model versus a technology based pricing model. Some ESPs will give you pricing based on the number of your subscribers, where you can have an unlimited send to your list. Others will price based on their technology, and charge you a cost-per-thousand (CPM) based on each time you send to your each subscriber on your list. In many instances, the more creative campaigns will require an ESP that has lots of more robust features, which you should happily invest in to get significantly better results.
  • Connection tools – Imagine the power of being able to connect your online store’s purchase data directly to your ESP. Tools like this exist, and allow you to send the most personalized emails as fast as possible to your list.

Creative Suite – Let’s face it, if you look at the pre-packaged email templates that come with your ESP and you create something that could be outshined by your local high school wiz kid, it’s probably not going to lead to one of the desired outcomes I described earlier. Your options at that point are then to learn Photoshop, find and hire that high schooler and hope they have enough time to meet your deadlines, or vet and outsource to someone who has the tools and knows how to use them as a professional. You’ll need someone with the right tools, and a creative eye for leveraging your brand in order to create the “wow” factor that gets your emails clicked on.

Staff

This is the person responsible for taking your ideas and turning them into compelling emails. They do this by leveraging the chosen ESP technology in order to enhance and optimize your:

  • List & Database growth
  • Send Frequency
  • Open Rates
  • Conversion Rates and AOV

In order to do this, they should be advising you on how to determine the best products to highlight, help you to find your voice by utilizing qualitative and quantitative data analysis, decide whether or not to double your sends and how to appropriately balance your send calendar, create your smart triggers to help facilitate the 3Rs, review the results of your past campaigns to determine strengths and areas of opportunities, perform QA for deliverability so your emails have the best chance of making it to the right inboxes. Additionally, once they have been able to layout your overall strategy, they’ll want to be able to manage the creative team in order to turn all of the knowledge derived from your database into compelling messages for your readership.

Copywriter/Designer

People don’t love HTML and text, they love images that they can pull up on their phone, or that jump out at them when they click your email in their inbox. Shareable content that extends reach can be created by a savvy designer, in a way if you’ve ever spent any time fooling around with your ESPs pre-packaged templates, you already know that you can spend hours looking for the right colors and still not get what you want. Email focused content managers don’t have that challenge and working with their email strategist, they’ll get better and better over time with unifying your brand and promotion strategy in a way that compels your readership to act.

With this team in place, you’re now ready to dive in and start sending.

Campaigns

By now, I’m sure that you’ve got a clear understanding of the “simple, but not easy” nature of executing on an optimized email campaign. The only limits to campaigns that you can run are dependent on the idea flow that you have from your team. Here’s a short list of some of the most popular types of email campaigns that can be run.

Sample campaign types

• Content Sharing • Personalization/Segmentation • Behavior Based / Tenure based
• Reactivation • Autoreponder series • Demand Creation
• Customer Service • Innovation
• Lead Generation • Incentivizing Loyalists
• Promotional
• List Growth

Now, looking at that list, I’m sure at least one or two of the items jumps out as either being already on your “someday I’ll” list, or has been added to it. My challenge to you would be to get it off a list and to start executing!

The Pushback

For my skeptics out there who still aren’t convinced of the value of outsourcing your email marketing, you’re most likely thinking a few different things:

“I can hire people internally”

You sure can. The line of reasoning goes something like this… “If I hire people internally, I can get as many emails as I want, as often as I want.” The reality is if they are truly “doing it all” there is an upper limit to their productivity. My question back to you is this – If your internal hire gets a creative block, how do they break free of it? What are they going to do to continually sharpen their skills? Contrast that with your outsourced team that is going to be exposed to several dozen ideas every day of the week, thus creating a much larger base of arrows in their quiver. Not only will they provide you with better ideas, they’ll also have the bandwidth to turn the vision into a well-received reality.

“I can do it cheaper / it’s too expensive”

Alternately, there are lots of services out there that are pretty cheap, that can repurpose your existing content and send it out. This is a viable approach – the question you have to ask yourself is, “what is this really doing for me?” The problem with this approach is that it’s not doing anything novel. It’s not personalized, and it doesn’t help to further the goal of sending the right message, to the right person at the right time. If you’ve ever visited a brand you follow, and you see the same content posted in two different places, you tend to think, “well, don’t need to follow [this source] anymore since it’s nothing different.” Thinking about it from another perspective, you hire managers for PPC, SEO and CSEs. Ultimately your decision to outsource came down to opportunity cost. On the one hand you feel good because you’re saving a buck and you feel more connected to your campaigns. On the other, you may have kicked yourself once or twice for getting stuck on something for entirely too much time, much to the detriment of another area of your business. How much is all of that time worth?

“How much better can it really be?”

Frankly, a lot. Depending on how you measure success, there are gains to be had in Open rates, Click-through Rate, conversion rates, and sales. Here’s an example of a client who was doing nothing with their email list and then outsourced to Exclusive Concepts.

This represents an increase of about 41% in their overall conversion rate. Here’s another example of a company that was already doing email marketing in house prior to outsourcing to us:

This shows an increase of 44% over the course of a year, which has allowed the merchant to invest more in marketing programs across the board. Both instances show that even with a good program in place, experts are able to enhance performance and generate truly meaningful increases in the area that matter.

Conclusion

“Batch and blast” hit its peak in 2008. Today’s successful email marketing is an iterative process. Whatever team you put in place will need time to learn about your database so they can fashion a strategy that will get you the results you desire. Ultimately, the choice that you make will focus on your acceptable costs for people, technology, and the learning curve of getting up to speed. We’re less than 6 months away from the season which for most in the industry is our harvest time. There will certainly be a spike in the number of emails that your customers and prospective customers will be receiving in that time. The company that wins will be the one that executes on each of the details above with creativity and effectiveness. Eye-catching, smarter, and more profitable campaigns are within reach. Explore outsourcing your email marketing.

How much room for improvement in your program is there? Our team of expert email marketers can provide you with a complimentary audit of your email marketing program. Click the link below and we’ll help get your started on a more profitable path.

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