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Choosing and using incremental innovation: how to make big changes, one step at a time

Launching a full-blown email program takes time and money most marketers don’t have. Focus on one small innovation at a time – like adding a “next logical product” trigger – to move your business needle.

Email industry leaders have been talking – and writing and talking even more – about why marketers need to use data for better email results. After all this talk, where do we stand? Pretty much where we were, although things are starting to change.

Data’s still a challenge for many marketers

Two studies point this out:

  • Data integration is the No. 1 challenge for email personalization. Econsultancy’s Email Marketing Industry Census 2017, published with Adestra, found 55 percent of marketers listed it as one of their main challenges, along with “lack of resources” (43 percent) and “finding time to make it happen” (33 percent).
  • The Relevancy Group found that more than 50 percent of email marketers don’t use data to segment their email databases. That means their email success still rides on sending the same message to everybody in the database regardless of click or conversion data.

On the plus side, this means that nearly half of all marketers DO use data successfully and likely see better email metrics and revenue results. How can we help everybody else?

The answer: incremental innovation

Many marketers are eager to innovate but have too little time or money to support stepping away from the daily grind. It’s not that they don’t care; they’re just too busy trying to get the next campaign out the door.

It’s also hard to know where to start if you don’t know what to fix first. Here’s my solution: Instead of trying to launch a full-blown program, which could take more than a year, take it one step at a time.

Get started with just one change

This week, find something you could change in your next campaign. Make that change. Next week, change something else, and add it to your list. The week after that, add another change to the two you’ve implemented already.

Build on your incremental innovations every week. Someday, you’ll be able to look up and see that you have indeed driven meaningful improvement.

That’s the power of incremental innovation.

Starting point: ‘Next logical product’ trigger

Triggered and transactional emails can account for 50 percent or more of email revenue in a year. One of my favorites is the “next logical product” trigger, and it’s a good way to begin innovating in increments.

“Next logical product” emails tie customer intent to your data to generate another purchase. You can predict this behavior because your statistics show a significant majority of people buy that product next. That’s your “next logical product” trigger.

Next-logical-product data in action

Suppose you know that customers who buy washer-dryer combinations on your website often buy storage platforms within two weeks.

Naturally, you want them to buy that piece of equipment from you instead of the big-box store across town. But how?

You say, “Hey! Let’s message everybody who doesn’t buy a storage platform from us 10 days later. Let’s show the exact washer/dryer they bought AND the storage platform that fits that model. And, let’s make it easy to order it!”

How to identify ‘next logical product’ triggers

First, study your product line and purchase data so you can understand purchasing patterns. What do people buy, what do they buy next, and what’s the time frame? Try to identify five products that you could investigate.

Next, give your data scientists or CRM analysts your product list. Ask, “Of these products, what do people buy next shortly after the purchase, and what percentage of customers buy those products?”

Use your data to build a financial model. Then, test it on a sample of customers. If you can confirm your hypothesis, create a simple email featuring the upsell for the product purchased.

Test several versions of the copy, going at it from different angles:

  • A transactional approach (“We noticed you didn’t buy this essential product to go with your recent purchase. Do you still need it?”)
  • A helpful/customer-relationship one (“Many customers find this product helps them get more use out of your product…”)

Then, link directly to the product page from the email.

After you create and test your emails, isolate the customers who bought the item in your time frame. Send the email to them manually, and assess the response. Try another date range as well. This will help you figure out the best time frame to send the email.

Creating this trigger gives you two brag-worthy benefits:

  • You created a new revenue stream

Maybe these customers might have come back on their own to buy the next product; maybe they have gone to a competitor. Your “next logical product” email increases the odds exponentially that you’ll get the sale

  • You created a new proof point you can take back to your data people when you need to show data

Or, to give to your systems people when it’s time to automate the process using the results you generated in your tests.

What are you going to try?

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