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At the end of a year (calendar of financial, depending on how you operate) and the beginning of another it’s necessary, even if it’s not easy, to take a step back, evaluate and plan.

But it’s difficult to stare at a blank piece of paper (or at each other if you’re doing this exercise with a team) and start brainstorming. To help you kick things off, I’ve put together a list of questions that can guide your email marketing conversation.

1. What have we done this year that has worked really well?

Adopting a new approach is never easy, but starting small is key to success even if there are a few iterations on the way to your destination. Russell Hobbs wanted to start segmenting its audience and it used its Easter campaign as an opportunity to take the pulse of its subscribers’ engagement. This created three segments that it could target going forward.


Keep in mind that not all new endeavours will be successful, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth doing. Incremental innovation is as much about testing new approaches as it is about failing at some and learning from the mistakes.

2. How did we incorporate testing into our email marketing and what did we learn?

Testing is a crucial part of being a First-Person Marketer so it’s not a question of ‘did we test?’ but one of ‘how much did we test?’ and ‘can we do more testing?’. That is, of course, if you want your results to increase and your subscribers to stay interested.

In order to get testing right, make sure you set a reasonable timeline, keep a record of your tests, choose a testing audience and set up a control group. You can find more details about these steps in one of our recent posts, but it’s important to remember that testing needs a plan, it can’t just be done on a whim as you won’t get any useful insight like that. After Media 10 placed rigorous testing at the core of its email strategy, doubling its click-through rate in less than a year.

3. How are we planning to innovate with email in the following year?

2016-Email-Census-emailAccording to the 2016 Email Industry Census, 66 percent of in-house marketers want to use behavioural triggers in a more creative way and 46 percent want to use automation for one-to-one communication. While you need to start small to kick off a process, you also need to keep in mind what your next step will be.

Serious Sport created a highly-personalised product recommendations email which not only suggests complementary products 40 days after a purchase, but dynamically populates the email with the recipient’s details. This includes their name, their club and logo, and the exact products in their team store in the appropriate colours, displaying the team logo and sponsor logos. Serious Sport feels the subscriber should feel at home right in the email even before clicking through. It has an almost constant 59 percent open rate and £55 average order value from this email, but it’s not resting on its laurels. The team is looking to improve this campaign by implementing unique promo codes, adding a reminder email and testing different timings.

4. If we could take our email marketing in any direction, what would the ideal look like?

This ideal state is governed by previous experiences, what you read about in the industry and technology that you may not have in place at the moment, but it’s nonetheless important to be able to focus your decisions in line with it. Every step, every tactic, every strategy should lead you closer to your aim. Ask questions such as, does using a shiny new email content tool or automation trigger help me reach my ideal state? Yes. Perfect. Invest energy into making it work. No? Perhaps the time is not right and it will be more useful in the future. Discard it for now.

In the highly competitive charity industry, NSPCC revised its email marketing approach to make its messaging even more relevant to email subscribers, more personalised and targeted, while reducing time and resources needed to launch campaigns. The charity introduced transactional emails, abandoned donation campaigns, an automated participation journey and automated content in its newsletters. It didn’t happen overnight, but its email engagement improved and it now recovers an average £38 donation with the abandoned donation email. Those results wouldn’t have happened if it didn’t take a step back to establish an overarching goal: increasing the relevancy of its messaging.

NSPCC failed transaction

5. What is the industry focusing on and are we using it in our marketing strategy?

First-Person Marketing means targeting your customers and subscribers as individuals rather than as a mass. It means using testing, optimisation, integrating data from across channels and using it in every appropriate channel. And that’s the direction that the industry is taking. We’re in a fortunate position to have more diverse and more exciting technology than ever before as marketers. But we’re also in a position where consumers expect more from us. So if you want to keep them coming back for more, First-Person Marketing is the way to go.

In retail, you might find First-Person Marketing in a hyper-personalised post-purchase program taking customers from one conversion to the next. In hospitality, it might be a great email reminder before an upcoming booking giving you all the details you need to check-in conveniently in your inbox right before departure. It’s what Reservation Counter created and perfected with testing.

While you’ll likely have a lot more points to cover in your brainstorming and planning session, make sure you find some time to talk about email marketing. Use the questions above as a starting point to guide you and keep you from getting lost in the details. After all, it’s the channel that delivers £38 per £1 spent so it’s worth spending time to optimise your strategy.