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Welcome back!

Time to finish off your last bottle of champagne, roll up your sleeves and start planning for a great new year. That means mapping out your strategy – the big picture that will help you achieve your marketing goals.

What did you do right in 2016? What do you need to change in order to move into First-Person Marketing in 2017? These are major questions, and they take time and team effort to answer intelligently.

That’s why I’m a big believer in taking a day out of the workweek to plan strategy for the coming year. Even a half-day can work if you can keep the focus strictly on strategic planning – the “why” of what you want to do.

Most importantly, you need to get everybody on board with it, first in the conversations and then in the planning and execution.

Four questions to guide the discussion

The best way to get your planning going is to find a congenial meeting space offsite where you can lock yourself and your team members into one big room, far away from ringing phones, beeping screens and other distractions, and start thinking out loud.

These four questions are key for any kind of strategy session:

  1. What’s working in our email marketing program now?
  2. What do we need to fix?
  3. What’s on our blue-sky list of things we would want to do in email if time, money and people were not considerations?
  4. What incremental steps could we take now to build a path to innovation?


Plan for First-Person Marketing with a consumer panel

If you ran a strategy session in 2016, you can add a fifth question: Did we live up to the planning and expectations we set out last year? (If you’re setting up one for the first time, this post gives you seven steps for building an effective plan.)

Congratulations if you succeeded in hitting some or all of your objectives, but don’t beat yourself up if you didn’t check off every item on your list. Taking time to assess what didn’t work and why is also an essential aspect of strategy planning for the next 12 months.

Moving from broadcast messaging (one message to everybody) to First-Person Marketing (improving the accuracy and relevance of marketing messages, allowing greater optimization and personalization, leading to automated 1-2-1 communication) will take a major shift in thinking and planning.

My idea, detailed below, will help you formulate an initial strategy and then give you a method to keep collecting research all year long, yielding data you can turn into new strategies for First-Person Marketing in 2018.

Set up a year-long consumer panel. Before you schedule your strategy day, pick 10 or 15 customers out of your email database and interview them about your email program. This would be an excellent exercise to help new team members connect their work with customers’ viewpoints.

Aim for a mix of new and longtime customers, buyers as well as non-buyers, and a demographic representation that reflects your database.

Contact the panel members individually, and interview them about your email program. How many of your emails do they open? Do they read them completely or just glance at them? What do they like or dislike about the content, format, relevance or frequency? Do they read transactional emails or alerts, or just your newsletters?

Use terms that your customers will understand. Instead of asking if they read transactional emails, ask, “Do you read the emails we send after you buy something?”

Have your interviewers report on what they learned at your strategy day. Discuss it as a group and use these preliminary findings to begin shaping a strategy for First-Person Marketing.  Naturally not all feedback is valid, but the interviews should yield some direction.

Stay in touch with your panel all year long. Re-interview members on different topics. Because they’re tainted from their first interviews, they’ll focus harder on your emails and should provide stronger feedback.

At the end of the year, see if your panelists changed their email thoughts and habits. Did they open more messages? Act on them more often? Did they buy more?

I’m not asking you to set up a personal relationship with every customer just to get more sales. What I want you to see for yourself is whether the personal touch changes your readers’ habits.

If you can build engagement just by reaching out personally, what results could you get if you were to use the data you already have on your customers to start segmenting your database and targeting messages to those segments instead of just sending the same message to everyone?

Why you should plan a ‘First-Person Marketing’ strategy

We already know email blows away every other marketing channel for ROI. If your own ROI is this good as a whole, and you’re not doing anything smart, what would happen if you did start being smart, as in using data to make your messages even more relevant and meaningful to your recipients?

I predict you’d see a fundamental increase in your results – achieving more goals and making more money. That’s why a strategy day can repay the time and effort you put into it.