Email marketing is a process. It is, among other things, about moving people through a cycle of events.

We can look at this cycle from the potential customer's perspective, from three different decision points the customer reaches upon receiving a promotional e-mail message.

At our agency we call this cycle, or chain of decision events, "OCC" for Open-Click-Complete. It is a process—so it truly deserves its own acronym.

The objective is to optimize messaging at each stage—or decision point—of this process in order to enhance response, thereby increasing overall campaign results. In order to accomplish this, it requires some creative segmentation capabilities and a little messaging know-how. (Not to mention a background in psychology, which doesn't hurt.)

To illustrate how the process might work, let's look at a simple hypothetical example of a subscription-based company with a house list of non-paid leads that were garnered by an offer for a free newsletter. The goal is to convert these leads to become subscribers to the company's paid publication.

We (the hypothetical marketers) develop our first promotion to these folks to get them to pay up. We create a catchy email and landing/transaction page, and even add a worthy premium to the mix. When all is said and done, response rates are so-so, with overall results falling short of our expectations.

Rather than sitting on our duffs and trying to analyze the thing to death, we decide to keep chipping away at what we've got in front of us. Using the decision points below as a guide, we realize that we have a ton of information to work with and there still may be life within certain segments of this audience...

Decision 1: To Open or Not To Open

First, let's look at the recipients that never opened the message. This likely represents a huge portion—50% or more—of the original list.

Provided this group is large enough, we pull them (the non-openers) out and segment them into a few statistically significant cells. We send each cell a new subject line and/or change the sender's, or "from," name or address. What does this do to our open rate?

Chances are good that we'll find some of the changes work better than others, and that some of the non-openers to the first message have opened up the new message based on a single and possibly simple change.

Perhaps this change lies in a new appeal in the subject line, or perhaps it's due to the message coming from a living person instead of an impersonal company. (Or vice versa, depending on how you launched the original message). Record and save those variables and continue to test and fine-tune them with each subsequent campaign.

Decision 2: Shall We Click?

Next we have the segment of the original list that did, in fact, open the message but wasn't interested enough in the offer to click through to the transaction page(s).

Again, this could be a sizable group. We realize that some of these folks may not have actually opened the message—their email program may simply be set to display all incoming messages in preview mode, which will make these recipients report in as "opens."

In fact, a good portion of this group may not have had any more interest in the message than the original non-opener group mentioned above. If indeed they saw only the previewed message, they may only have seen the top two or three inches of it.

Analyze this section of your promotion—does it say enough to make folks want to read further? If not, reformatting and/or reworking the introductory copy and headline may be all it takes to increase your clicks. If the numbers justify it, test various openings to this group of non-clickers.

Decision 3: Do You Want to Dance?

Next we have the odd ones—the list members who were interested enough to click through from the email message, but decided to jump ship once they hit the offer page. This group obviously won't be as large as the other two groups mentioned above, so testing may not be possible.

Take a hard, objective look at that landing page. Something is clearly missing or is not being communicated properly. Does the offer remain clear? Is the form too cumbersome or too long? Can you revise the form, and perhaps also revise some of the required form fields within it, for purposes of having these potential customers complete their first transaction?

Make some assumptions and apply them to your next campaign. It's all about getting potential customers over that hurdle and making that first commitment.

Of course, it can get a lot more complex than this. Rather than look at just one campaign, we can create "scores" for each segment—the openers/non-openers, the clickers/non-clickers and the converters/non-converters—and rate them based on how they complete each decision point over a series of campaigns.

We can then create customized messages based on the most pertinent previous trends and how list members interact with each previous message, and can cross-reference those data points with other valuable information we might have within our records, such as RFM (recency, frequency, monetary) data. That's when things start to REALLY get fun...

But let's save that for a future article, shall we?

In the meantime, if you're not applying even a bit of creative segmentation and customized messaging as in the digested hypothetical example above, think about doing so.

Yes, it will take more time and thought, but the enhanced results you can glean over a period of time can be well worth it. Bring it on.

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Kim MacPherson is founder and chief copywriter for Inbox Interactive (, one of the first agencies dedicated solely to email marketing. Reach her via