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Welcome to the New Year! I hope you've recharged your batteries and are ready to start a successful 2008.

And if you haven't done it yet, now is the perfect time to map out plans for your email program. Any changes you might make in the first few months of the year will stand you in good stead.

Resolve to do your homework

Good planning starts with analysis. Have you compared your overall results with available industry benchmarks? There are many sources for this information, but one to check is email provider Bronto. Though your own metrics are more important, you will have a gauge for how well your program is working in comparison with those of your peers.

Drill down deeper and look at results from the types of campaigns you send. Many email marketers vary the cadence of their messaging. They send e-newsletters, product or service promotions, general-themed promotions, and more. Are there variations in your results? If certain types of emails are stronger, attempt to discern what makes them work. If some campaigns are weaker, you may need to try a new communications strategy for those.

And, take the time to analyze your list. Is your list size growing substantially each year? Is your list showing any fatigue in terms of open and click-through rates? If so, you might want to look at frequency. Have you analyzed performance by the source of the names? Email sign ups from your Web site should be the most productive. Other marketing techniques such as co-registration, contests, or appending may not be as effective. If you find that's so, you might want to tighten your permission practices for those sources.

What percentage of your list has not opened or clicked on a message in four to six months? Possibly a substantial part of your file. Put a plan in place to re-engage them. Some common techniques are to ask recipients to update their preferences, special time-sensitive offers, and text or HTML-lite messages (to overcome potential delivery or image-blocking problems). After one or more reactivation efforts, it may be time to take a big step and selectively prune your list.

Resolve to test new email features or capabilities

Email programs should never be on autopilot. There are great features and capabilities that should be part of your email marketing toolkit. For a well-rounded program, you should include the following features:

  1. A preference center. Today the power is in the hands of your recipients. Make sure they can alter their information and preferences. If you already have such a facility in place, perhaps it is time to add additional features, such as giving them the choice to indicate specific topics or products of interest or the ability to decide how often they want to hear from you.
  2. Triggered messaging. If you are an e-commerce marketer, you should definitely have an abandoned-shopping-cart program in place to recapture lost sales. Consider putting triggered messaging in place for email recipients who clicked through to your site and browsed, but did not purchase. You might start this simply and choose only your top products or services. Or, launch a cross-sell initiative for purchasers. Each of these techniques will improve the relevance of your programs and increase sales.
  3. Segmentation. This is important to your email success and should be part of your communications strategy. Some common elements used to segment are geography, gender, past purchase behavior, demonstrated interest from click-throughs, and the length of time the person has been on the list. If you're not segmenting, set a goal to test one or two factors. If you already see the value of using this technique, it's time to test additional groups. Dynamic personalization makes it relatively easy to set up and monitor results.
  4. Social networking. There's certainly a lot of buzz about blogs and customer reviews. They may not be right for everyone, but more marketers are experimenting with ways to increase interaction and the overall user experience on their sites. And, email is a perfect way to promote any new features you incorporate into your online presence.

Resolve to make your emails work harder

Take a hard look at your email template designs and make sure they put your best foot forward. I continue to be surprised that many emails I receive make no effective use of the preview pane.

Many do not include a link to view the HTML version. Since image blocking is a major issue, this is almost a mandatory element to include. You may also want to include headlines to support your subject line, additional personalization, or even a newsletter table of contents.

View your emails with images disabled. Is there enough supporting text to still stimulate interest and activity? Too many emails I receive are composed of a single large image. It takes more time to hand-code messages with images and text, but it is well worth the trouble. It is very easy to test whether this makes a major impact on your results.

Is it time to develop some new templates? Get your creative team to develop some new prototypes for the various types of campaigns you conduct. An updated look and feel can breathe new life into your program.

Resolve to focus on the customer

Finally, think hard about ways to amaze and delight your email recipients. That effort will make your emails stand out in a cluttered inbox and improve your performance.

My favorite technique is to introduce value-added content such as tips, interesting factoids, or user-generated content. You could also provide the opportunity to interact—via polls, an Ask the Expert feature, or periodic contests or games.

Any plans or changes that you implement in the first quarter should pay dividends for the balance of the year. I hope that I've given you food for thought and that you'll put several of these ideas into practice.

Have a great 2008!

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image of Reggie Brady

Reggie Brady is president of Reggie Brady Marketing Solutions (, a direct and email marketing consultancy. She can be reached at (203) 838-8138 or

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