Now that the first quarter of the year behind us, what will you do to maximize email marketing's contribution to your bottom line from here on out?

Improving email open and click-through rates is an ever-present task, but I encourage you to expand your focus beyond mere campaign-by-campaign process metrics and instead try program-level objectives on for size.

Challenge yourself with the following three worthy email performance improvement objectives for the remainder of your marketing and business year.

1. Increase subscriber engagement

Truly increasing subscriber engagement with your email campaigns means much more than merely boosting open and click-through rates, although both are important measures of engagement. It means analyzing open and click-through reach—that is, the proportion of your subscriber base, among all subscribers, who have opened or clicked at least one message over a period of time.

True subscriber engagement analysis measures not just how subscribers are performing over individual campaigns but how they are interacting with your entire program—and your brand... and your company. If your email subscribers are also customers, then what such analysis really tells you is what your customers are doing with your email.

Look beyond campaign-by-campaign open and click-through rates, and even aggregate YTD equivalents, and measure the breadth of subscribers who have opened or clicked, as well as their depth of their activity. Doing so will allow you to map a frequency distribution of openers and clickers across your entire list, making it possible for you to see exactly who is highly engaged, who is barely hanging on, and who is completely inactive; you can then segment for unique messaging to each group.

A solid subscriber engagement analysis can reveal important insights, such as whether your engaged population is diverse and widespread, or highly clustered into a group of the same people time after time.

2. Increase revenue per subscriber (RPS) or revenue per email

If you can attribute revenue—directly or indirectly—to email as a channel, then challenge yourself to increase revenue per subscriber. (B2B and lead nurturing marketers, I know, I know... revenue attribution to email can be a beast). Still, this one's worth a try.

Revenue per subscriber (email list member) is a relatively simple calculation you can conduct campaign by campaign or for a period of time (a quarter or year); it derives the average revenue generated per email subscriber on your list. (To refresh your memory, see "Determining Subscriber Value: What's an Email List Member Worth?")

Challenging yourself to grow RPS is potentially two-pronged. On the one hand, if you increase subscriber engagement (see challenge No. 1), chances are you'll increase overall sales from email, at least temporarily. On the other hand, you might need to increase either conversion rate or average order value (AOV)—or both—to significantly improve RPS if open/click engagement is already optimal.

Accepting this challenge means you're willing to deep-dive into where exactly in the conversion path response is falling off, as well as experiment in conversion optimization by testing segmentation, offers, creative, and more.

3. Increase (or begin) behaviorally triggered email campaigns

If you're not using triggered email, you're missing out on the highest ROI-producing email messages you can send. Research has found that behaviorally targeted trigger email campaigns achieve 30% higher open and click-through rates and three times the conversion rates of broadcast email (that's even higher response than what tightly segmented broadcast campaigns receive).

When you can track and measure customer interaction and response behavior, it's possible to send highly specific and relevant emails to subscribers at exactly the optimum moment for communicating to them based on a specified time, date, event, or action/inaction.

Marketers who employ triggered email are able to program each element of a triggered campaign, including the following:

  • The event, action or specified time (the "trigger") that initiates the sending of an email
  • Timing delays for scheduling and initiating message delivery
  • The subject line and content of the message
  • The person (or the characteristics of a group of persons) who should receive the triggered message
  • The cadence of messages in a sequence, or "track"
  • The number of messages in a track

Common types of triggered email campaigns include the following:

  • Welcome messages
  • Purchase "thank you" (bounceback campaigns)
  • Upsell/Cross-sell (suggested next purchase)
  • Lead nurturing series
  • Educational series
  • Renew/replenish offers
  • Birthday and customer anniversary emails
  • Reactivation

If you're still employing a mostly broadcast, one-size-fits-all email marketing strategy, it's high time to supplement it with behaviorally driven triggered programs. True, you'll have to invest some time thinking through your trigger points, mapping a messaging strategy, and setting up deployment rules, but even the most basic of email platforms include marketing automation that can accommodate this approach.

If you know you're behind the curve in using behaviorally driven email, or if getting it set up has been relegated to the back burner for far too long, then of the three challenges here, begin with this one.

* * *

What do you think? What have been your biggest growth challenges and successes when you met them? Tell me in comments below which of the above you're already doing (or plan to do), and how you're progressing or what you've learned. And, of course, if you're stuck, I'm here to help.

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Three Email Marketing Improvement Challenges for 2014

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image of Karen Talavera

Karen Talavera is the founder of Synchronicity Marketing, a company specializing in digital marketing training, coaching, and education.