Sponsored by Litmus

If you've been in marketing long enough, you've experienced the joy of a perfectly executed email campaign. Open and clickthrough rates shoot through the roof. Conversion skyrockets from that call to action you and your team thoughtfully crafted. And you see the kind of ROI that makes it easy to create a case for increased investment in the channel.

That said, you've also probably experienced a campaign or two that fell completely flat.

Thankfully, considering email has an average return on investment of 42:1, face-palm failures with email marketing tend to be few and far between. But they can happen—often driven by a handful of common mistakes and challenges.

The Factors Marketers Say Kill Their Campaigns

To be clear, email marketing remains one of the most effective tools for building long-term relationships with an audience. Done right, it delivers measurable results that outperform most other channels' (for comparison's sake, radio ROI hovers around 6:1, and television ad ROI is around 1.3:1).

But when email is done wrong, marketers leave money on the table with every send.

So, what are the roadblocks that stand in the way of optimizing email ROI? Litmus surveyed more than 500 marketers in early 2019 and found some common themes, including the following five.

1. Data Quality and Integration With Other Systems

This one ranked at the top of our survey: 18% of marketers surveyed listed it as their primary challenge. The biggest culprit: data locked in silos or isolated in systems that don't communicate with each other.

If you lack context on your audience, specific segment attributes or behavior, or you lack an understanding of which campaigns have delivered conversion, email marketing becomes a guessing game—and guessing rarely leads to high ROI.

Tips to address this challenge: Identify the data you do have access to and where it lives. From there, you can prioritize integration efforts to simplify execution and see payoffs sooner. You don't have to tackle everything at once. Start with the low hanging fruit that will set the foundation for bigger integration efforts in the future.

2. Poor Coordination Across Teams and Channels

Customers experience your brand through multiple interactions with multiple departments across your company. If you fail to integrate your email strategy with other parts of the organization, your program performance will suffer. Email marketing can no longer afford to operate as a silo, because subscribers don't experience email as an isolated channel.

Tips to address this challenge: Create a set of shared KPIs across channels and departments to ensure everyone is on the same page, and ensure all teams have visibility into the performance of other teams' channels (e.g., the email team can see your most popular site search terms). Doing so will enable everyone to see how various activities affect customer engagement and behavior, as well as to make improvements where bottlenecks exist.

3. Limitations of Current Systems and Tools

Thanks to the proliferation of marketing technology, marketers have hundreds of email service providers (ESPs) to choose from. If your team feels limited by your current provider, it may be because you've outgrown the provider's capabilities or you were a mismatch from the beginning.

That said, before you rush into a big change, understand why your current system isn't living up to your expectations.

Tips to address this challenge: Switching ESPs is a major undertaking and involves considerable risks. Fully account for the effort of migrating existing campaigns and automations, training your staff, and updating integrations with other tools and data sources. Ask your team to clearly define what functionality is missing, and encourage them to explore supplemental tools that improve your ESP's capabilities. Often, you can dramatically improve your current ESP through enhancements, like email testing tools and advanced analytics functionality.

4. Lack of Visibility Into Email Performance

Email KPIs and performance data can be powerful—provided they're being informed by accurate, complete data and they're giving your team complete confidence to make good decisions. Unfortunately, many email teams lack the data or visibility they need to create well-conceived goals. That shortcoming can lead to a lot of guesswork and false confidence in metrics that aren't indicative of actual email performance.

Tips to address this challenge: Fully leverage the existing performance data from your ESP, and consider feeding conversion data into your ESP to get end-to-end email performance visibility. More than 63% of marketers supplement the data provided by their ESP with additional third-party analytics, according to Litmus's State of Email Analytics report.

5. Misaligned Strategy and Poor Leadership Focus

Optimization and new tools won't do much to improve a bad strategy or an organization that's under-resourced for the goals it wants to achieve.

Too often, a company's email program is focused on the brand's needs, with the customer experience a distant second. That approach drives brands to "send another email," use misleading subject lines, and engage in other relationship-damaging behaviors. Litmus's survey found that 52% of marketers say executives at their company have forced the email marketing team to do something they were strongly against doing.

Tips to address this challenge: If you're a marketing leader, start by investing in a strong email marketing team and providing clear direction by setting measurable goals—and trusting that team to make the right decisions on how to achieve those goals. Instead of cheap gimmicks and tricks, focus on improving the relevance of your emails by creating room for projects that break your routine: You might experiment with new coding or design techniques, or design a one-off email that's different from your standard template. Every experiment—successful or not—provides an opportunity for your team to learn and to be challenged.

Curious which trends and innovations are pushing the email marketing industry forward? Check out Litmus's 2019 State of Email Report here. And to dive into what leads to better ROI in email marketing, read this post on the levers that marketers can pull to improve their email returns.


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Litmus is the easiest way for teams to create great email for every subscriber, everywhere. Litmus is an email creation, testing, and analytics platform that empowers marketers and designers to confidently deliver superior customer experiences.