Four Unexpected Investment Areas For 2017

Posted by George Bilbrey on

When I talk to email marketers about their plans for 2017, it’s what I don’t hear that’s interesting. Marketers are primarily focused on building a better email marketing program mix and building better messages inside those programs. They discuss adding new email program types,  incorporating open-time personalization, using predictive algorithms to put the right offers and calls-to-action in front of the client, optimizing subject lines, and other investments.

No doubt, many of these investments will drive improved performance in 2017.  However,  there are four fundamental areas where major investment doesn’t appear to be planned for 2017:

1. Increasing the  size of their subscriber list
2. Increasing the quality of their list
3. Improving inbox placement
4. Sending at the right frequency/cadence

Looking at the data from over two million consumer mailboxes has  highlighted these four drivers as important factors that differentiate “average” from “best-in-class” marketers. Programs that address these levers should be on your 2017 wish list.

List size: What’s surprising is how the ratio of unique subscribers to Web traffic varies dramatically across marketers in the same industry. It should be no surprise that a larger list allows marketers to drive more opens, clicks and revenue from their email marketing programs.

List quality: This is a very important but less appreciated driver of email performance. Not all mailboxes are created equal. Marketers that have a higher proportion of “primary” mailboxes on their lists drive a higher number of reads per message, reads per subscriber per month,and revenue per subscriber. If you have a lot of “secondary” mailboxes,  the drag on your program performance will be hard to overcome.

Inbox placement: Even in the world of subscriber level engagement-based filtering, where less engaged subscribers  have their mail placed in the junk folder, we still see a lot of mail to valuable mailboxes placed in the junk mail folder. Still, according to what I’ve seen from clients, the broader market may be more focused on deliverability in 2017.

Cadence/frequency: Finding the right frequency is important. Sending too many messages drives high unsubscribes and complaints, making it hard for marketers to grow their list. Send too few, and you lose out on the opportunity to drive clicks, opens and revenue.

So what are the kinds of investments you can make? The following is a starter list:

First you need to know if you have an opportunity to improve these levers.

  • Measure the size and growth of your list vs. competition (and relative to Web traffic) using competitive reporting services.
  • Use competitive reporting services to take a look at the composition of your lists relative to other email marketers.
  • Use cohort analysis to see if your subscribers have been getting better over time.
  • Measure your true inbox placement using seed lists and consumer panels.
  • Take a look at your unsubscribe and complaint rates to see how much they are costing you.  If they are significantly higher than benchmarks, you may be sending too frequently.

Look at ways to “organically” grow your list. Converting more of the Web traffic that is on your site into subscribers increases both the size of your list and list quality. Some tactics can include:

  • Test your on-page subscription forms.
  • Test using “lightboxes” to prompt site visitors to sign up for your list (typically  when it looks like they may exit the site).
  • Take a look at the kinds of offers/incentives you use to get clients to sign up for your list.
  • Consider providing more options at sign up: additional programs to subscribe to, and more frequency choices.

Double down on those acquisition sources that drive better list quality. If you have the ability to understand the source of site traffic and link to a subscription, you can take a look at the quality of the subscriber by source. Invest more in those sources that drive better mailbox quality.

Test cadence to improve inbox placement, opens, clicks and revenue. Segment your list by activity level and test different frequencies by segment — particularly for larger “batch” campaigns. Try to optimize for subscriber lifetime value by segment by balancing the open/click/revenue-generated with “terminations” (unsubscribes and complaints). At mailbox providers that use engagement-based filtering, this tends to drive improved inbox placement.

What do you think? What’s in your 2017 plans?

This article originally appeared on Media Post.


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About George Bilbrey

George Bilbrey is the founder of the industry’s first deliverability service provider, Assurance Systems, which merged with Return Path in 2003. He is a recognized expert on the subjects of email reputation and deliverability and is active in many industry organizations, including the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group (MAAWG) and the Online Trust Alliance (OTA). In his role as president of Return Path George is the driving force behind the ongoing innovation of our products and services. Prior to Return Path, George served as Director of Product Management at Worldprints.com and as a partner in the telecommunications group at Mercer Management Consulting. He holds a B.A. in economics from Duke University, and an MBA from the Kenan-Flagler School of Business, University of North Carolina.

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