Improving Email Marketing Performance Through Organizational Design

Email marketing is present in almost every customer-facing organization. It’s handled by a team of experts, outsourced to a marketing agency or controlled by a single guru, depending on the company’s size and complexity. Though it’s not obvious, the organizational structure the company adopted affects its performance.

What’s the minimum time between deciding to create a newsletter and pressing the “send” button?

How does the orchestration of global campaigns among multiple countries work?

The answers to these and other questions impact the value delivered by email marketing as much as frequency, personalization, etc.

But, organizational structure issues are more difficult to detect and act upon.

Let’s explore the five main challenges faced by those responsible for email marketing due to the internal dynamics of their companies.

1. Overuse – because it’s free, right?

A few years ago, I got a call from my company’s customer care department. Their request shocked me: they wanted to send a newsletter to inform our subscribers that we had changed the support phone number. When I tried to argue that maybe it wasn’t a good idea, the other side replied “But what’s the problem? Email’s free, right?”.

From a purely financial perspective, that person was right. Even after proportionally allocating implementation fees, licenses, etc., sending a newsletter has a small cost. Yet, he was not aware of less transparent effects, such as the loss of subscribers after an irrelevant newsletter, or the opportunity cost of communicating something unmemorable instead of something interesting.

Although it takes some time to educate your organization on what’s “right” and “wrong” in email marketing, people eventually get it. Having strong gatekeeping principles, sharing details on the impact of non-performing messages, or even establishing a virtual cost system (in which departments get a limited number of credits every month) help rationalize the use of your database.

2. Priority setting – whose campaign is more important?

Email marketing is effective. Once marketers learn that, they incorporate email to every single marketing plan they develop. In complex organizations, where many departments make use of the channel, priority conflicts emerge.

One beautiful morning I discovered that there was a sales campaign, a product launch, and a regional loyalty newsletter planned for the very same day. All of them were important and couldn’t be postponed. Also, they targeted segments of the database with a huge overlap.

There’s no standard approach to handle those situations. When it’s unclear which campaign brings the greatest value, you can try blending emails, using different segmentation criteria to eliminate overlapping, relaxing frequency caps or even tossing a coin. However, it’s crucial that a single (and ideally impartial) team makes the decision. One that understands the consequences of choosing each option. Otherwise, you risk turning a difficult choice into a contest.

3. Ownership – who should lead email marketing?

Email marketing started as a subsegment of direct marketing. As its potential became more evident, a number of departments quickly volunteered to take control of the emerging communication channel.

Newly created CRM teams, online sales sections, marketing heads, corporate communications managers, IT directors… all argued that it’d be best if email marketing was taken care of under their roof. All proposals were backed by some very good reasons. Leading an email program requires a blend of IT, commercial and communication skills, which is difficult to find in a single department.

Most organizations used the answer to “who gets more benefit from email marketing?” to determine where it fit. The issue with this approach was that, in some cases, the channel was not used up to its full potential. It happened due to an opportunistic and exclusive focus on the end goal of the leading department.

Probably, “which team is better equipped to create the highest value for the organization?” would have been a better question. Some aspects that should have been considered: who’s able to exercise proper governance; who has the IT skills to handle integrations with the website and other digital touchpoints; who is commercially savvy enough to spot the highest revenue opportunities; who has the copywriting and web-design skills to provide a premium execution.

4. Centralized vs. localized structure – speed or consistency?

Email marketing is a collective effort. No matter if only one part of the company manages it or creates the newsletters. Multiple teams have a role in the processes that start with briefing and end with the analysis of results. Things are even more intricate in multinational organizations, where global campaigns often mean sending hundreds of newsletters in multiple languages on the very same day.

Depending on the level of complexity and capabilities of your email marketing tool, you might have to make certain choices to increase speed to market. Should you use the same copy for all countries? Will you outsource the translations to an external agency? Will a central team create and send all newsletters based on briefs by different users? Will you create a template and let each user modify and create their own newsletter?

Again, there are no easy answers to those questions, but to determine the right path, consider the skill levels of different teams, decide if speed or consistency is more important for your brand, and see if outsourcing is something you can afford.

5. Blame game – whose fault is it?

If you have been in this game long enough, you probably have experienced at least one “oh sh**” moment. The worst one I remember happened when we sent a newsletter to country X. It was designed for country Y, from which country X had become independent some years before. The outrage on social media was almost immediate.

Making mistakes is human. Making them in those stressful moments when you’re delivering a multi-country multi-channel campaign is almost inevitable. However, remember you can always turn challenges into opportunities. Depending on your brand’s personality, you can offer a sincere apology, crack a joke or even improvise a commercial campaign out of your error.

While you cannot avoid mistakes, you can surely work on minimizing them. Having robust governance practices is extremely helpful. Making sure there are at least four pairs of eyes on every newsletter, using spell-checks to avoid typos, testing email rendering in all available devices, or defining strict user rights within your ESP accounts can really make a difference.

If you want to learn what are the 6 biggest challenges that teams should overcome to improve communication, read 6 Internal Communication Challenges that Kill Your Company’s Productivity.

Author: Angel Lorente Paramo – Former global head of emarketing at Qatar Airways.

Improving Email Marketing Performance Through Organizational Design

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