Mike May, Director of Insights

As an email marketer, I’m fond of case studies. I attend conferences to hear them, scour the trades to read them, and pick the brains of other email marketers to surreptitiously discover them. I feel pretty strongly that one of the best ways to get smart about email marketing and about how to use Real Magnet’s products is to learn how your contemporaries are doing it – within your industry and in others.

But the one way I know of to get even smarter about email marketing than reading case studies is to write them. The act of writing your own case study – about how and how effectively your organization uses email – brings clarity and candor to the practice and requires you to truthfully assess the discipline and strategy you bring to the practice. And the finished product – even if intended only for your internal colleagues’ eyes –  invites the constructive feedback of other stakeholders.

Why not try it? Follow these steps to create a case study of your own, and see if you don’t become your own best student in the process:

1. Define the scope of your case study. The narrower the better. As an email marketer you’d be less interested in a colleague presenting on “How we approach email marketing” than you would “A/B Testing for Open Rate Improvement” or “Mobile Subscription Channel Launch and Adoption.” Hidden in this step is the principal reason writing your own email case study is so valuable: in order to have a case study to write, you need to have initiatives within your email program worth chronicling. If the only case study topic you can come up with is “Lessons on Sending out a Lot of Emails and Hoping for the Best” then you’ve already learned something from this process that you might not pick up reading someone else’s case study.

2. Outline the success metrics. As you’re preparing to write your case study, include a list of all the metrics you decided previously to use in order to measure the success of your initiative. For example, if your case study is on “The Launch of a Niche Newsletter to a subset of our Subscriber Base,” your success metrics might include total subscribers by time, percent of house list who subscribers, percent of target niche who subscribes, as well as open-rate and click metrics from the niche newsletter compared to the primary. As above, it’s possible you might not have articulated the success metrics for your initiative at the outset of the initiative, so your case study work becomes a little retroactive. The act of writing the case study is a good reminder that these metrics are critical from the very beginning of a project, and should help you remember to define them proactively with your next case study worthy initiative.

3. Compile your data into tables and graphs. It’s useful to be able to say at a marketing meeting, “The open rate on our emails has been increasing.” But it’s much more insightful to show a table with the open rate by message over the past year. Better still, roll out a line graph charting the open rate from message to message so that it’s easier to isolate the changes and trace back their causes, and draw some conclusions about future trends as well. Visual representation of data does take some work, but is extremely powerful in communicating key findings and inviting productive feedback and follow-up questions. Inevitably, the marketer to glean the most from the graphs is the one who prepared them in the first place.

4. Reflect on what might have been. Now that you’ve compiled your data, made your charts and drawn your conclusions, step back and play a couple rounds of “what if?” Is there a conclusion you’d like to be able to draw but didn’t capture the necessary data in the process? Do ideas appear for how to improve the initiative itself next time based on the data and conclusions you’ve laid out? If you could start the whole thing all over again, what would you change? Include all this within your case study – in part to catalog some of the learning you’ve achieved merely by preparing the case study, and in part to set the course for the next email initiative or case study which will include these very improvements.