Originally published in MediaPost’s Email Insider, 9-19-12.
After the annual August lull when most of the country seems to carve out at least one week to take a vacation, the soccer fields, 5K routes, hockey rinks, cyclocross courses and other competitive venues are once again filled with grown adults reliving their adolescent athletic dreams. OK, our adolescent athletic dreams – I count myself among them. In fact, I expect a lot of email marketers suit up for competition on weekends. If you spend your weeks jostling for position and results in the inbox, it is only natural your competitive streak extends to extra-curricular events on Saturday and Sunday.
The hardest part about being a weekend warrior is probably also what is most rewarding – competing against people who have more time and resources than you do. If you do well against these people, you can be proud of your accomplishments. The same is true for email marketing. Many messages in your subscribers’ inboxes arrived there through the efforts of the industry’s leading professionals – entire teams and agencies devoted to the channel, with reams of research, terabytes of behavioral data and the leading technology at their disposal. They’re the ringers, and fair or not, your message is up against theirs in the battle for attention.
Even if you don’t have the team, the time or the tools of the biggest brands, it is possible to compete – and succeed – as the email equivalent of a weekend warrior. Here are some of the obstacles you face, and how to get over them:
Outperformed by competitors who train more: There will always be someone who puts in more time than you do. In sports, the secret to improved performance on a limited time budget is to train smarter and more purposefully, which many amateur athletes learn to do by hiring a coach or joining an established club. Experts can have a profound impact on performance in email as well. Hiring an email consultant not only allows your brand to benefit from his or her expertise, but the expense helps ensure that you actually act on the advice you are given. You can tap the collective expertise of a team or club by attending conferences, joining LinkedIn groups and making the most out of your time on Mediapost by participating in conversations in the comments. Resources abound to help you make up in quality what you lack in quantity.
Frustrated by mediocre results: Every time you compete, you develop a little more feel for the game. Part of it is the physical tuning competition builds, but strategy, tactics, nerves, instincts and vision all improve with the familiarity of competition. In sports, one way to get better results is just to compete more. The same is true for email, so put yourself in a live game scenario as often as possible. Create niche newsletters and other segmented messages that put your skills to test more frequently, and give you the chance to measure them. Create triggered campaigns and overhaul your auto-generated transactional messages. Create content for social channels as a sort of competitive cross-training. The more time you can spend actually creating the messages you want to perform well, the more natural the process will become and the easier it will be to turn to the marginal gains and advanced tactics of the game.
Prone to injury: Sometimes we compete when our bodies are not quite as finely tuned as our minds remember them being. When you are not fit, limber and well-conditioned, subjecting yourself to the rigors of competition often results in pulled muscles, strained ligaments, and aching joints. The email equivalent is causing injury to your sender reputation through improperly managed deliverability tactics, and damaging engagement with messages that are not targeted and relevant. In the inbox and on game day proper preparation is key, which means not just readying what you hope to go well, but also anticipating and preventing what could go wrong. You hope you never need to use the emergency contact number you’re asked to fill out when you join the league or race, same as the crisis management plan you should put in place in the event you send to the wrong group or publish a message with inaccurate information.
Whether we compete because we enjoy it, or because (like winter camping) we enjoy having done it, the motivation is the same – to challenge ourselves and improve. As long as we’re in the game, we might as well win.