How to Harness the Power of Agile Data-Driven Email Marketing

For many companies utilizing a digital marketing strategy, email marketing is a no-brainer. Its low costs, scalability, and ample available data all make it exceptionally appealing.

However, this doesn’t mean there aren’t risks and pitfalls. Bad email marketing can harm your relationships with your customers and even get you put on a spam list if you aren’t careful. The best way to avoid these problems is using Agile data-driven email marketing. Below, we break down all the steps and processes you need to do just that.

What is Data-driven Email Marketing?

Put simply, this is when you use data as the main driver of your marketing email optimization strategy. Instead of just throwing tactics at the wall to see what sticks, it means crafting testable hypotheses, testing them, and then incorporating your findings into your next set of hypotheses. 

If that sounds familiar, it’s because you probably learned about the scientific method in high school. Turns out, using the same scientific approach in email marketing is a great way to continuously optimize your marketing emails with confidence, maximizing your results.

Data driven email marketing graphic

So what’s Agile email marketing?

Agile methods are the perfect complement to a data-driven email marketing strategy. They involve being nimble, flexible, and adaptable as you test your ideas. Agile email marketers focus on creating customer value above all else.

So instead of spending two weeks creating a single email which likely isn’t going to teach you anything significant, Agile email marketers are more focused. Instead of juggling lots of in-progress emails at once, they focus on rapidly completing them so those emails can be turned into useful insights as soon as possible. 

In practice, this means being clear about what the customer’s needs are and then conducting rapid testing to find the best way to meet those needs. After all, you can have all the great data in the world, but if you can’t use it to rapidly evolve your strategy to meet customer needs then it’s not doing much for you. This is why a great data-driven email marketing strategy needs to be Agile.

Start with the Right Platform

Before you start with email marketing you really need a dedicated platform to do it. Your Gmail or Outlook account isn’t going to cut it. Fortunately, these days, email marketers are spoiled for choice. In particular, just about any of the major email marketing platforms can easily be used in an Agile way. For our Agile email marketing we use HubSpot and MailChimp so we can recommend both.

Here are a few factors you’ll want to consider:

  • Drag and drop functionality is great because it shortens the learning curve for creating and editing your emails.
  • Integrations are critical, so check whether a particular piece of email marketing software can effectively integrate with the other marketing tools you rely on.
  • How does the software handle A/B testing and data visualization? Make sure you’re ready to track the metrics you need (more on those in a bit).
  • Does the software have powerful personalization and segmentation capabilities?
  • How easy is the software to use?
  • Is the support good so you can quickly get issues resolved and get back to work?
  • Do you want the ability to do deeper customization in HTML? If so, make sure this is an option.

Better Email Optimization Starts with the Right Metrics

Data-driven email marketing begins with choosing the right metrics to focus on. With Agile, choosing those metrics should revolve around which ones deliver the most value to your stakeholders (these are the people you’re ultimately doing email marketing for, whether that’s senior management or a client).

So begin by asking what your stakeholders want to achieve through email marketing. These goals should be specific, measurable, and focus on end-value. For example, your end-goal for your stakeholder shouldn’t be to lower your email bounce rate because that’s a middle metric. In other words, lowering your bounce rate is important because it gets you closer to an end goal of reaching more customers.

A good stakeholder goal to aim for would be something like increasing sales through email marketing. You can track your progress to that goal via several different metrics, but the key is to keep your eye on that final mission. It’s too easy to get excited that you’re improving something like your deliverability rate even if that’s not contributing to achieving value for your stakeholders (AKA falling prey to vanity metrics).

Here are some common email marketing metrics you’ll want to consider tracking even if they might not be your ultimate end-goal metric:

  • ROI
  • Conversion rate
  • Click-through rate
  • Revenue per subscriber
  • Bounce rate
  • Open rate
  • Deliverability rate
Email marketing metrics

Find and set reasonable benchmarks

Once you’ve chosen which metrics you want to focus on, you can start by establishing some baselines. Some quick research will usually show you what the standard baselines are for your specific industry.

Suggest researching standard benchmarks for your industry and use these as a baseline for yourself. Here is a large set of industry benchmarks you can use as a starting point.

Armed with this information, you can quickly determine whether your emails are performing well or whether you need to make some improvements right away. Ultimately, the most important benchmarks will be your own, but knowing where you stand relative to your competitors is a helpful way to gain perspective in the early days.

Test, Test, and Test Some More

Once your first email marketing campaigns are set up it’s time to begin testing. This is where far too many marketers start to make small mistakes which end up costing them in the long run. The trap is not setting up a test properly such that there’s no way to learn anything from it.

So how do you avoid this trap?

Start by making sure you test a single thing. For example, if you wanted to test longer subject lines and a new style of subject line simultaneously, you won’t be able to determine which one made the difference so the test will be a waste of time. Also, don’t just test for the sake of testing, test because there’s something you want to know.

Then, you want to be sure your results are statistically significant. This may sound quite technical but it’s actually extremely important. You might run an A/B test and find that A performed 8% better than B. So you should assume A is better and change your strategy accordingly, right?

Well, no.

If your results aren’t statistically significant, then you could easily end up harming your overall strategy by making what are, in effect, random changes. Fortunately, there are plenty of simple tools for checking whether your results are worth acting on. There are also many other A/B testing mistakes you’ll want to avoid.

In most cases, the email marketing platform you’re using will have a built-in tool for this. Following the best practices offered there is a great starting point. If you’re wondering what you should try testing, Hubspot has a nice guide with helpful suggestions.

How to Optimize Your Emails Based on Data

Once you’ve run a test and confirmed the results are statistically significant, you can try implementing the changes. But be aware that sometimes you may see decent results from a change initially but those results will fade over time. That’s why data-based email optimization should be a continuous process. After all, if there were a single perfect unimprovable email strategy, we’d have found it by now.

So always second-guess your conclusions. It’s entirely possible that a strategy which worked tremendously well a year ago won’t work well at all now.

Data-driven Email Marketing Examples

To get a better idea of what this process looks like in action, you should check out email marketing examples to better understand not just other companies’ best practices but how they arrived at them.

But one example from our own experience illustrates just what a well-executed and data-driven email marketing agency is capable of.

In October 2020, we were noticing that an email list we ran was not expanding anymore. So we wanted to find a way to leverage our existing subscribers to grow the list. We developed an idea to encourage subscribers to share our content with their peers while also actively agreeing to receive future content.

Nearly 5,000 emails were sent out inviting people to enter to win a free seat in the event and to forward this opportunity to their peers.

The campaign ended up generating 50+ new subscribers and resulted in that class selling out. One key balance to strike was using words like “win” and “free” without triggering spam filters (another reason why it’s so critical to ensure you send quality emails to avoid getting marked as spam).

Another insight was deciding that even those who did not win free spots would still get a 30% discount for buying a ticket. This enabled us to write that they had won regardless of whether they had won the free ticket or not. These emails got open rates of nearly 60% and click-through rates of over 20%, results we were very happy with.

Funny enough, we had noticed that simply offering people 30% off the price of a ticket garnered very few responses. But framing that 30% off as something they won vastly increased how many people used the discount to sign up.

This was a good example of how the data you use for email optimization shouldn’t only be quantitative. Qualitative data and thinking seriously about human psychology gave us insights into how we could frame the same 30% off in a unique way to improve responses.

Start with a Data-driven Agile Email Marketing Agency

It takes a long time to learn all the tricks for truly excellent email marketing. The fastest way to unlock the enormous potential of email marketing is by hiring the right people. We’re seasoned Agile marketers with years of email marketing experience under our belts. Get in touch to learn more about how we can help you achieve your goals.

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