Many marketers for both big and small brands know the ‘right things to do’ yet fail to know how to get those right things done. A good case in point is email marketing, which is often decentralised and inadequately staffed.

An employee may be responsible for running an email program, but that person may not have any authority over the website, the database or creative content. The employee may end up spending a huge amount of their workday just focusing on email.

Fortunately companies are starting to allocate greater resources to email marketing, establishing full-time email marketing roles to manage the whole process across the company. This is very good news for the industry as traditionally email marketing within companies has been very much an ad hoc process with no clearly defined outline or strategic plan.

The nature of the ways emails are deployed has matured so much over the past couple of years and there is a definite need for dedicated email specialists to develop and implement the complicated strategies that have such a great impact on email marketing. According to Jupiter Research, only 38 percent of companies have a single department handling email communication, while a huge 24 percent have six or more. This leads to a lot of confusion and badly managed email marketing campaigns.

The email marketing manager role should allow for a dedicated person to be responsible for managing the entire chain of email activities including: privacy and opt-in policies, design and content development, centralised database management, vendor selection and management, delivery improvement, legal compliance, frequency management, segmentation strategies, list management, reporting, corporate email strategy and beyond. The director or manager of email marketing should be charged with enforcing guidelines on how often subscribers can be contacted and what kind of messaging they receive, which should all be based on subscriber opt-in preferences.

With many marketing teams currently trying to hold together their existing marketing roles, it makes sense to question how the business units in companies can avoid producing different results. For example, marketers in one group within a company may teach themselves how to test, optimise and segment email. Their counterparts in another group may blast away with little or no interest in what is working effectively. This is why centralised email marketing is really emerging as a ‘best practice’ within the industry.

Centralisation is all about putting a core team of email marketing specialists in place to handle the often complicated and laborious tasks most marketers are not quite equipped to handle. There are three approaches that could be used:

  • creating a completely centralised group that acts as an internal agency and handles every single aspect of every group’s email marketing program
  • tasking a central team with email oversight (business units still produce their own emails, yet the centralised function offers advice and oversees the execution), or
  • partnering the internal agency with an external company with a dedicated key contact to work in tandem.

It doesn’t really matter which approach you choose, although you do need dedicated specialists who are living and breathing email and who can understand the pitfalls, apply best practice and focus strategically on how to use email to drive business results.

The centralised team should take on those tasks that require email specific expertise. For example, the centralised team could share information with internal staff from brand managers to designers, to writers and website programmers.

External companies just focusing on email marketing are usually very well-informed regarding legislation that affects the industry, in this case spam legislation. Therefore, the team could also oversee permission and privacy policies that ensure compliance with the legislation, as well as any major changes to regulations. They can also control quality by enforcing email design, messaging and programming best practice.

Here are some additional benefits in having centralised email marketing:

  • all companies’ business units use different templates along with ‘from’ and ‘subject’ lines that have to make sense – this central team and external company partner can catch any brand-damaging mistakes such as incorrect links, broken images and offers that are no longer relevant
  • reporting can also be done by both teams to ensure the value of email marketing is communicated to management and across departments – in the language the boss understands
  • market research, such as customer satisfaction surveys, can also be managed to give all departments the customer feedback they need to better understand the user and accordingly improve offers, and
  • a centralised team will be best placed to manage vendors, agencies and technology – many companies discover that they are under contract to a number of email service providers and are working with multiple agencies or freelancers with varying degrees of expertise.

Implementing a centralised email system

The process of centralising the email marketing function can be broken down into four steps:

  1. Do some research or detective work to find out how much email is going out from your company and who is actually running each program.
  2. Make sure the company-wide inventory includes your company messaging from the CRM system, marketing teams’ campaigns and the websites’ transactional engine.
  3. Get buy-in from the bottom up and top down within the business that the current email marketing programs are not as effective as they could be. Marketers must agree that it is important to protect customers’ assets and brand reputation.
  4. Appoint a key contact internally and external agency who can manage email marketing. Both need to work in tandem to ensure effective email marketing strategies can take place.

The beauty of engaging an external agency is that they can also perform an inventory of your business and can review your organisation’s messages from the customer retention management system, the various marketing campaigns and can also track how much mail is going out and who runs each program.

I also recommend having a company-wide email marketing calendar. This could be developed by the external company managing your email marketing program; however, they would need a key contact within the business to help secure important information. It is a useful system for deciding who sends what and when. All departments would still have their say; however, they must all abide by this centralised schedule.

The usual principles still apply

Regardless of whether your email program is centralised or not, if your email is poorly written or improperly designed and coded, you are not going to get the results you are looking for.
In particular, be aware of the following misconceptions about email marketing:

  • Email is quick and easy: every executive has had the experience of effortlessly sending dozens of emails each day, so executives just don’t think of email marketing as a complex, specialised skill. In some ways, email has become a victim of its own success. The relaxed attitude of email means that campaigns are often blasted, removing the chance to deliver channel-targeted capabilities. Most people believe that email is a quick and easy tool, rather than a strategic relationship builder. This is not the case at all. Email is a very powerful tool that delivers long-term results when used effectively.
  • Any junior staffer can run an email program: this was true in the plain text days; however, those days are long gone. You do need experts to manage email campaigns as people’s expectations of quality and messaging have greatly increased.
  • Email marketing isn’t a full-time job: aside from very large companies that sometimes dedicate resources exclusively to email marketing, most companies think of email as one in a long list of marketing staff duties. Email programs are generally run by part-timers, not by people who eat, sleep and breathe it.
  • Email is not strategic: executives understand search engine marketing. It does one thing really well – help acquire customers. They also understand PR. Email? It is simultaneously used for customer retention and acquisition, brand building, notifications, news, life-cycle messages and more.

To ensure the effectiveness of email marketing, the best way forward is to adopt a centralised email marketing view. Ideally, you would have a director of email marketing within an organisation that works in tandem with an external agency which lives and breathes email marketing. Then watch your campaign effectiveness soar…