Not Just a Pretty Face

Why successful email is about more than design. Recognizing the need for database management acumen in the email marketing practice.

So much emphasis is placed on design and development skills in the email marketing practice — and with good reason. A properly formatted layout and aesthetically pleasing design can make a significant impact on email campaign success.

I would also contend that there is another core competency which the best email marketing practitioners and consultants must possess — database management.

The most sterling combination of email marketing message elements (e.g. subject line, from name, design, call to action, etc.) will reek of futility without relevance to the recipient. The various data points we attach to customer records allow us to deliver relevant and timely email marketing messages. Without the correct customer data, the results of our efforts will resemble a dull, hollow thud.

Email Data in Action

I could give you plenty of examples of how not to incorporate data into an email marketing message, but here are a few where little bits of customer information act as key cogs in the system. All of these have come from my personal inbox and I’ve removed data-driven elements in alternating frames.

Brand: REI
Message Premise: Shopping Cart Abandonment
Dynamic Elements:

  • Product Image
  • Product Name & Description
  • Local Store Location
    REI Dynamic Email

    Brand: Nest
    Message Premise: Product Usage Status Report
    Dynamic Elements:

  • Customer Email Address
  • Account ID / Name
  • Product Location in Home
  • Report Month
  • Product Usage by Hours
    Nest Dynamic Email

    Brand: Dollar Shave Club
    Message Premise: Delivery Reminder / Order Upgrade
    Dynamic Element:

  • Order Quantity
  • Product Image(s)
  • Product Name(s) & Description(s)
  • Customer Shipping Address
  • Customer Billing Info Reference
  • Customer Account Balance
    Dollar Shave Club Email

    Each of these email messages was extremely relevant for the recipient thanks to the customer data records managed by each respective brand.

    It’s true — each one of these email messages conveys a well-devised layout and attractive design. Beyond pretty looks, the dynamic content housed within each layout, however, is what makes each relevant.

    How Are Messages Like These Possible?

    I have written previously about dynamic email content, but each one of the examples above relies heavily on a crucial relationship between a templates and data tables.

    Think of an email template like a wall in your home on which hangs several picture frames. The photographs or portraits in those frames consist of images of your family, friends, experiences, preferred artwork, etc. There is likely a similar wall in your neighbor’s home with several picture frames. The contents of those frames are obviously completely different, but relevant to your neighbor’s own life and memories.

    dynamic email templates

    The design and development component of the email marketers job is to create the wall and frames — the template. The email database management role must correctly place images in each frame — data points from a recipient list.

    As the email practice evolves, the most talented practitioners will be able to create the wall and frames and fill them in with relevant content and customer-centric data.

    Email Data Management in Practice

    Of course, all of this is easier said than done. If you are looking to increase your database management acumen, here are a few things to consider as you work to enhance your skill set:

    Lead Generation and Profile Management – To enable campaigns like the example above, each brand had to collect information about individual recipients. Many times this is done all at once with a cohesive on-boarding process in which the relevant data points are captured and stored appropriately. In other cases, email marketers must gather more and more information about customers over time by monitoring behaviors (like the REI example above) or encouraging use of preference centers. Create a plan to collect and store relevant bits of information about each customer profile.

    Integrations – Depending upon your chosen email service provider (ESP) not every data point can and should reside in the tool you use to send email messages. Most often, customer data resides in a “home base” CRM tool, an ecommerce shopping cart system, a survey form tool, event management software, etc. Become familiar with the potential integrations you will need to deliver relevant communications to subscribers and customers, and rely on tools like Zapier that tie data from various systems together.

    Testing Protocol – Typically when we consider testing in the email practice, we are seeking to increase campaign performance. With email data management, testing is also a priority with respect to quality assurance. When executing projects that will sync customer data with your email marketing communication, remember to build in time to assure that all the data points are feeding properly into your ESP and trial email messages are equipped with all the correct content. Even the slightest error can cause major headaches.

    Your emails should have more than just a pretty face. In time data management will be come a common skill set among all email marketers. Experiment with and embrace these skills now to deliver the highest degree of relevance to customers who already expect nothing less.