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  • Writer's pictureTom Kothman

What is strategic email marketing and how do you implement it?

"Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. - Sun Tzu

Let’s first define strategy: Strategy articulates the end game, vision, or mission, including how you are going to get there. To illustrate, one pillar of one of my client’s mission statement is to provide “actionable intelligence to accounting professionals.” They create and deliver content (intelligence) that can be acted on vs. being “nice-to-know” or “interesting” information. Information is essentially raw data (lacking context or analysis). Intelligence is collated processed information (often from multiple sources).

A timely example is a recent blog post (information) on the Taxpayer Advocate Service—an independent watchdog agency within the IRS – report on the ten most serious problems at the IRS.

“By “problems,” the TAS means the difference between what taxpayers want and what the IRS delivers. Unfortunately, tax preparers trying to bridge the gap between the two often end up taking grief for failing to do the impossible."

The report provides information about problems at the IRS that in turn generate problems for tax preparers. The reader may ask “But what can little ol’ me do about that? I can’t even get through on the phone let alone solve their problems!

“Understanding the problems at the IRS end can help practitioners explain the situation. Here are the top five…”

There’s the action in “actionable”. The following excerpt shows how information is transformed into intelligence.

2 – IRS Recruitment, Hiring, and Training
Though 69 percent of taxpayers trust the IRS to help them understand tax obligations, many are sorely disappointed. Why?
The IRS workforce is aging and retiring just as the IRS budget keeps dropping. Though the IRS brings in 95 cents for every dollar in gross revenue to the federal government, its budget has been cut by an inflation-adjusted 20 percent over the past decade. Consequently, the 2010 staff of 94,711 has dwindled to 78,661 even as the U.S. population and their tax returns have increased. In 2021, 14,500 staff retired or quit, but only 12,500 were hired. The 2,000 who aren’t there are probably the ones who didn’t take care of your griping clients’ returns.

Email Marketing Strategy vs. Email Marketing Tactics

Often strategy and tactics are reversed to the detriment of the end game. It’s only natural to want to fix a problem but the tactics need to sync with the strategy. Tactics are the specific steps or actions taken realize the vision.

In Start with the Vision by Steven R. Shallenberger and Robert R. Shallenberger, which I reviewed earlier, the authors identified a six-step process for defining and successfully implementing strategy. Step Two of Six is foundational to implementing strategic email marketing. From the review:

In Step Two you become hunter-gatherer. Scout around and collect the relevant facts. “Once you identify the current reality, then you simply determine whether there’s a gap between your vision and the current reality.”

In email marketing parlance this translates into knowing the email baseline performance relative to the stated strategy. Calculating and reporting key performance indicators, A/B test results, segmentation and personalization, engagement, unsubscribes, etc. is fundamental to a successful state-of-the-art strategic email marketing program because it leads to identification of tactics that are ... or are not ... working toward the vision.

In the my client's situation the tactics have evolved to include blog posts, interactive research, publications, webinars, video conference, guest editorials, etc. Email content creation, CTA’s, segmentation, personalization, subject line creation and more are designed to provide intelligence and make clear to the subscriber the actions they can take. If email tactics designed to increase engagement do not provide actionable intelligence then the email program is out of sync with the vision.

Email Marketing Workflow

How does the grand strategy guide tactical email implementation? The most fundamental way is through a structured email workflow with in-house team members or third party vendors assigned to the various stages.

Note: This is not an automated workflow or funnel. It is a management process that an email team or marketer follows to insure strategic-tactical alignment.

Typically, this workflow is managed or monitored by an Email Strategist. In addition to creating and monitoring the metrics an Email Strategist will assess them by asking questions like.

  • · Did the email generate signups for our lead magnet?

  • · What were the results of the A/B test … and why?

  • · Which segment resulted in the highest engagement?

  • · What demographics (geography, firm size, job title, etc.) engaged most?

  • · If there is a “drip” campaign, is there a higher or lower engagement level at each stage?

An Email Strategist also assesses the content’s performance relative to the strategy. Which subject line performed best? Which image? How did the short form do against the long form?

What does an email workflow look like? Thanks to the folks at MailJet.

The workflow is a looping, iterative, linear process since each stage is informed by the preceding stage(s).

In summary, strategic email marketing is more a process than doing. Email marketing tactics align with the organization’s strategic vision from conception to delivery. An email marketing workflow provides multiple opportunities for tactical alignment with the strategic objective. The process requires management.

"Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. - Sun Tzu


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