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Email and the Dangers of Silo Thinking

For those of you who don’t know, my big project at work is a complete overhaul of the email marketing campaigns. This is part of a transition from an in-house email sending application to a major ESP taking over the sending, deliverability management, and segmentation logic. But perhaps the biggest part is I’m in charge of all creative (from templates to content creation), all reporting (initial setup and ongoing), and the technical side of things (basically, I’m hanging on by the hair on my chinny chin chin).

It’s a lot. I’m not going to lie. 60 degree programs, 15 enrollment stages, tons of variables to account for in developing dynamic content… every time I think about it, it gets more complicated. (And this is maybe 25 percent of my job–go figure, right?)

Anyway, last week I had an epiphany that I’d like to share with you:

I cannot think of email marketing as its own entity–but rather as part of the entire prospective student (or customer) experience.

Email can’t be put in a vacuum.

The idea of the vacuum, or silo thinking, with any marketing medium is very dangerous. And of course, naturally, it’s easy to separate each medium into silos:

  • On TV and radio, I’ll deliver this message. This will handled by my ad agency.
  • In direct mail, I’ll deliver that message. This will also be handled by my ad agency.
  • In email, I’ll deliver this other message. This will be handled by me and my ESP.
  • For search, we’ll go this route. This will be handled by our SEO team.
  • On the phone, we’ll give our customers yet another message. This will be handled by sales.

The danger lies in thinking each medium is separate–that the right hand doesn’t have to know what the left hand is doing. And that’s all wrong.

To the customer, it’s all part of the experience.

Imagine yourself as the prospective student, or customer. How do you expect your experience to go? How would you feel if each method of contact with you was different from the next? So much so that it created confusion, a cognitive dissonance, enough of a disconnect that you’re left scratching your hand, wondering why you’re getting an email from your sales rep a day after speaking with them on the phone about the same topic?

It’s not so good, is it?

After the jump, important questions to ask if you’re a marketer or an ESP/agency… plus a relevant cartoon from Tom Fishburne.

Questions to ask if you’re a marketer:

If you can, and time allows (and it rarely does), construct a diagram of how each medium hits your prospective customers. Map it by days or even hours if you can. Then throw it out and start asking questions.

  • If I were the customer, how would I want to be communicated with?
  • What do I want to use email for? For transactions only? For nurturing a relationship? For contests and fun asides?
  • What do I want to use TV/radio and direct mail for?
  • What kind of presence do I want to have using social media? Do I want to be reactive or out there in the populace becoming (as Chris Brogan says) “One of Us”?

Questions to ask your client if you’re an ESP or other agency:

Speaking from a client perspective, I know it’s easy for you to do your one thing well, whether it be email marketing or TV advertising or what have you. And honestly, you’re likely to get many clients who will only bring precisely what they need from you in terms of your offerings.

Don’t fall into that trap. Ask the right questions.

  • What is your typical customer lifecycle?
  • Would you like to improve it?
  • How would you like to improve it?
  • How do you communicate with your customers now?
  • How do you anticipate email (or your respective medium) falling into your communication with our help?
  • What other mediums are you using?
  • How do you anticipate the work we do together affecting those media and your ultimate communication plan?

The bottom line is you need to make sure you’re not perpetuating with your clients the silo way of thinking. Trust me, your clients will appreciate that you care about their bottom line, not just your product. Remember that scene in “Miracle on 34th Street” where Santa sends the worried parents over to another store where it was cheaper? And how it ultimately boosted the bottom line of the Macys?

Don’t be afraid to take those steps. Don’t be afraid to fire a client if you think–nay you KNOW they’re going in the wrong direction.

To both marketers and their agencies:

Create the experience your customers want. It’ll go a long way towards your bottom line.

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