Daniel Burstein

Marketing Career: Crafting an internal performance whitepaper

November 2nd, 2012

An email recently came across my inbox with an interesting attachment, and I’m really looking forward to sharing it with the MarketingSherpa blog audience, because it’s a positive example for something I’ve seen many marketers struggle with – internal marketing.

In fact, when we asked 1,646 marketers their most pressing challenges in MarketingSherpa’s 2012 Executive Guide to Marketing Personnel, here’s what they had to say …


Chart: What challenges undermine your marketing department’s potential?

Click to enlarge


As you can see, roughly three-quarters or marketers said, “either a lack of funding or resources inhibit our growth and development.” So how can you get the resources and budget you need?

Back to that email I was telling you about. It was from Karen Doolittle, Director, Marketing Research, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Karen said, “While not a member of your organization, I quite often visit your website and attempt to glean information on the current state of affairs of email marketing.”

From the first line alone, I could tell that Karen is, what I like to call, a high-information marketer. The type of marketer that constantly looks for ways to improve her department’s performance. So I’m including her email attachment here, because I think all the other high-information marketers who read the MarketingSherpa blog can learn from it. She called it an …


Email Performance Whitepaper 

As you can see from the above link, what Karen did was quite simple, yet also pretty profound. I’m going to use an old quote that I love from Todd Lebo, Senior Director of Content and Business Development, MECLABS, to explain why, “Business leaders will never storm into the IT department and say, ‘I was taking a shower this morning, and had a great idea for some new PHP code.’ But they will come into the marketing department and say, ‘I was taking a shower this morning and thought of a great idea for an email send or a headline or a print ad.’”

What Karen’s piece says to business leaders is, “Hey, trust us over here; we know what we’re doing. And if you give us the funding and resources we need, we can keep doing it and keep improving.” But it uses data to prove that point, without having to make any claims at all.

Karen was kind enough to hop on the phone with me recently, go over the background of her internal whitepaper, and provide some tips to help you replicate this idea in your own organization. Below are selected edits from our conversation.

MarketingSherpa: Can you give us a little background on your email performance whitepaper?

Karen Doolittle: Nothing revolutionary about the piece, simply a comparison article with recommendations – but hey, that’s always the place to start. Additionally, I have found that educational institutions lag so far behind corporate, when they do in fact perform many of the same functions.

The arm of Embry-Riddle that I work for (Worldwide) serves the adult learner, so we are quite different from a traditional university. Our potential customers/students move pretty quickly once they make the decision to return to school, so we as marketers need to be nimble and get the right messages out at the right intervals. And I know this as I track this data, too.

Quite often, one of the largest struggles is to get things understood internally. That is exactly why I wrote this paper for an internal audience — basically to help them understand what it is we do, why I ask the questions that I ask, and why I make the changes that I make.


MarketingSherpa: Specifically relating to your email send, did you do any research to inform the frequency of your send? And how you do execute on those sends?

Karen Doolittle: I have been doing this since 2004, and so I have a little firsthand knowledge in how this operates. I have collected data based on trial and error more than anything else.

I am voracious reader, Daniel, so I do get my hands on anything that I can that speaks of best practices for email marketing, and that is just a few of your larger studies over the years. And. Again. I keep my finger on the pulse of other companies’ information that comes out, as well.

One thing that I uncovered a few years back was that our email program that went out to prospective students, I think it went for six or eight months. And, after taking a look at our data, I realized that when a prospective student approaches us, if they are in fact going to become a student and if they are in fact going to submit their application for acceptance into the university, they do it within the first 30 to 40 days of that relationship.

And so once I realized that, I came to the realization then that (it) is probably of no value to me to continue such a long email campaign if our sales cycle is truly that short.

So I started off by looking at case studies, by looking at best practices, and I put all the pieces into place as best I could. But then invariably the next step is to take a look at your own data, it is to take a look at what is happening to your own people with your own situation and your own customers, and then tweak that based upon those best practices.

And so that is really how I have come up with the practice that I have come up with at this point.


MarketingSherpa: Okay. And what happens after 40 days if they don’t submit an application?

Karen Doolittle: They stay in our database, and they now are classified as a cold prospect. So what they get from us now after that point electronically would be notification of any large events that occur here at the university.

And also too, let me share this with you, Daniel. I have tracked the data of the opt-out rate on that cold prospect, and it is really not very high. That tells me that even though, for some reason that I am unaware of, the initial prospective student is no longer really a prospective student and they didn’t make the move to become a student, however, because they have not chosen to opt out of our email communication, that tells me that they still want to hear about the university and they still want information about us. And I think that it is very valuable to know.


MarketingSherpa: All right, great. Then let me ask you specifically about what you created here.

Karen Doolittle: I basically wanted to get the word out internally about what goes on with these triggered emails, what exactly has happened, what are we learning by doing this, and how do we stack up against an industry average. That was truly my intent, was just to educate my internal audience a little better.


MarketingSherpa: If I am a marketing practitioner reading this blog post, what should I look at as triggers to do something similar to proactively create this kind of report for my business leadership?

Karen Doolittle: I think that email is quite often misunderstood. I think email is a tool that cannot be abused, and I think email is a communication tool that you need to be very selective on how you use it and when you use it and the frequency. And I don’t believe the general audience truly understands that. I hear quite often, “Send an email, send me an email, send an email.”

That is not always the right answer. My feeling was if I could pull together some comparative data showing why I have made the decisions that I have made and how that stacks up to the best practices and industry behavior, my hope was that it would provide a better understanding as to why decisions about email are made the way they are made. Does that make sense?


MarketingSherpa: Yes. So, basically you are wanting to protect your list because you don’t want to use it to the point of an opt-out. And to do that, you had to tell the leadership, “Hey, trust me. I know what I’m doing and this is working.”

Karen Doolittle: You are absolutely right. You do have to protect the list, and I mean, there is nothing worse than irrelevant email.

For example, one big offender is Kohl’s. Okay, I know the discount is 10%, 20% and 30%, but three emails a day, you have to send that to me? So what happens is that I like shopping at Kohl’s, but, guess what, I have opted out of their email program.

I think that there are some very simple things that we can do. Basically just think of yourself as a user and what works for you and what really annoys you, and if you think about that, it is good to set up your programs in that same fashion.

You know, tell me there is something new when there is something new; don’t pester me. Once again, when I realized that the sales cycle was as short as it was, I rearranged our emails to make sure that our email with the biggest punch came in the beginning because I realized that I had a very short window of time to talk to these people.

I realized that after that 30- to 40-day period, I am sort of just pestering them after that. So I think it is fairly important to understand the tool and not to abuse the tool and to not abuse your list. I am not sure the people really get that.


Related Resources:

Launch, Measure, Analyze, Modify: 4 Steps to Improve Autoresponder Series

Internal Marketing: The 3 people you must sell to in your own office

Gaining Business Leader Buy-in: 7 CEO personas

Marketing Career: How to get budget approval to build your skills

Daniel Burstein

About Daniel Burstein

Daniel Burstein, Senior Director of Editorial Content, MECLABS. Daniel oversees all content and marketing coming from the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa brands while helping to shape the editorial direction for MECLABS – digging for actionable information while serving as an advocate for the audience. Daniel is also a speaker and moderator at live events and on webinars. Previously, he was the main writer powering MarketingExperiments publishing engine – from Web clinics to Research Journals to the blog. Prior to joining the team, Daniel was Vice President of MindPulse Communications – a boutique communications consultancy specializing in IT clients such as IBM, VMware, and BEA Systems. Daniel has 18 years of experience in copywriting, editing, internal communications, sales enablement and field marketing communications.

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