Failed email campaignI just finished reading an article in B2B Online that provided insight on a failed email campaign by Level 3 Communications, a multi-national telecommunications company.

Over a five-month period at the end of 2012, the company created and executed an email campaign to promote an unspecified product or service.

During that time, 77,972 emails were delivered.  The company hoped to generate 200 qualified sales engagements from the campaign.  But the result fell short with an open rate of 7.1% and just seven forms completed with no leads.

In hindsight, the company explained that a large part of the problem was its failure to match messaging to the target audience.  Technical messages went to non-technical executives – and vice versa.

Here’s a link to the article.

On one level, I understand the challenges of a new marketing campaign.  Assumptions are not always correct. Expectations can be unrealistic.  Mistakes happen.  Resources are limited.  Supervisors are often impatient and unwilling to wait for test results.

But here’s what I don’t understand …

Why did it take so long?

Why did it take five months and 77,972 emails to realize this campaign was a bust?

Weren’t there some early warning signs?

Shouldn’t they have noticed a serious problem during the Week one or two?

Wasn’t there a red flag after the first 5,000 or so emails?

Is the campaign structure at a large, multi-national corporation so inflexible that they couldn’t make adjustments on the fly?

Wasn’t there a point where they could kill the campaign and cut their losses?

Walk before you run

I admit I’m pretty cautious when it comes to marketing.  Over the years, I have warned many clients not to drop a 50,000 or 100,000 mailing all at once – without first testing smaller quantities of lists, offers and messaging.

Whether you are using direct mail, email or even advertising, the process should be to test key variables first, then expand on the winners and drop the losers.  But don’t roll out too fast.  Grow your winners slowly and continue to test new variables.

It’s true that big mailers would drop a half-million pieces at one time but that’s after many years of testing and proven results.  They don’t go from 0 to 500,000.

The risk is too high.  Too many things can go wrong – even if you’ve hired the very best professionals.

Email is the perfect testing vehicle

I should acknowledge that a direct mail campaign is a much higher financial risk than email because the cost is so much higher.  But the email investment is not insignificant.

Email is a very nimble marketing channel.  You can learn a lot very quickly by sending out just a few thousand emails.

Yes, you need to structure your campaigns so that you are testing different variables with every send.  No doubt there will be many failed testing cells along the way, but there will also be some winners.

I could almost understand why the company was slow to adjust if the poor results were showing later in the sales process.  If, for example, the campaign were generating a lot of poor quality leads, you may not realize it until it gets into the hands of the sales team.

But that’s not the case here.  The open rates, click-through rates and conversion rates were all coming in far short of expectations – and that should have been realized after just a few days.

A case for agile marketing

There’s a slow movement afoot for a new approach to marketing called agile marketing.

As the name suggests, agile marketing is an approach that enables and encourages marketers to make decisions and adjustments on the fly.  It discourages the big campaign that often takes weeks or month to prepare and many more weeks or months to execute.

I like this approach to marketing because it relies on testing, not intuition, to make key marketing decisions.

If ever there were a candidate for agile marketing, it would have been Level 3 Communications.


Written by Bob McCarthy

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Bob McCarthy is a direct response copywriter and lead generation specialist.

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About Bob McCarthy

Bob McCarthy is a direct response consultant and copywriter with a focus on direct mail, email and digital marketing. Bob works with B2B, B2C and Non-Profit clients. You can download his free ebook, "Making Snail Mail Work: 13 Lessons in Direct Mail Strategy."