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Top 3 Initiatives to Make 2020 Your Year of Change

At Email on Acid this week we're honored to welcome Ryan Phelan as a guest blogger. Ryan brings over two decades of innovation and thought leadership to the email space.
  It's February, and I'm still seeing marketing thought leaders coming out with trend predictions for 2020. The problem with these lists is that they don't really mean much to marketers who are out there pushing the send button every day,  just trying to grind out campaigns and make their numbers. If you're looking for guidance, though, I have three ideas that could get you started working on an email strategic plan that can integrate with your marketing efforts and help you see marked improvements by the end of 2020.  These are not just pie-in-the-sky ideas. They’ve actually worked for a long time! 1. Set aside time to create an email strategic plan.  Note something important here: I'm not saying, as so many others do, just to start planning strategy. I'm adding a preliminary step with this key request: to set aside time Email strategic planning isn't a one-off thing you do at your weekly team meeting. You must give yourself the gift of time and space to think deeply and clearly, to see all sides and to generate a workable plan. Strategic planning focuses on the "why" – what you need to do to achieve your goals and why anyone should care – instead of the "how," which is the set of tactics you will use to put your strategy in action. Tactics are easier to talk about, but strategy is more important. Once you have your strategy down, the tactics will pretty much suggest themselves.

Besides nailing down this key aspect, you also need to get the practical aspects right in order to have a successful retreat. 

      • Block off a full day for planning. Impress on your team members how important it is to get participation and buy-in from everyone to be successful. 
      • Move off-site if you can. If not, find a conference room in your building (without floor-to-ceiling windows to avoid distractions from passing co-workers) and a few places that can serve as break-out rooms, where people can discuss specific ideas without being disturbed.
      • Invite anyone with a stake in email success. That includes everybody from your CMO and the specialists, to your newest team members. They all belong at the table. Also, come with a set of ground rules that will set the tone and process for the meeting.
      • Foster open, focused conversation. Talk about what worked in the past, what's not working (stay out of tactics), and what ideas are worth trying. Conduct a Blue Sky Brainstorm! Leave the titles in the office. At your planning retreat, everybody gets a say (but keep the conversation on the strategic level).
Consider these topics for focused discussions: How well are our tools and processes working. What mistakes did we make in the previous year? How can we improve on those? Did we have any consistent problems in the previous years, and how can we solve them this year? Essential: Leave the phones, tablets and laptops behind. Allow as few distractions as possible. Bring in plenty of markers, masking tape, giant sketch pads, sticky-note pads or commandeer some whiteboards. 
  • Document everything. As soon as the planning session is over, gather up all the paperwork, and distill it into a workable plan. Distribute it to some key employees for their editing and input. Then, present it to your CMO. And, finally, execute on it the rest of the year. You might have to pivot at some point, but base all of your tactical and campaign planning on your new email strategic plan.

2. Figure out how to better communicate the value of email in your organization.

If everybody from the C-suite to IT and Customer Service thinks of email as just the discount sales channel, it's no wonder you might be struggling to get budget and respect.  If you don’t tell people about your success, then they define success based on their own ideas.  You have to carve out your regularly shared success story to the organization. Maybe you aren’t explaining email's value effectively? Do you need to find a new way to attribute revenue from email? Look for numbers that show how email can drive action in other company departments. This could lead you to request control of the email reins throughout your organization so that you can ensure all messages reflect your company's brand voice and identity. Also, look for ways you can improve your email value for your customers. What could you push them to do in email that you aren't doing now? Could a new tech service help you reach out more effectively or add value to your messages?

3. Look for ways to fund some R&D in 2020.

Every budget should have some money set aside for research and development. This gives you the freedom to test out new procedures, workflows, email programs and services.  This initiative flows from the email strategic plan you create. That plan will most likely include some new ideas, and they'll need to be funded. If email is the poor cousin on your marketing team, this could take a little creativity. Add it to your strategic planning agenda. Could you partner up with another department? Your tech vendors might have some ideas, too. Ask them! Not everything you try will succeed. But building in the capacity and the tolerance for failure will lead you toward finding what does work. Failing fast is an essential aspect of your goal to expand the digital transformation of your business, and an R&D budget is key to that process. 

Final thoughts

Don't assume you have to tackle all three in a single year. Which of these could help you move the needle farthest in 2020? That's your starting point.  
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