How to diagnose if you’re wasting your time chasing the bright-and-shiny.

One of the issues email marketers face is the perennial “bright-and-shiny” disease. It can be just as contagious as you-know-what. None of us is immune to the rush of discovering a tool that will magically solve all of our problems. 

Bright-and-shiny is hard to resist

We’re just as susceptible to the quest for bright-and-shiny things now as we were 20 years ago, when email technology took its first great leaps forward. Although, 20 years ago, everything was bright-and-shiny. But we made it brighter and shinier and made it work.

Back then, we were on a mission to build our email programs. We tried everything we could find to move the needle.

Today, we’re still focused on moving the needle, but we have many more outside things to distract us — new privacy regulations, changing technology limitations, new challenges to customer engagement, changing customer sentiment and more. 

What we know now that we didn’t really know then is that we need to check ourselves to be sure we don’t get pulled away from focusing on that moving needle. That’s the key to every digital job — to make sure everything you do, from your strategies to your tools to your processes, helps you achieve your goals. 

Check yourself with these three questions

How can you be sure you’re not chasing the wrong thing when all the shiny things are temptingly arrayed in front of you all the time? These three questions can help you evaluate your options:

1. Do I have a clear and defined key performance indicator?

So many businesses are driven by revenue. The measurements might differ by industry, but they all roll up into revenue. As emailers, if revenue were our only KPI, we’d all be blasting out (for the record, I hate this term) emails twice a day, every day. 

As email marketers, we need to have a greater sense of purpose. While your organization focuses on revenue, your goal has to be different. Is it click-throughs? Repeat customers? Leads? Will it achieve a goal better than doing nothing?

In all of my work — first on the retail side, then on the vendor side and now with clients — I measure every idea or opportunity against goals to clarify priorities. Will the needle move forwards or backwards? Will it deliver a long-term benefit or a short-term boost that fades fast?

Take BIMI, or the Brand Indicators for Message Identification. If you follow BIMI’s authentication protocols, your brand’s logo appears in a Gmail or Yahoo Mail inbox next to your sender name so subscribers recognize your emails and assume it comes from you and not a spammer.

Sounds good. But will BIMI help you get closer to your goals? I’m not saying it isn’t important, or not to implement it, but BIMI comes down to a branding decision. Will your customers care? Will the time you spend on authentication pay off in more email engagement? How about in the long term?

Another aspect: Have you defined how you’ll achieve that KPI? Are you measuring it accurately? Many marketers don’t, or they don’t account for other factors.  

2. Is it worth the expense? 

One large enterprise client told us she was thinking about adding a service to her email program. This service charged an insane amount of money to do a proof of concept. My first question to her: “How does this affect your profitability?”

Now, email is still cheaper than most other channels while delivering higher returns, even with add-on services. But those costs can add up quickly. One often overlooked point is whether a bright-and-shiny add-on will be profitable based on the customers who respond to your campaign. That’s because your costs aren’t factored on the people who don’t respond. 

It might be billed as adding two cents to every email and that might not seem like much at first. But the actual cost could be nine to 10 cents per email. That’s because you paid for everyone to get that email, but not everybody will respond. So you assign that cost to the people who did respond. 

Once again, you have to measure the response and decide if it helped you achieve your KPI. 

Real-time email is an example of this. How much will it add to the total cost of sending your campaigns? Can you do a proof of concept to ensure you’ll earn your money back? 

Now, it should be said that I am a big, huge fan of real-time functionality, but only if you can show that it’s not just bright-and-shiny, is scalable and provides a long-term lift. Only if you can prove it.

Email is already under-funded compared to other digital channels. We don’t want to keep spending money on bright-and-shiny things that let us do cool stuff but don’t make money. This will keep you away from the bright-and-shiny because it forces you to focus on your KPIs. 

3. Does it scale?

Ten years ago, the industry discussion was all about getting a fast boost on performance. Mostly because it was fun to talk about “OMG, did you try this?” We were talking about email hacks like using subject lines that said “Don’t open this email!” (my personal favorite.) Another popular hack: Sending fake apology emails. 

One brand replaced its regular HTML email template with a text-only message. It got huge results that one time. So, of course, everybody else tried it, and the law of diminishing returns kicked in soon after. All those short-term gains turned into long-time losers because subscribers got used to them.

When you go for a short-term boost, you end up feeding the attention monster over and over again. 

The countdown timer is one of those. It was cool at first, but customers got used to them when marketers deployed them carelessly, without consideration for strategy or goals. If you’re evaluating tactics like that, you must find proof that it will scale over the long term. 

You might get an initial boost and differentiation in the inbox. Sometimes that’s worth it if you use it sparingly, like an “Oops!” email sent on Black Friday. It can give you the differentiation you need at that time to get attention.

After that, it becomes just another trick. One high-frequency brand sends me a mistake email roughly every 25 campaigns (roughly 2.5 weeks). When you do that on the regular, you and your brand look incompetent and untrustworthy. 

Bright-and-shiny things aren’t always things

Bright-and-shiny things are usually tangible creations, like tools or platforms. Every new social platform gets promoted as the sure-fire shiny new email-killer. Hello, Clubhouse and TikTok.

But bright-and-shiny can be mindsets too. Take the angst we see among our fellow email marketers over losing the open rate when Apple turns on its Mail Privacy Protection feature in its iOS 15 update. We know Apple will destroy the open rate as a usable metric. But the bright-and-shiny thing here, the costly distraction, is trying to hack it to find a proxy for the open. 

The more productive reality is to spend that time making messages more click-worthy. You know — what we get paid to do.

No doubt, losing the open rate is disruptive. We’re working with one client at RPE Origin that has to change 300 automations, some of which rely on opens. Opens are an expression of intent for B2B marketing. But instead of trying to hack the open rate, we need to change how we measure intent and engagement in the long run.

The bright-and-shiny thing is the obsession with open rates where intent is not indicated. The scalable path is moving on, finding solutions, and making sure they help us achieve our goals time and time again. 

Wrapping up 

We have many stresses in our lives today, from COVID-19 and its variants to politics, the economy and our own private anxieties that don’t show up in consumer surveys or social posts. These distractions take us off our game. Many of these can be good. But you must evaluate them before you adopt them. Focus on what drives the results you need, on what engages your customers in the moment as well as over the long term. Looking for the bright-and-shiny thing that will solve your problems can prove to be a costly mistake, not just in terms of expense but in lost revenue and customers.