Email Marketing Is Becoming a Gnarly Garden to Manage

The life of an email marketer is more complicated than ever. Here’s some advice on removing weeds and sustaining prosperity.

Smarter automation, slick content editors, intuitive segmentation tools, new ways to run experiments, and more magical ESPs, in general. Ahh, bliss.

It might seem that the life of an email marketer has gotten easier because the toolkit is more stout. But the reality is more in line with the ‘mo money, mo problems’ sentiment from Biggie.

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

If you really think about it, email is actually a lot like farming (or gardening). You plant seeds, then watch them grow and produce results. Initiatives can be seasonal. And you have the ability to modify as you go.

But therein lies a cautionary tale worth considering.

Generations ago, the agricultural industry adopted new tools to yield bigger, stronger crops and year-round production of seasonal food.

Unfortunately, these innovations have led to many unintended consequences. The synthetic chemicals we use to produce higher yields oftentimes contaminate our soil and cause harm to many animal species (like bees) that are core to the ecosystem and food production. The foods we are creating are often not as nutritious or — some would argue — delicious. And native heirloom varieties of food are simply dying out as our environment is longer conducive to supporting them.

Try to cut too many corners, and you end up going in a circle. Or, potentially you end up in a worse situation than when you started.


Now, let’s turn back to the less dire reality that today’s email marketers find themselves in.

With new tools and conveniences, expectations for production have never been higher. Experiments are easier to set up, meaning more permutations to manage or analyze. The customer journey is now multi-channel, expanding the focus areas to manage. Device and client optimization has never been more complex. And the cross-functional perception that effective emails are easy to produce (with a very lean team) is still pervasive.

Email marketing community, I feel for you. Really, I do.

That’s why it’s never been more important to be operationally strategic. Otherwise, you’ll end up always being reactive to a gnarly garden which keeps you managing weeds rather than cultivating a prosperous and forward-thinking ecosystem from a position of strength.

5 Ways to Cultivate a Strategic Email Operation:

  1. Create a set of philosophies, OKRs, and operating principles for your team that feel right for the next five years or so. In other words, develop a manifesto that explicitly declares the reasons for your team’s existence.
  2. When you hire, don’t hire just to alleviate existing pain points. Hire for the long-haul, making it aspirational and empowering for the new recruit(s) as well as advantageous for the business results you hope to drive.
  3. Audit and simplify your existing systems. If it’s currently a mess to set up an experiment or deploy a campaign, fix it. If you are the only one who understands the folder system for your content, standardize it. If you are constantly answering the same questions for your support team…find a better solution.
  4. Similarly, adopt an investment and delegation mindset for remedial tasks. You probably shouldn’t keep doing that one routine task each week. Your direct reports maybe shouldn’t, either. Look to outsource, automate, and remove those burdens.
  5. Don’t just yank out the weeds as they surface. Figure out why it happened in the first place and try to find permanent solutions.

I wish I could say it all comes down to prioritization of what’s coming over the next few quarters. But to run an exceptional email program you have to be thoughtful on all fronts to avoid being trapped in the ‘set it and forget it’ paradox that everyone preaches against but is also guilty of to some extent.

To get relief, hit the pause button for a quarter, month, or at least a week. Assess whether you are being strategic or are just going through the motions. Think of the best-case scenario. Then build that instead.

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