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(eM+C) Some things in life sound so simple, like burning more calories than you consume. But in reality it’s quite difficult to reach the end goal, in this example losing weight. The same can be said of elements within an email program. Some efforts sound really easy to execute but are quite difficult to pull off. Let’s visit some of those programmatic strategies that sound easy but aren’t, then explore approaches to surmounting the obstacles.

1. Testing. It’s always the first thing to go when schedules get tight — and schedules are always tight. Even simple A/B subject line tests can complicate matters. When working under a deadline to get a campaign out, it’s often necessary to streamline wherever possible.

How to break the habit: Some companies set unreasonable expectations, such as every campaign should be tested. Yes, that’s true, but it’s not necessarily realistic. Start with an achievable goal. Perhaps it’s conducting one subject line test a month or a unique audience split once per quarter. Schedule it into the campaign way ahead of time, making sure not to leave it until the end of the month or quarter. You’ll find that with each win (especially when it translates to dollars), the inclusion of a test gets easier and easier.

2. Purging inactive subscribers. Sounds easy until you start debating what constitutes as inactive and the ripple effect it might have. There’s also the option to run a re-engagement campaign first.

How to break the habit: First, think about the customer life cycle. For some of my clients, the target audience may buy from them every week, while others won’t return for years. Dormancy is certainly more expected in the latter scenario. Ensure there’s a plan in place to map marketing to your customer’s experience. If the customer experienced your offering and won’t return for years, do they need this month’s newsletter? Probably not. Think about it as selective suppression rather than permanent purging.

Second, look for what appears to be dead weight in your file — e.g., email subscribers on file for over six years who have received 75 emails and neither opened or clicked in the last five years. Note, however, they may still be a fan of yours on Facebook, they may be buying from you offline and they may be sharing a recent positive experience via word–of-mouth with their friends. Email may be influencing some of that activity, so aggressive purging should be done sparingly.

That said, if you’re experiencing deliverability problems and have a lot of long-term inactives on file, at the very least consider lessening frequency and rotating the believed-to-be-disengaged audience through this suppression cycle.

3. Increasing messaging relevance. Why wouldn’t anyone want to do this if given the chance? The problem may be that data is in disparate systems or key data doesn’t exist at all. Perhaps there’s not enough content, or maybe it’s all of the above.

How to break the habit: Stop playing the blame game. Maybe you don’t have everything you want associated with a subscriber, but you might have more than you think. Start with past open and click behavior. What categories of content does the subscriber persistently click on that others don’t? Begin evaluating this behavioral data (or capturing it in a more usable way if necessary) to leverage this guiding factor in increasing relevance.

In each case the underlying theme is “crawl, walk, run.” Look for opportunities to crawl and make some progress, slowly building up to walking. The incremental approach starts to build momentum and each successive attempt to challenge inertia becomes easier and easier.

Clint Kaiser is director of strategic services at Merkle, a database marketing agency. Clint can be reached at