How to Be a Great at Ping Pong and Email Marketing

Return Path’s Colorado office has some fantastic perks: free lunches three days a week; a massive kitchen stocked with every imaginable snack—including my favourite cereal, Lucky Charms; and terraces where you can conduct outdoor meetings while soaking up the sun. My favourite perk, and the one I take advantage of the most when I visit, is the ping pong table. Actually, two full-size ping pong tables.

I love ping pong, and that’s probably a bit of an understatement. I may have gotten a blister from playing so much during my last visit, but I will neither confirm nor deny that. Luckily, I’m not the only one who appreciates a good game of ping pong. I’ve had a lot of fun spending time with some terrific Return Path players. As it turns out, ping pong is actually good for you, according to this article sent around by our own Senior Director of People, Cathy Hawley, who beat me the last time I visited. I’m currently in training for the rematch.

So what does ping-pong have to do with email marketing? It turns out that the best practices that apply to optimizing your email marketing campaigns and the skills required to win a game of ping pong are actually very similar. Let me elaborate:

  • Having a killer serve and sending a great welcome message. Your serve is how you start the game and it gives the other player a sense of what to expect. Ace it and you’ve just scored a point (and probably psyched them out). An effective welcome message should prime the subscriber to respond and engage with future messaging by providing useful and relevant information about the types of emails they’ll be receiving. Include a special offer or gift in your welcome message and you could see a huge spike in click-throughs and conversions.
  • Adjusting to the styles of different players and creating a segmentation strategy. More important than any one player’s style of play is how they adapt that style to match their opponent. If you’re playing someone with an amazing serve, you’d better learn how to return it otherwise they’ll dominate the game. Likewise, email marketing is all about using subscriber-level data and adjusting your strategy based on behavioural, demographic and transactional data points. The more you know about your subscribers, the more relevant and targeted your messages can be, which will increase deliverability and overall program performance.
  • Playing a balanced game and incorporating useful content. To win a game of ping pong, you need to bring your best offensive and defensive games. Relying solely on one or the other won’t work. For example, you can excel at smashing the ball, but if you can’t volley or return from anywhere on the table, you won’t rack up the points. When it comes to email marketing, a program cannot consist solely of promotional messages and offers. Subscribers won’t always be in-market to make a purchase, so what will you send them the rest of the time to hold their interest? A truly optimized program includes a balance of content and promotions to drive engagement over the long-term.
  • Putting spin on the ball and having a win-back strategy. Spin is all about catching the other player off guard. The ball looks like it’s going one way, but then lands unexpectedly, forcing the other player to think fast about how they’re going to return it. Having a win-back strategy in place is essential for a healthy email program. In addition to helping manage inbox placement and list hygiene, win-back programs need to revitalize a diminishing asset: your inactive subscribers. It’s usually more cost-effective to reengage with an existing customer or prospect than acquire a new one. To get results, your win-back campaign should be designed to grab the subscriber’s attention. Send them something different, new or unique and you’ll get a response.

I’d love to say I’ve perfected all of these ping pong techniques, but I haven’t. They take time to develop. That holds true for a great email marketing program as well. It takes time and continued testing to learn which tactics are the most effective at driving response and ROI.

Excelling at email marketing—just like mastering the game of ping pong—is also dependent upon execution. Having a program strategy is all well and good, but marketers need the resources, tools, technology and bandwidth to be able to implement it. In other words, I can write a blog post about how to be a great ping pong player, but that doesn’t mean I win every game (not even close). Luckily, I can think of another parallel between email marketing and ping pong: practice makes perfect!

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