We launched our first issue of the twice-monthly Oracle CX Marketing Consulting Newsletter on Oct. 15, 2019. Since then, we’ve sent 30 issues. We’ve learned a lot from launching it, as well as from running it for a year. Rather than keep these learnings to ourselves, the newsletter team and I wanted to share the highs and lows so everyone benefits.
Our experiences were wildly different during the pre-launch phase compared to post-launch, so that’s how we’ve broken out our learnings. Let’s start with...
During this phase, it was all about turning a general idea into a concrete plan with a clear strategy. Here’s what we learned:
Planning, planning, planning. It’s not every day that we get to launch a brand new newsletter. For many on our team, it was their first; and for others, it was their first in a while.
“Starting any project from the ground-up is always a challenge, no matter how familiar the plan or the work expected,” says Eric Santiago, Email and Web Developer at Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. “This is especially true when the new project is comprised of a new team where most are unfamiliar with each other, or haven’t previously collaborated. The new viewpoints and ideas from this new mix of people can complicate things, for the better, with fresh and opposing or complimentary ideas flowing into the project. This was the case for me with the CXM Consulting Newsletter.”
Clint Kaiser, Head of Analytic & Strategic Services at Oracle CX Marketing Consulting, added, “There were a lot more choices and considerations involved than I remembered. From tone to frequency to layout—even what to name it—a lot has to go into doing it right.”
We spent months planning and getting things in place for that October 15 launch. First, to get everyone on the same page, we created a “Strategy, Planning, & Scope” document that outlined:
The target audience, so we were clear who we’re talking to
The mission of the newsletter, which for us is admittedly more qualitative than quantitative in terms of goals
Why launching it mattered now, since we could be using our resources on other projects
Who’s on the team and what their role is
The cadence of issues, with us deciding to be conservative and publish twice a month rather than weekly
The types of content we’d feature and the modules we needed to build
And a creative POV that discussed our voice, visual elements, and other components that would be important to our newsletter’s identity
Next, we drafted the copy for and then created our:
We went through a significant review process for each one, giving everyone a good opportunity to chime in and be heard. We focused on putting out a solid version 1.0 of these pages, very much open to the possibility of future tests and changes.
Single versus double opt-in. We had both SOI and DOI camps on our team, and it took several conversations to come around to planning to launch with a double opt-in process in place on a preliminary basis. Honestly, part of our calculation was that we thought being part of an email service provider might make an open form an attractive target, and that getting blocklisted would be more than a little embarrassing.
At the same time, we also thought that our audience of digital marketing professionals would be very familiar with a DOI process. Even so, we went to great lengths to simplify, simplify, simplify our confirmation process. We talk at length about the four areas that we optimized in this post on Double Opt-in Best Practices for Email Marketing. And, at the end of it, we revealed that we’ve seen 96% of signups be confirmed, so we’ll be sticking with double opt-in for the foreseeable future.
Naming the thing. After outlining the audience, our mission, and the content, we wanted to give the newsletter a name that fit those dimensions. We did some brainstorming and whittled a list of more than a dozen potential names down to three very promising ones. At this point, rather than having our team decide the name, I had the grand idea to open this up to the entire Oracle CX Marketing Consulting organization of more than 500 people so that everyone could feel like they had a stake in it. We created a poll in Slack and asked people to vote.
Then, two things happened: First, our colleagues didn’t pick the name that our team liked most, which was a bummer. And, second, our legal department—which we hadn’t consulted—had some questions for us.
“I liked crowdsourcing the name and getting different inputs and perspectives on it,” says Kaiser. “But we should have gotten clearance beforehand. Suffice to say, you can’t just pick anything as you have to consider copyrights, and we didn’t do that.”
In the end, we decided to avoid the expense and hassle of doing a copyright search and copyrighting a clever name in favor of the highly utilitarian and legally safe name of the “Oracle CX Marketing Consulting Newsletter.” This was definitely a lesson learned.
Modular email architecture. Knowing that we were going to be doing plenty of A/B testing, regularly evolving our email design, and needing to keep our builds fast and efficient, it was a no-brainer to build our design system on module email architecture. We migrate many of our clients off traditional email templates to module email architectures and are big believers in their benefits.
To learn more about modular email architecture and to see examples of the one we built for our newsletter, check out Modular Email Architectures: Efficient Workflow and Foundation for Personalization.
Of course, once a newsletter is launched, now you're on the clock. There’s a production deadline to hit over and over and over. At this point, more of the decisions were tactical, rather than strategic in nature. Here are some of the things we learned:
Have a project manager. It’s essential to have someone who’s dedicated to keeping everything on track. We recognize that in smaller organizations the PM may be the email marketer, designer, and coder. However, in our case, our team is composed of eight people, each of whom dedicates a small-to-tiny part of their week to this project.
With so many people involved, having a PM that supports the week-to-week production from day 1 planning through launch is critical to making things go smoothly and provides more consistency from issue to issue.
Adding an archive. One of the elements that we knew we wanted, but didn’t make sense at launch was an archive. After we had about five months of issues under our belt, we decided it was time to roll one out. Our designers and web coders did a fantastic job. Check out our newsletter archive to see for yourself. In fact, it’s so good that it won a Gold 3G Award.
Navigating a corporate visual rebranding. Shortly after launching our newsletter, Oracle underwent a rebranding that introduced an entirely different visual identity called Redwood. Full of natural textures and motifs, and with a focus on custom illustrations over stock photography, it was a huge shift. It led to us having to re-skin every page connected to our newsletter, including the signup and unsubscribe pages. It also transformed the look of our emails as we phased in changes over several issues. The shift is most evident between issues three and four, which you can see in the newsletter archive.
A/B testing and iteration. While we did lots of planning, that was just for the first version. We knew there’d be a second version of most of the things we created—if not a third, fourth, and fifth.
“A big positive I noticed when I joined the team midway through the year was how the email design had steadily evolved,” says Nick Cantu, Senior Art Director for Creative Services at Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. “While they were still good at the beginning, I could really see great progression as the campaigns continued. Each seems to be a small step forward and improved upon each send.”
If you look through our newsletter archive, you can see some of the more evident changes, such as:
In Issue 24, we moved to a simpler header, dropping our “From the Cloud, Down to Earth” tagline to put more focus on the table of contents.
In Issue 23, we introduced an above-the-header webinar promotion module, replacing the promo that we’d used in line with our other content.
In Issue 18, we introduced a module right above the footer encouraging people to “Subscribe to the newsletter” if it was forwarded to you, “Share this issue on your social network,” and “Explore our newsletter archive.”
In Issue 17, we moved to a light-textured background instead of the background illustrations we used previously.
In Issue 13, we simplified the design of our “Say Hello” module, which highlights conferences and webinars our consultants are participating in.
In Issue 11, whose headline post was about dark mode for email, we added a bunch of optimizations that improved the dark mode experience considerably.
In Issue 6, we debuted the new name for our group, Oracle CX Marketing Consulting.
In Issue 5, we experimented with a mobile-only email design, which underperformed for us, but may be appropriate for others.
Some of those changes were the results of A/B testing, some of it prolonged because of challenges around reaching statistical significance, says Kaiser. “For small businesses and B2B mailers, which typically have smaller lists, getting statistically significant results is hard,” he says. “That is definitely the boat that we’ve been in.”
Mistakes. Along the way, we’ve also made mistakes, some of which were under our control, and some that weren’t. For example, for several weeks, new subscribers weren’t being added to our active list due to a break in the data flow caused when we re-skinned our pages for Redwood. Thankfully, we were able to fix the error without loss. We also had a few instances where images or links broke, and one time we sent out an A/B test with "[V1]" and "[V2]" in the subject line.
Some of our problems were because of poor communication with corporate communications, which does the actual sending of our newsletters. “It was disappointing to see all of our hard work on design - coding - testing - adjusting - retesting - reviewing - approvals all undone in little-to-no time because of a communication breakdown between teams,” says Santiago. “But the disappointment was also in our team for not taking better care to ensure the quality of our newsletter, even after it was handed off.”
But other mistakes were pretty much unavoidable in a channel like email that’s so complex and fast-paced. “You can’t beat yourself up over mistakes,” says Esther Shin, Senior Web Developer for Creative Services at Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. “Even with careful planning, they’ll happen. You just need to make sure you learn from them!”
That’s why we wrote this post. To reflect on our past successes and failures, learn from them, and then forge a plan to move forward. We hope that sharing our experiences here has helped you, too.
We have lots of plans for the year ahead. We hope that you’ll join us and sign up for the Oracle CX Marketing Consulting Newsletter.
Need help with your email newsletter? Oracle CX Marketing Consulting has more than 500 of the leading marketing minds ready to help you to achieve more with the leading marketing cloud, including Creative Services and Coding Services teams to help you adopt modular email architecture, optimize for dark mode for email, and improve your signup and unsubscribe pages.
To learn more, reach out to us at CXMconsulting_ww@oracle.com.
For more information about creating newsletters and email marketing, please check out: