A major consumer package goods marketer once told me: "If I can understand my competitor's email marketing efforts, I can understand their entire marketing strategy." The notion that a company's email marketing efforts represent a microcosm of their marketing plan is something that more planners need to understand.
Whether or not your own company has gotten its act together and put together a comprehensive email marketing strategy or not, your competitors have -- and by ignoring what they are up to, you are blind to valuable insight, timing, creative choices, and media purchases that could be placing your own efforts at a disadvantage.
A lot of companies think that they are engaged in email competitive intelligence because they subscribe to some of the internal emails of their competitors. Certainly that's a start, but it's just the beginning. Perhaps more important are the secondary sources: the email newsletters, affiliate offers, and third-party lists. Tracking these can become difficult without the proper tools and services. For example, a link driving traffic to Jeep.com ran for a while at the bottom of the Daily Candy emails. There was a clear pattern of Web traffic spikes that coincided closely to the Daily Candy emails when the link appeared. By just looking at Jeep's email internally, you would have missed this pattern.
Monitoring Web site traffic patterns as they relate to email drops is also important. I constantly observe spikes in Web site traffic that coincide with specific email lists containing links to specific sites or associated with specific email offers. For instance, two days after Christmas, one retailer sent out a 60% off post-Christmas email that drove traffic matching peak pre-Christmas December numbers.
Monitoring the specific times of years that are the most active, from an email standpoint, the offers carried on third-party lists compared to those offers carried internally, and the types of media properties being used can help you stay abreast of what is happening in the competitive landscape in a way most competitive monitoring services miss. The days that your competitors send out their email can have a strong bearing on the frequency and time of day you send out your own efforts.
There are a number of agencies and services that are now providing this type of email competitive monitoring service, including OgilvyOne, Avenue A/Razorfish, Experian Interactive and Acxiom Digital.
Better start watching, because your competitors are certainly watching you.