How to plan, implement and evaluate a new messaging system
Most businesses see opportunities to improve the quality and mix of messages they send to customers. To do this, you need to capture customer information, tie that data to each customer’s journey, then communicate with customers at different places in that journey.
This is a challenge! The path is not clear: marketing teams, product people, engineering teams and management all have a stake because messages touch every part of the business. Outbound’s founding team has been through the message software buying process numerous times, and those experiences have shaped our product.
To help you navigate the buying process, we’ve assembled content relevant to each of the stages that our customers typically move through—from initial research to the final choices about how to implement a new system. We hope you will find this helpful. If you’ve already passed through a few of these stages, congratulations! Just skip to the one that makes the most sense.
First, you’ll need to decide whether to build your own in-house messaging system or buy third party software. Here are the most important factors to consider:
Most companies start out with an email list for newsletters and a few hard-coded transactional emails (e.g. receipts and confirmations), then begin to experiment with simple drip campaigns and user segments. The critical tipping point for buying comes when you need to use events (the history of actions each customer has taken) to change the timing and content of messages that each customer receives. Read more about our live, event-based segmentation.
Email service providers have made it much easier to set up and run your own email system. Tools that help developers set up SMS and mobile push have gotten better too. Buying becomes attractive when you want to try a new channel or unify message flows across channels without creating engineering work.
At some point, you will want to know how the messages you send affect the actions that customers take inside your app or website. Ultimately, this is how you know if your messages are worth sending. This requires a robust system to build variants, track customer actions and attribute those actions to specific messages.
As long as your messages have fairly static use cases with a limited amount of segmentation, channel and testing variation, you may be best served by an in-house messaging system. As your range of use cases grows, buying makes more sense.
If you decide to buy software to help you send messages, there are several categories of tools to consider:
These tools generally provide message delivery infrastructure. For example, developers can write code to simply pass email content to SendGrid, Mandrill or Mailgun and these tools will then handle email delivery and report whether delivery was successful. Twilio provides a similar service for SMS. These tools require engineering.
These tools can have a wide range of features that relate to a specific channel (i.e. email, SMS, mobile push). The largest group in this category is email marketing tools, which usually offer some combination of list management, open/click tracking, simple AB testing and template management. There are also mobile-specific tools that track user engagement inside apps and handle push notifications.
These multi-functional tools generally form the link between marketing and sales: they handle the whole funnel, from pre-signup landing pages to email flows, CRM and lead scoring. Because marketing automation tools usually function as the system of record for user data, integration requires a lot of work.
Outbound incorporates the most useful functions of each of these categories by:
At this point, if Outbound is still on your short list of possible solutions, it’s time to take a deeper look into our product and our company. Here’s how we design for each stakeholder involved in your messaging system:
Our goal is to give you more control and visibility. You probably have some idea where in your product customers get stuck or drop out. Outbound gives you the ability to deliver a specific message to people in those situations, then show what actions they take next. Good messaging is not set-and-forget; you need to try new ideas and get feedback quickly.
Our goal is to protect the customer experience. Rather than just sending more messages, Outbound is designed to test the quality of every message you send using deep AB testing. For example, cross-channel logic helps you deliver messages to the relevant device and control groups show you what happens when you don’t send a message, which helps you understand which messages are delivering real lift.
Our goal is to get messages out of your codebase so you can focus on building and maintaining your core product. You can send any event to Outbound—from your website, server or mobile clients. This gives marketing and product teams access to user data and event history so they can build their own business logic, customize messages and try new channels without creating more engineering work.
Our goal is to increase speed and visibility. You should be able to dive in and look at any customer touch point, experiment with the content and channel, then see how customers respond. This allows you to build and change product and marketing flows quickly and evaluate the ROI of those changes.
Even your dream messaging system will only work if all stakeholders agree to get behind it. Take time to explain your rationale, scope your pilot project (see below) and get feedback from everyone who will need to live with the decision.
Huge integrations suck. They take too long and usually fall short of the benefits you hoped for. Don't start by ripping out your entire messaging flow. Instead, find a high leverage / high payoff place in your product flow where there is an opportunity to test. Use this to evaluate whether Outbound does what you need. If successful, the results from this pilot project will get everyone excited moving more messages over.
Here’s how to design your first few campaigns to show results: Buying Software 101: How to Design a Kickass Pilot Project. Our onboarding team has designed lots of pilots—send us a note and we'll help you set up yours!
Use the Outbound development environment to test your first few campaigns and make sure everything is working well with live data.
Once you're a paying customer, you'll get access to our onboarding team to help you plan your customer engagement and testing across email, web and mobile. We've seen a lot of campaigns and can probably give you some ideas on what will move the needle on core activation, engagement and retention metrics in your business.
Customers have access to our product roadmap and give input during product feedback sessions. The best ideas for breakthrough features come from customers!