Build Better Emails Faster with a Minimum Viable Product Model

The Minimum Viable Product (MVP) model is one that’s been around for some time. It’s a framework for product development, made famous by companies like Zappos, Dropbox and Uber, and a core tenant of many software strategies.

The MVP model is also wildly valuable in building effective email marketing.

What is an MVP?

The goal of an MVP is to provide an immediate solution to a problem customers face, using their feedback as you move forward to iterate and improve rapidly. To create an MVP, you need to do three things:

  1. Identify the problem you want to solve. (We’ll call it the Big Problem.)
  2. Determine which features/components are essential to solving that problem.
  3. Release that product to your audience and get feedback.

For example, if our Big Problem is getting from point A to point B faster than we would by walking, a skateboard would make a great MVP. That skateboard solves the Big Problem of transportation entirely. We can also iterate on the skateboard, creating a bicycle, then a motorcycle, and finally a car. Our user’s needs are covered with every iteration, but our solution becomes more graceful and user-friendly over time.

Importantly, our MVP is not simply a set of tires. While a set of tires in this example might be an important component of our final product, they do not solve the Big Problem of transportation on their own.

An MVP must provide value to your users from the start. Without immediate customer value, it’s not an MVP.

When we apply the same framework of MVPs to email marketing, we can build more successful emails that meet the needs of our subscribers faster and with fewer resources.

Using an MVP in Email

A few years back, our team at SmartMusic realized that our customers–5th through 12th grade music teachers–were having trouble getting started with the SmartMusic subscriptions they’d purchased. They’d buy a subscription, set up their account, then run out of time or get lost before they could even set up their first class: the step we considered most critical to successfully onboarding a new educator.

When we learned the importance of that particular step in customer onboarding and retention, we knew we had to use email to teach our subscribers exactly how to create their first SmartMusic class.

That first onboarding series was tailored specifically around getting educators to set up their class. Over time, we’ve iterated on that program to tailor the design, add relevant support messaging, and show educators how to better use their subscriptions.

But it didn’t happen all at once. We built something small and pointed to achieve one goal, then used feedback to iterate, expand, and improve.

Step 1: Find the Business Opportunity

For the team at SmartMusic, our business opportunity (or “Big Problem” as I called it earlier) was in helping teachers to create their first class.

Take a look at your customer needs. Which of those needs is greatest and easiest to solve for? That’s the business opportunity you should aim for. It could be teaching customers to use a particular feature, asking for subscription confirmation, or getting product feedback.

Step 2: Solve the Problem

A successful MVP is minimal by definition. If you’re looking for product feedback, set up a triggered email asking for product feedback. Simple design is often the best design, so you don’t have to build out anything flashy from the start. You may even consider using a simple note-style email to get a message to your subscribers with minimal design/development effort.

Keep things clean and simple, and get the message out the door quickly.

Too often, we waste time waiting for messy data to be clean, for better image assets, for developers who know how to contend with Outlook’s every quirk. And we miss opportunities. Creating an MVP and committing to iterating on that MVP means you’re taking advantage of those opportunities right away and overcoming challenges one step at a time.

Step 3: Get Feedback

Listening and reacting to subscriber feedback should be central to any good email marketing strategy. After all, how can you meet the needs of your subscribers if you don’t know what those needs are?

Feedback comes in a few forms. Explicit feedback like direct replies, social media comments, and frequent support tickets can inform your email strategy. I’d also encourage you to take a closer look at the implicit feedback you’re getting within your emails. Things like:

  • Where are people clicking?
  • Which emails in a series do people open every time?
  • At what point in a series do subscribers stop opening emails?
  • Do people prefer video or written content?

You may have assumptions and expectations about what works for your subscribers. Challenge every one of them and test wherever you can.

The faster you can learn what actually works for a given email or automation series, the faster you can reach your business goals.

Serve Your Subscribers

Perhaps you don’t need highly stylized emails to reach your subscribers. If that’s the case, it’s probably better that you allocate your time on the things that do matter to them, like sharing video content or building out triggered emails that launch at exactly the right time.

You have to test repeatedly to learn what does and doesn’t work for your audience.

Every email marketer has a horror story of something that went out at the wrong time or to the wrong audience. Embrace the idea of failure early and dive enthusiastically into subscriber feedback. You may not like all of the feedback you get. Commit to making your emails valuable to your audience regardless.

Using the MVP method allows us to do a few important things:

  • Create emails that help customers reach their goals.
  • Mitigate cost and risk by making quick improvements based on existing feedback.
  • Increase value over time by pouring resources into the emails/programs that are most successful.

When you can provide real value to your subscribers (I’m talking solutions, answers to questions, the right message at the right time–not just 20% off their third purchase), you’ll build authentic relationships with the people who will help your business grow.

Kait Creamer
Manager, Digital Marketing at MakeMusic
Vice Chair, EEC Events + Education Subcommittee