Despite declarations to the contrary, email is not dead.
Many stats bear that out: For example, according to the Radacati Group, 3.9 billion email accounts exist worldwide, with that number set to grow to more than 4.9 billion by the end of 2017. In addition, e-mail still trumps social media for customer acquisition—nearly 40 times more effective than Facebook and Twitter combined, according to McKinsey & Co.
Meanwhile, Forrester Research states that for every dollar spent on email marketing, the average return is over $44. And Transparency Market Research estimates that the proliferation of mobile devices, combined with increased Internet access globally, will make email marketing a $6.5 billion market by 2018.
“Email is a very dependable and accepted method of communication that is proven to drive demand for products and services, and the return is measurable. That alone will keep it around for the foreseeable future,” said Andy Leapaldt, director of emerging media at behavioral marketing agency Gage, in an interview with CMO.com. “It just now has some serious competition.”
To that point, consumption of the decades-old medium is rapidly evolving as a host of other brand-communication channels proliferate. But many marketers are failing to prepare for what the oldest digital channel will look like in the future. Paige O’Neill, CMO of marketing software maker SDL, told CMO.com that email is the most abused medium by marketers. After all, sending out standard messages to a mass audience is cheap and easy, and sometimes it works. But it won’t for long. Customers are already losing patience with irrelevant missives. In response, email service providers are helping them automatically filter out the noise, and consumers are turning to more real-time or responsive channels.
“Marketers have to work much harder to get the ROI they are looking for while also staying out of the junk mailbox or being blocked by ISPs altogether,” said Jason John, CMO of Publishers Clearing House, in an interview with CMO.com. “It also now takes a lot more effort and relevancy to gain the respect and clicks through from your customer.”
But when done right, email can be the most powerful tool in the digital marketing tool kit, said Kurt Andersen, CMO of sales software maker SAVO. That requires CMOs and their teams to embrace new tactics and strategies to stay ahead of the changes ahead. “When you think about all the different touch points we have with consumers, [email is] still one of the better channels,” said Andrea Fishman, principal with PwC’s digital services group. “But it’s time for people to get smarter about how they use it.”
Dane Atkinson, CEO of marketing analytics provider SumAll, agreed: “Dumb email is dead,” he said.
Today, just 34 percent of Americans consider themselves loyal to at least one brand, according to Experian. More relevant emails are a “great opportunity to catch someone from an awareness perspective,” PwC’s Fishman told CMO.com.
At workwear and apparel company Dickies, email remains the best method for creating transactional lift. But looking ahead, the focus is on customizing email content for increasingly smaller customer segments, said Robert Dietrich, Dickies’ director of digital marketing. “Email is an empty container,” he told CMO.com. “You have to fill it with meaningful content to engage people.”
Ultimately, marketers could return to one-to-one messaging using email in the future, Fishman said, with a focus on the highest-value customers. “Even when it has to be one-to-many, marketers needs to tighten it up and pay attention to how and when I respond and to what.”
Added Redickaa Subramanian, head of omnichannel marketing software maker Resulticks: “Email remains a preferred method of high-fidelity communication to a single consumer, but email marketers should look more closely at the active intent of a customer to derive even more value. This is the point where a direct-to-consumer message delivered by email can prompt the user with more info: a coupon, a specially tailored offer, or [enablement of direct engagement] with the brand via email, chat, or social.”
CMOs need to take a hard look at their technical infrastructure and available skills surrounding email, Gage’s Leapaldt said. “If areas don’t allow your organization to send email communications at the individual level, then either upgrade that area, replace legacy technology altogether, or introduce new technology that enables your organization to be smarter,” he advised.
Go Mobile First
Around half of all consumers today open email for the first time on a mobile device, according to email testing and analytics provider Litmus. Yet just 42.3 percent of companies are using responsive design to ensure that recipients can access email communications across all devices, according to a 2014 survey by translation and localization services provider Lionbridge Technologies. “Consumer behavior changed, and we didn't keep up,” said Ken Wach, vice president of marketing for the Intuit Small Business Group, in an interview with CMO.com.
In the future, CMOs need a mobile-first strategy.
Research by SDL indicated that 68 percent of Millennials touch two different devices daily; 30 percent touch four. “Consumers expect a seamless transition from seeing an offer via Gmail on their laptops, going into the store to redeem the offer, and pulling up the email on their smartphones,” O’Neill said. At Publishers Clearing House, marketing designers create experiences that are device-responsive.
Taking advantage of mobile’s location tracking to embrace proximity marketing via email is a huge opportunity, PwC’s Fishman added. “You could use geographic or sensor data to see that I’m near this location or taking this action,” she said. “Email could be action-based rather than campaign-based.”
In an interview with CMO.com, Lyris CMO Alex Lustberg predicted a “revolution of rich, dynamic content. Depending on time of day or where you are, you might get different content.”
Get Smart About Inbox Placement
It’s no secret that Google and other email service providers are introducing more rigorous algorithms to help users manage their inboxes, and open rates have suffered as a result. For example, if a large number of unqualified emails hasn’t been opened in six months or more, the sender’s IP address may be blacklisted. Call it the Gmail effect.
“Inbox placement has become much more difficult as email providers become more selective about what they allow to reach inboxes,” said Michael Dub, chief scientist and partner with Dxagency, in an interview with CMO.com. “In many ways, algorithmically based inbox placement is becoming the new SEO.”
Challenges include increased competition within inboxes and the need to ensure deliverability. “Both are getting harder,” said Stephanie Horton, CMO of online designer fashion marketplace Farfetch, in an interview with CMO.com. “The ever-increasing competition is evidence of the longevity of the channel, but ISPs and retailers need to ensure they can manage the content to protect it long term.”
“Technology is helping weed out what we don’t want to see,” PwC’s Fishman said. But that may be just what marketers need to focus on more effective email strategies.
“Well-timed relevant messages that adhere to the recipient’s contact preferences can still be effective,” said Nichola Dutcher, senior marketing manager with digital agency Primacy, in an interview with CMO.com. Gmail’s introduction of tabs, for example, can actually be helpful. “The tabs help ensure that the recipient has the right mind-set when reviewing promotional emails, like choosing to flip through a catalog with the intent to shop vs. having one dropped in one’s lap while trying to curl up with a good book,” Dutcher said.
Focus On The Message, Not The Medium
Email will no longer be a standalone channel.
“Consumers expect to have a consistent and personalized experience across touch points, whether that’s social, mobile, or email,” Intuit Small Business’ Wach said. “Our biggest opportunity is transforming from siloed experiences to enabling our customers to manage their relationship with us and to let us know how they want us to communicate with them.” Wach is also coordinating those touch points across the enterprise, reaching outside marketing to whomever interacts with the customers digitally.
“You can’t look at email in a vacuum,” agreed Dickies’ Dietrich, who integrates data from email marketing with information from his ad server platform to refine customer communication strategies.
Email and social will soon go hand-in--hand, said Dub of Dxagency, whose clients include HBO and Madison Square Garden. “Email is evolving to enable better coordination with social campaigns and the ability to carry more social features, including reinforcing hashtags and social messaging within emails,” he said.
Interactive email elements, such as video, drive an average six times higher open rate than HTML emails and keep recipients engages six times longer, according to SAVO.
Dickies began incorporating the product videos it had already been creating for one retail partner into emails about a year ago, and found viewers of video are more likely to make a purchase. “It’s very consumable—not tedious like copy-driven calls-to-action,” Deitrich said. “We’ve seen a huge lift in click-through to purchase. People are hungry for video, and we’re scaling to meet the opportunity.
More visual emails will be important in B2B marketing as well. “The challenge, once customers find you, is to reach them without getting lost in their inbox,” SAVO’s Andersen said. “One way we’ve seen clients be successful with this is by heavily incorporating images, video, and audio into their emails. We’re already seeing solutions hit the market that make it easy for marketers and salespeople alike to incorporate video elements into their emails.”
One of SAVO’s customers, sales training company Richardson, has been using a digital postcard tool for its marketing campaigns; it has seen open rates jump from 9 percent to just over 16 percent and click-through rates increase from just 2 percent to nearly 6 percent.
Keep It Short And Sweet
“Snappy subject lines and crisp, to-the-point content with compelling calls to action need to become the norm because right now customer inboxes are overflowing with the volume and clutter of too many emails,” said Joe Staples, CMO of AtTask, in an interview with CMO.com. As an added bonus, short works better on mobile devices.
Less will be more. “You don’t need to pack your entire site or product catalog into an email per communication,” Gage’s Leapaldt said. “Don’t distract me with irrelevant content that I don’t care about, or your next email will go directly into the trash.”
In conjunction with its coupon app Cartwheel, Target sends users only two mobile-optimized emails a month with just eight customized offers. “The Cartwheel program sees open and click rates that are unparalleled within Target,” Leapaldt said.
But such economical use of email need not be boring. “Content is king on email as well, and brands that let their wit, personality, and value-oriented content come through on email, as they do on social channels, can really compete effectively,” said Matt Witt, executive vice president of digital integration for agency Tris3ect, in an interview with CMO.com. “Online clothing retailer ModCloth does a fantastic job with this delivering email communications that are fun and personable.”
Turn Down The Volume
The spray-and-pray technique will soon be extinct. Blasts will be a thing of the past. But marketers need to embrace the wealth of first-hand data they have on customers to refine their email approach.
“Precision marketing is still in its infancy,” PwC’s Fishman said. “People don’t know how to interpret the data. As we start to get more data points [coming in], there’s this paralysis of where to look first. So people are still focused more on volume versus clarity.”
CMOs should actively work with their teams to reduce email volume, said Fayez Mohamood, CEO of Triggermail.com. “The ratio of emails sent per user is increasing dramatically for every kind business that is not effectively using data to market more efficiently,” he told CMO.com.
Emerging technology, from marketing automation software to robust attribution modeling, will help marketing leaders rein things in. And data integration will be critical.
“CRM databases are going to be synchronized to digital cookies, giving brands the ability to target segmented messaging across all channels. It will become standard for display, PPC, and Web site assets to complement email programs in integrated campaigns,” said Ernie Capobianco, CEO of boutique digital ad agency Sq1. “And multichannel attribution will give email its due, as it will help brands realize the incremental impact email has on other digital tactics.”
Don’t Drive Customers Away
In the future, the most effective marketing emails will enable customers to take any number of actions without ever leaving their inboxes. “You might be able to purchase from within email. There could be time-based promotions with a countdown clock. They might be able to view a map of the closest retail store,” Lyris’ Lustberg said.
“Don’t make me jump from email to your mobile site or app,” Gage’s Leapaldt agreed. “In the future, you need to provide the ability to interact with a brand’s products directly from within the email.”
Customers no longer feel the need to read or respond to email offers because they know they can find the information they need, when they need it, with a simple Web search, AtTask’s Staples said. “The biggest hit [to email] is the ease of access to information that continues to proliferate on the Internet,” he said.