Email marketing has evolved immensely since Gary Thuerk first hit send on a mass email inviting recipients to a West Coast demo for a new line of computers. While the marketing email may have had modest beginnings, it is now a pivotal part of the majority of marketing strategies. The level of detail and personalisation that can be integrated into it is high, but there are also a significant number of pitfalls of which senior marketers need to be wary.
Since the emergence of the marketing email, there have been significant developments in targeting the right audience as well as the advancements behind the technology itself. By looking at what changes we’ve already seen, what the future challenges may be, and how data can inform every part of the email marketing strategy, we can see what the future holds for the—hopefully not so—humble email.
Email Is Still The ‘Cool Kid’
Emails are the oldest form of technological communication, and with the rise of so many messaging platforms and programmes such as texts, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Snapchat, you’d be forgiven for questioning their relevance. However, the email has survived, adapted, and evolved to remain a crucial messaging tool both in professional and personal contexts, with the average consumer spending 6.3 hours a week on their emails. The latest Adobe Campaign whitepaper, “Email Comes Of Age,” highlights that email is still the “cool kid”—and an invaluable resource for marketers (Adobe is CMO.com’s parent company).
Pair this with the fact that 58% of Americans said they would prefer communications about products via email, and the fact that email traffic grew 61% between 2014 and 2016, we can see the reason behind its popularity. On top of this, direct marketers earn a whopping $38 for every dollar invested, proving quite clearly that email isn’t slowing down any time soon.
So the potential of e-marketing is clearly huge. The question is, how do we take advantage of it properly? What do CMOs need to be aware of, and what challenges do they face in implementing successful strategies?
Well, first of all, the high volume of emails the average user receives means that consumers need to be specifically targeted and be receiving individually personalised messages. It may sound like basic advice, but one badly targeted email can be the catalyst for an unsubscribe .
The “spray and pray” method is not the future of email marketing, far from it—and that advice sticks whether you’re selling a physical product or sharing content from a newsletter. If customers feel that they are valued as people, rather than numbers or potential profits, then your email has already done half of its job by engaging your consumer on their own terms
Another way to put it, and one of the big takeaways from Adobe’s latest white paper is, quite simply, “don’t send more, send better.” These days, consumers expect greater personalisation—firms such as Amazon, Starbucks, Uber, and Zappos have raised consumer expectations for a range of experiences, whether that be ordering online, hailing a cab, or picking up a coffee. We are all in competition with this level of tailored service, and the sooner marketers accept this, the quicker we can move to keep up.
The other obstacle that needs to be overcome is content relevancy. While we all know that “content is king,” and it has been ever since Bill Gates stated it in 1996, we also know that content needs to be tailored. The right content needs to go to the right people at the right time, and that combination can make or break an email campaign. But if content is king—then personalisation is the prince of marketing, and, for best results, they need to work together. If you write an email with perfect content, it could be snappy, exciting, and new, but if it doesn’t go to the right people, it will never go anywhere.
So how do we increase personalisation? How do we move away from the dreaded spam and into a legitimate and welcomed sale? Well, we need to understand consumer likes and dislikes, their habits, and their behaviour. But how do we understand these things? Data. Stephen Derbyshire, director of customer engagement and campaigning at global data and marketing specialist CACI, explained: “Having multiple spreadsheets and data lakes isn’t remotely impressive if it doesn’t offer a clear and substantiated view of your customer. Data needs to be easy to use for those dependent on it, and that needs to be applied to every email and app push your company is sending.”
In short, data isn’t worth doing if you’re not going to do it properly.
A Profile Tapestry
The Adobe paper states that “the most powerful integration occurs when you also bring in data from sources such as point of sale, customer relationship management, and third parties,” and I couldn’t agree more. The more strands you can weave together into a profile, the more completely you can understand what makes consumers tick. Adding advanced forms of modelling to the mix can only enhance your overall approach, and is worth considering.
Second and third-party data, in particular, could prove invaluable as understanding customers from a different viewpoint could well give you the edge over competitors. For example, our most recent project with CACI allowed us to isolate a particular behaviour we wanted to influence. From measuring likelihood to buy online to regularity of Facebook visits, we were able to find out exactly what our customers were doing across a range of channels, and use this to approach them on their preferred platform, eventually driving significant incremental gains in revenue back to the business.
So while multichannel personalisation, third-party data integration, and the constant evolution of email and technology all sound like a pretty complicated and complex landscape to navigate, the overarching resolution for email marketing is very simple. Use all the information and technology at your disposal to send emails that customers want to receive.
Despite the wealth of other messaging platforms available, email marketing isn’t going away any time soon. Traffic is growing massively, and most consumers still prefer communications about products to come via email. Take advantage of this, but be precise. Data, after all, is a marketer’s best friend—invest your time and money in understanding your customers, apply the resources at your disposal, and use the data intelligently. It is worth it.