Email Marketing: Updating an Old Standard for Today’s Consumer

Email marketing is still a staple of any digital marketer’s repertoire, but the technology has become much more sophisticated-and so have your consumers. In this cluttered environment, understanding how to best target and connect with your audience as well as compel them to action is critical. For those in the know, email marketing is far from being a dying breed, despite the proliferation of other online and mobile options.

In fact, says Pam McAtee, SVP of digital solutions with Epsilon, a global marketing firm headquartered in Irving, Texas, “We see email continuing to increase in 2015 and beyond.” Email remains a very important element of marketers’ digital strategies, she says; it’s a strategy that complements display, social, and text messaging efforts.

She adds, “We see marketers sending more and more real-time emails, as well as highly dynamic targeted emails, while they are moving away from untargeted batch emails.” McAtee says that email is “the glue for all digital channels; it enables marketers to link to social, web analytics, and display ad data through email retargeting. Email can drive significant online revenue for marketers who utilize the channel effectively.”

Jesse Harriott, chief analytics officer for Constant Contact (founded as Roving Software in 1995), based in Waltham, Mass., agrees. The company’s founders identified the potential for email marketing at an early point in time, and the firm has remained one of the top providers of email marketing services for small businesses.

“Email remains one of the most effective marketing channels for both the brand and consumer,” says Harriott, pointing to research from DMA that indicates email is the preferred method of marketing for consumers across all age categories. Marketers also say email marketing provides the highest ROI for any form of online marketing, he says.

Email is a marketing channel that provides opportunity for both B2B and B2C (business-to-consumer) marketers. But despite its benefits, the field is crowded with many marketers attempting to break through firewalls, escape junk mail folders, gain attention in crowded email inboxes, and, ultimately, generate those highly coveted click-through rates that represent the gateway to some measurable action. The ability to use this tool appropriately drives effectiveness, as McAtee previously noted.

Jonathan Treiber, CEO and co-founder of RevTrax, a digital promotions platform based in New York, points to three key factors that make email “an incredibly viable channel for marketers”:

  • Cost-“It’s the least expensive communication channel that allows a brand to communicate directly with the end consumer,” says Treiber.
  • One-to-one marketing and personalization-“Email is inherently a personalized channel that has unrealized potential for further personalization,” he says.
  • Volume-Email, Treiber states, “is still the biggest promotional digital channel. More marketers promote special offers, coupons, and deals through email than through any other digital marketing channel.” That leads, he says, to sustained levels of consumer engagement.

All in all, experts agree: Email is far from a dying breed. In fact, there are some key factors that support its continued use as part of any marketer’s mix.

Today’s Tech Impacts on Email

Mobile-There are a variety of technological innovations and options that impact the ability of marketers to better leverage their email marketing efforts. Mobile is one of them. “Mobile technology has opened up a whole new world when it comes to email marketing,” says Harriott. “It has become a necessity to make sure your emails look good on a smartphone.” In fact, he adds, “Three-quarters of consumers say they are ‘highly likely’ to delete an email if they can’t read it on their smartphone.” On a mobile device, says Harriott, the best reading experience will come from emails that do the following:

  • Use at least an 11-point font for body text and a 22-point font for headlines.
  • Provide a clear call to action at the top of the campaign.
  • Employ single-column designs and focus only on the essentials.

In addition, Ashley O’Connor, email marketing manager for The Brandon Agency, an integrated marketing business, recommends marketers may want to consider designing for mobile first. “Too often, as designers, we think of the big screen first,” says O’Connor. “With 50% of email opened on a mobile device, we need to be designing for the small screen first and then making it work on the desktop.”

O’Connor recommends mocking up emails in 300×900 pixels to determine whether the email is readable and if calls to action are clickable. “Think responsive,” she says. “Create your layout in box segments. That way, they can free flow from a one-column smartphone layout, seamlessly, to a two-column desktop layout.” She points to a very practical reason to start small: “Less is more.” “You have only 8 seconds to capture the reader’s attention. Bombarding them with too much text, or too many details, will lose their interest and, more important, their click-through.”

Targeting-Another key “must do” for boosting the chance of a click-through is ensuring that your messages are targeted to those segments with the most opportunity to yield results. The ability to narrowly target specific audience segments is a big benefit that technology has brought to today’s marketers. In fact, audiences are expecting this segmentation to bring them content that is targeted to their needs and interests, says Lauren Eubanks, email marketing manager with TechnologyAdvice, a consulting firm.

“More and more companies are adopting marketing automation, and it will soon be necessary to successfully target your digital audience and get them through your sales funnel more efficiently,” says Eubanks. “Everyone is talking about it, but I think this is the year that everyone actually gets serious and adopts the approach.” Much simpler than marketing automation is segmenting and personalization, she says. “If you don’t have the current bandwidth to use marketing automation, at least segment your lists based on important criteria to send your audience more targeted content.” She points to TechnologyAdvice research, which indicates that the top reasons consumers send business emails to their spam folders are frequency and irrelevant content.

Ray Renteria is VP of products for Avention (formerly OneSource), a company that provides business lead generation and qualification tools, based in Concord, Mass. “In the old days, it was just buy a list and send your email to everyone on the list,” says Renteria. Today’s segmentation capabilities allow marketers to send much more targeted communications. So, he says, if you’re sending an email to a prospect who is passionate about green energy technology, you could put a picture of a wind turbine on the destination page. The possibilities are virtually limitless, allowing marketers to more specifically connect to their audiences with messages that can be very personalized.

Marketing automation-These days, there is really no reason for marketers not to take advantage of technology to help them more specifically target their audiences, says Steve Susina, marketing director at LYONSCG, an ecommerce digital agency based in Chicago. “Companies that have not yet implemented a marketing automation platform should make that a high priority,” he says. “Today’s marketing automation platforms from companies like Marketo, Silverpop, or HubSpot give the email marketer insights into website behavior that can help segment your audience and enable you to send more targeted messages.” Those messages, he adds, can also easily be personalized-elevating open and conversion rates.

Analytics capabilities for email marketers are continually improving, making it possible to do in-depth analysis to boost performance. “Not only can marketers look at open rates and click-throughs to better inform future campaigns, they can also integrate data from CRM [customer relationship management] or point-of-sale systems to create more effective and powerful email campaigns right from the get-go,” says Harriott. “By integrating point-of-sale and sales history systems with their email efforts, a marketer today can target a subset of their subscriber list with the perfect email content and promotional offer for similar products that the subscriber had already purchased, directly benefiting the company’s bottom line when the subscriber takes advantage.”

Predictive analytics are also becoming a big deal in email marketing, notes Renteria and others. H. John Oechsle, CEO and president of the email marketing and contact management software provider Swiftpage, says today’s savvy consumers have higher expectations of those who are sending marketing messages their way. In 2015, he says, email marketing professionals need to understand predictive-analytics technology. Predictive analytics will analyze where consumers are in the selling process, any contact they’ve already made, their questions, and what they’re looking for, as well as determine the next big step to take with a particular target customer, he says. “Timing is critical, and understanding the next best step is essential to determining when and how to deploy email marketing campaigns,” Oechsle says. Predictive analytics can help to provide those answers.

But, cautions Renteria, the ability to effectively use predictive analytics relies on the data being used to make these determinations. “Without the data, predictive analytics is just a cool science project,” he says. Harriott agrees: “Regardless of whether you’re selling to other businesses or straight to consumers, the best email campaigns are those that are segmented and customized based on data, such as demographic data or previous opens.”

Beyond technology, there are some very practical considerations for marketers that can drive not only action, but also visibility in the first place. Marketers must be increasingly aware of consumer concerns around privacy, not only from a customer service standpoint, but also from a potential liability standpoint.

 (This piece originally appeared in EContent Magazine.)

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