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The Evolution of Email Marketing

Email Marketing Upgraded - Beyond the Software

Buyers today are more empowered. Information is abundantly, overwhelmingly available, and buyers are using that easy access to tune out unwanted marketing messages while simultaneously seizing control of their buying processes.

In this environment, old-fashioned “batch and blast” campaigns to untargeted lists will only alienate buyers. With short attention spans and intelligent buying and browsing habits, digitally-savvy consumers want personalized, relevant communications. [Expand to read more.]

To keep up with today’s buyer, you need to know:

  • What makes email truly trusted and engaging
  • How to talk with each of your customers individually, rather than at them as a group
  • How to engage your audience with cross-channel conversations, listening and responding effectively

Read on to learn how to upgrade your email to be more trusted, more relevant, and more conversational.

Email Matters More Today than Ever Before

In 2009, The Wall Street Journal published an article claiming that email was dead. Ironically, it was the most emailed article of the day.

If you Google “email is dead,” you’ll get over 1.5 million results.  To emphasize just how radical a number that is, comparison searches bring up only 280,000 results for “blogging is dead,” 180,000 for “social media is dead,” and only 2,500 for “podcasting is dead.” All of these numbers are current at the time we write this, June 2013.

However, the reports of the death of email have been greatly exaggerated. Consider this:

  • There are currently 3.3 billion email accounts in the world. (Source: Mashable)
  • Of Americans age 12 and over who are active online, 94% cite email as one of their regular activities.  (Source: Pew Internet and American Life Project’s Generations 2010 report)
  • Email is the customer preference. In a recent survey, a staggering 77% of consumers reported that they prefer to receive permission-based marketing communications through email – and email was the number source for all age groups including 15-24! (Source: Waldow Social)
  • Email generates nearly a 2X return compared to other channels. For every dollar spent on email marketing in 2011, there was a $40.56 return. Compare that to other channels, such as search engine marketing is the next closest at $22.44. (Source: Direct Marketing Association and Smart Data Collective)
  • 64% of companies indicated their organizations' investment in email marketing was expected to increase in 2013. (Source: Marketing Sherpa 2013 Benchmark Report)

Jay Baer, author of Youtility, says that 58% percent of adult Americans check email first thing in the morning.

Email is still the quickest and most direct way to reach customers with critical information.  But at the same time, consumers are always on, always connected, and always overwhelmed. If you want to connect with them, you have to work hard to engage them. In order to be truly effective, email marketing must become:

  • More trusted
  • More relevant
  • More conversational
  • More coordinated with other channels
  • More strategic

In a nutshell, your email must become more engaging.

More Trusted Email

Only with trust will consumers let your email past their filters and into their lives. Set expectations during an opt-in process, and then consistently fulfill those expectations with every email you send.

Trust begins with the opt-in. A smart opt-in process sets an accurate and positive notion of what’s to come, and how “it” will arrive. Your opt-in should:

  • Explain “What’s In It For Me (WIIFM)?” Subscribers want to know why they should subscribe; so tell them right up front. Remember, marketing is about meeting their needs, not yours.
  • Explain exactlywhat types of content you’ll be sending: Let your subscribers know they might receive updates, deals, coupons, offers, advice, news, events, or general information.
  • Set expectations for frequency and timing. (We’ll talk more about this later.)
  • Give subscribers choices, if you can. Offer them the ability to sign up for emails on certain subjects versus others, or for a weekly digest versus a daily message.

Marketo’s Benchmark on Email Marketing study showed that a clear opt-in method increases trust by 10%, while cheap shortcuts, such as using third-party lists and data vendors, actually decrease trust by 10%. (Marketo Benchmark on Email Marketing)

There are lots of ways to build your opt-in list. According to a 2013 MarketingSherpa study, the most common by far is to ask for an email address on the website, with social sharing buttons in email and offline events the second and third most popular.

ROI of email marketing

Want to learn more about email deliverability?  Check out Marketo’s Email Deliverability Success Center.       

More Relevant Email

Relevance means knowing who your audience is and what they want from your emails. If you aren’t relevant, your subscribers will opt-out – or emotionally opt-out.

At the most basic level, relevance comes from better segmentation and targeting. Consider this:

Small, segmented sends are more engaging than large, untargeted sends. Marketo’s research shows that sending targeted content to smaller groups leads to higher engagement. This makes sense, of course, since the smaller the group, the more focused – and therefore relevant – the message can be. 

email volume vs engagement

Segmentation Based on Behaviors

If your goal is relevance, the best way to segment is based on behaviors. Knowing WHO your customers are is great, but knowing HOW they behave is even better.

This is because behavioral data can be highly predictive of future decision-making patterns and road-to-purchase activity. A prospect’s browsing and search activity relate directly to his intent; his social sharing activity can indicate future purchase possibilities; and emails opened, links clicked, and content consumed indicate interest.

The information gleaned by paying attention to a consumer’s digital behavior is her online body language. By tracking and interpreting online body language, you can determine where she is in her buying journey and what problems she might be trying to solve. You can even begin to figure out what interests her, what annoys her, and what persuades her.

In fact, MarketingSherpa research shows that trigger-based email and segmentation based on behaviors are the  top tactics to improve the relevance and engagement of email content.

triggered emails and segmentation

More Conversational Email

Think about the word blast for a moment. What does it bring to mind? An explosion? A batch and blast email strategy is, indeed, like an explosion — a violent shattering that results in more damage than benefit. It certainly does not bring to mind engagement.

The truth is nobody – including your consumers – wants to get blasted. To create more engaging email marketing, it’s time to abandon the idea of batch and blast, and enter into a relationship-oriented mindset that continuously builds engagement with consumers, one by one and over time.

This means having a conversation that’s organic and free-flowing. Just like a real-world conversation, an engaging email doesn’t just talk to a recipient; it also gives him a reason and an opportunity to respond, and fits into a broader conversational arc. It means you listen to the consumers’ behaviors and respond appropriately.

“Every interaction is a link within the context of a communication supply-chain.  Don't look at each discrete message, or even each campaign, as a unique event with a direct link to the end result. Marketing is not a candy machine. Instead, view each as a link in a chain of events each of which leads to other actions.” – IDC Technology Marketing Blog

More Coordinated With Other Channels

Today’s consumer moves seamlessly — and sometimes quite quickly — across digital and offline channels. He jumps from an email to social to your website to your 1-800 number, and then back to social media, all without losing momentum. And he does so from whatever device is most handy in the moment.

The problem is that most companies are just not prepared to deliver integrated channel experiences. The consumption and buying habits of Internet-savvy buyers have zoomed ahead of companies’ organizational and technical abilities to communicate and interact with them. Delivering an integrated consumer experience requires companies to break down these organizational and technological silos and plan their cross-channel marketing around the customer.

Throughout all this, email is the digital glue that holds it all together.  Email is the one channel that all the other channels refer back to and rely upon. This is good news for email marketers, because it means they’re leading the evolutionary march toward true cross-channel coordination.

“Email is the hub of all digital messaging. It’s not the end-all be-all, but email is the glue that keeps marketing channels together.” – Simms Jenkins, CEO of Brightwave (Source)

Email Marketing and Social Media

Nowhere is this more true that with email and social. Like Batman and Robin, email and social have a symbiotic relationship. If email marketing is Batman, then social is Robin.

Batman is the “Caped Crusader.” He’s always around when Gotham City needs him. He’s trustworthy and dependable. When the bat signal goes off, Batman swoops in to save the day. Like email, he’s awfully powerful by himself, but he’s sometimes even more effective with a little help. 

Robin is the Boy Wonder. He helps Batman fight evil and gets the job done! Like social media, he’s young, full of ideas and enthusiasm.

Like the Dynamic Duo, email and social are most effective when they cooperate. Your social followers tend to be less committed than your email contacts at first. When you successfully transition social followers into email subscribers, your email marketing list gets bigger, and your subscriber loyalty grows. And when you drive your email subscribers to your social feeds, you create deeper engagement. You and your success metrics will agree that both channels benefit.

More Strategic Email

Engaging email is strategic email, and this requires better email marketing metrics. It’s no secret that top executives don’t really care about the Open Rate or Click-Through Rate of your last email campaign. A riveting subject line or persuasive email copy is only as good as the revenue it generates: you don’t just want Opens; you want actual sales.

In fact, MarketingSherpa asked CMOs and senior marketing executives about the importance of various factors in measuring the value of email marketing programs, and found a shift in the factors used by CMOs. While basic metrics used to be considered sufficient, they aren’t anymore. According to the survey, “today, CMOs presume email will provide a financial return on investment.”

email marketing benchmark survey"

Email Upgraded: Graduating to Marketing Automation

We’ve emphasized the five key factors that make email engaging and ultimately successful:

  1. Email must be trusted. It’s essential that your emails set and then consistently meet subscriber expectations.
  2. Email must be relevant. You have an obligation to deliver the right content to the right person at the right time, based on a smart understanding of each subscriber’s interests and behaviors.
  3. Email must be conversational. Buyers are individuals, and they deserve personalized communications. This means abandoning the idea of batch and blast campaigns and entering into a relationship-oriented mindset that continuously builds engagement with consumers, one by one and over time.
  4. Email must be coordinated with other channels. Your emails must be coordinated with interactions from every marketing channel, so that your customers’ experiences are consistent and progressive.
  5. Email must be strategic. Always use the right metrics to measure your email marketing tactics and assess their effectiveness and worth. Then, make adjustments accordingly.

Traditional email service providers (ESPs) can’t deliver on these musts. Key limitations include:

Not relevant. EPSs rely primarily on targeting audiences based on demographics and flat “subscriber” files. However, this kind of targeting ignores valuable information about buyer behavior that can be obtained by examining a buyer’s actions, or lack of actions, as they engage with content and trusted sources online and offline. Connecting to behavioral systems requires technical skills and complex queries, making traditional ESPs blind to valuable buyer behavior and, therefore, unable to build meaningful relationships with consumers.

Not conversational. ESPs don’t have the functional ability to allow one-to-one conversations over time. They send mass emails to an entire list at once. Sure, they can customize emails, but they aren’t built to facilitate evolving and customized two-way conversations between a company and each individual consumer. Marketers stuck using traditional ESPs waste an incredible amount of time manually simulating dynamic conversations with their various lists — valuable time that they could be using to optimize their marketing strategy and create fresh content. 

Not multi-channel. Today’s buyer shifts rapidly and continually across channels, engaging with email one moment and with social the next. But traditional ESPs were designed around one function: email marketing. Traditional ESPs have made modest attempts to integrate other capabilities such as social, but without the backbone to support true cross-channel marketing, their small fixes don’t address the bigger problem. Traditional ESPs simply cannot comprehensively capture all the online and offline behavioral patterns that give marketers real insight into how their customers tick, and they cannot effectively or in a timely manner trigger action in other parts of the organization such as sales or call centers.

Not strategic. ESPs only provide email marketing metrics. They can’t track and measure the impact of marketing spending on revenue over time. Without a comprehensive and unified view of how spending is affecting revenue, marketers cannot compare relative effectiveness of their investments. As a result, marketers are challenged in how to allocate and re-allocate resources to the channels and methods that have the greatest positive impact on revenue.

“Given the situation with today's buyer, standalone email is insufficient to produce or effectively judge engagement. In fact, email can be worse than inadequate. Instead of engaging buyers, improperly managed email can push buyers away.” – International Data Corporation (IDC) Workbook: Graduating from Email to Engagement: Using Marketing Automation to Achieve Success with Today's New Buyer, June 2013

It’s time to graduate to marketing automation.  Marketo’s free 100-page Definitive Guide to Marketing Automation will answer all of your questions about how marketing automation can help your company, and how to be successful with it once you’ve made the decision.

email service providers vs marketing automation

Email service providers are antiquated. Automated marketing platforms are designed to engage and convert your subscribers within and beyond your email efforts. It’s time to move beyond the term email marketing. The future lies in engagement marketing.

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