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Email Marketing: Where From Here?

By: Reg DesRosiers, CEO of Cyberpost

For business the age old marketing questions never change – how do you keep your current customers, and further, how do you find more of them?

For an ever increasing number of marketers, the preferred and even dominant choice has become digital marketing in one form or another, and there are many forms and choices for digital marketing.  The current strong favorite is email, and the reasons are several – email is direct, it can be at least somewhat targeted, it is efficient, and it is reasonably cost effective (more than 70 percent of companies will spend more time and money on email marketing this year).   

However, there are bumps and potholes in the email marketing road – at least some of which are getting bigger and deeper. The first and most important is that consumers are increasingly objecting to inboxes full of unwanted and mis-targeted content. Further, consumers are becoming less willing to tolerate unwanted and intrusive email. Evidence of these consumer issues is that a recent study indicated that 77% of consumers prefer to receive permission based email. Another piece of evidence in this direction is the advent and evolution of ad blocking software (“Publishers bracing for the brave new world of Internet advertising” – Toronto Globe and Mail, April 14, 2016.

Further, legal anti-spam rules have had the effect of giving consumers more control in how marketing messages can be delivered. It is hard to see how these trends to consumer empowerment will be reversed – if anything it is much easier to envision greater moves in the same direction. Finally, as importantly as anything else, consumers are concerned about control and ownership of their online identities.    

The trends foregoing have created the consequential (and unintended) effect of making email something like an “opt in” messaging system, and becoming more so in the future.  

What, then, does the future hold for email marketing?  How can consumers continue to receive what they want when they want it, which are exclusive offers and deals from favored brands and events and items of interest, delivered straight to their personal inbox?

How will marketers preserve, and probably more importantly, enhance what email does and achieves?

To better determine answers, we should explore why email works, where it fails and what forward-thinking approach we should employ to improve on digital marketing in a way that works for both brands and consumers.

Why email? Marketers love email; and for good reason. Almost 90 percent of marketers from a previous study credited email as their primary channel for lead generation. Email is also a top source for analytics data for marketers according to Forbes, with over 40 percent making use of email marketing performance data. Moreover, email marketing is often more successful at acquiring customer conversions than social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. In fact, marketers consistently ranked email as the single most effective tactic for awareness, acquisition, conversion, and retention according to a GigaOm research study. For marketers who are constantly searching for ways to reach their consumers directly with targeted messages that are personal, timely and which will generate a call to action that will result in a return on investment, email marketing has become and proven to be the tried and true path for goal accomplishment.

Where does email fall short?  One of the things that snail mail got remarkably right was the importance of physical address or location in advertising, for both marketers and consumers.  To this time, it has not been possible (or at least it has been very difficult) for marketers to create extremely location targeted marketing campaigns around varying size subsets in consumer bases.  

Although consumers can currently search anytime anywhere, at this stage, they’ve had no or a very limited ability to control what they will receive in their inbox!  Furthermore, there’s been no way to passively use email as a way to get information that is currently delivered or can be delivered at a future date about products and services of their choice, either by where they live or alternatively from or in locations remote to where they live.  For the most part, whenever consumers give out their email addresses, they give up control of their inbox.  

With more consumers accessing ads and interfacing with brands via mobile device than on any other channel, consumers now have the technology to find special offers and promotions for what they may be trying to find, and do so on the fly.  Email is just not suited for this purpose. As a result, and in order to deliver successful campaigns with optimum return, marketers will have to seriously consider whether their email marketing strategies are still appropriate, or at the very least, whether to overhaul them. Whether traveling a few hours out of town to check out a new shopping mall or visiting another country, mobile marketing has advanced to allow brands the opportunity to deliver and track relevant content to consumers anytime, anywhere– an opportunity largely missed by email marketing campaigns.

Finally, the type of content consumers receive is just as important as how it is digested and junking up an email inbox no longer seems to be ideal (particularly for mobile). In the on-demand media age, consumers have more power than ever to dictate nearly every aspect of their consumption– from how it’s created or produced, through what channels it’s shared, and when and where it is distributed. That means marketers have to be clearer than ever on what consumers want. It’s an age old question that always demands a new answer.

To win the new class of digital marketing consumers, marketers must not only be automated, they must also be personal. They also must be relevant and current; and they must preserve and enhance consumer autonomy. That means providing more solutions to opt-in or out of receiving notifications and filtering when and where they are received.  

Some important questions to ask yourself to determine the effectiveness of your campaign include:

Does my digital marketing strategy make it easy for my customers to receive exclusive content?

A yes answer would mean that you have content that not only promotes your brand, but provides incentive for consumers to interact with your brand digitally, either by responding to a call to action or becoming a brand ambassador.

Does my campaign produce relevant data that tells me more information about my customer?

Yes would mean that you have thoroughly explored the various channels to carry out a digital marketing strategy (i.e. social media, email marketing, mobile marketing, etc.) and have carefully laid out parameters for each strategy to measure the success of your digital marketing campaign according to how much detailed information it allows you to extract from/about your consumer base.

Am I using technology to my full advantage to retrieve relevant data and engage consumers?

Technology does not just include social media. It means exploring programmatic and automatic options for deploying marketing information to your audience. Automated marketing is very popular for obvious reasons. It’s quite convenient. However, it can also be very impersonal. To put it simply, marketing content that is entering a customer’s personal space (their email inbox, phone, social media account, etc.) and which is not personal is not as good as it might be. While automating your marketing can take care of several necessary elements that can elevate any marketing campaign (i.e. sending out updates to a mass group of consumers), it’s important to always consider ways to ensure your automated content remains personal.

Do my campaigns include multimedia?

Many email marketing campaigns stick to a specific and generic format.  It’s easy and it’s clean, but may not push the consumer to action.  However, email anti-spam rules and various technology limitations both serve to make it difficult to really enhance consumer engagement by incorporating multimedia elements (i.e. videos, interactive photos, content capsules, live links, etc.)  For example, adding a personal message from a popular music band that is playing locally to an announcement that is filtered only to fans in that specific area can be just the necessary incentive to drive more ticket sales. In this way, marketing campaigns should fully harness multimedia capabilities to optimize engagement, which may force many brands to start looking beyond current email marketing solutions.

Am I seeing a return and developing a relationship?

This is a crucial marketing question.  Many marketers focus only on return, but digital marketing affords an incomparable opportunity to build a relationship with consumers that can lead to long time brand support, even if it’s not immediately reflected in short term numbers.

Conclusion

There are new horizons in digital marketing, which now allow email marketers to not only preserve but to improve upon all of the benefits of email marketing, and even remove the current limitations in email marketing.  It’s time marketers consider and embrace a digital marketing plan that can deliver to consumers what they really want:

A means to effectively limit the quantity of the marketing messages they receive and passively monitor any specific market area of their choice anywhere to get the marketing messages they want to receive. In so doing, marketers will get what they want – loyal customers.

As the old saying goes, old habits die hard; and so email marketing is unlikely to go away; however, there is enough burgeoning technology, resources, content and innovation to look far beyond email marketing as the key solution.