Email is the 'workhorse' of marketing

Pippa Chambers
By Pippa Chambers | 12 August 2016

It's not sexy and it's not dead, so where is email marketing right now? From marketers to ad tech platforms, Pippa Chambers hits refresh on this age old marketing technique to see how it's stacking up in this four part series. This article originally appeared in AdNews in Print. See P2: What's the biggest myth about email marketing? and P3: Email marketing: We need to stop being 'creative snobs'.

Steering and swerving through modern day marketing strategies, alongside the rise of mobile, is increasingly complex and to succeed, personalisation, behavioural tracking and attribution are just a few elements to get a handle on. Is email marketing still a core, fail-safe digital tactic or is staying in the inbox harder than ever before?

Regional director APAC at global email data solutions provider Return Path, Theo Noel, said as consumers, we are receiving more marketing emails each day, but are only opening one in 15.

“For marketers, being the top message in the inbox is no longer the goal. To have a successful email marketing campaign, you need to be true to your brand and ensure every email you send makes the consumer feel special,” Noel said.

“To do this you need to personalise the email, and talk to, not at them.

“You have one second to grab your customer’s attention on a small screen, so you need to be smart. Consumers have high expectations, wanting the emails they receive to be both informative and inspiring. If you don’t meet their expectations your emails will be deleted without reading, and your customers will unsubscribe.”

Sydney-based MD of IPG search and social agency Reprise, Ale Vendramin, who before moving agency-side worked client-side in marketing at brands such as Ford, said there's no doubt that email marketing is on the up.

“One of the reasons for this is the growth of technology. It's allowing that end goal of right message, right person, right time,” Vendramin said.

He said it's the tech that is helping marketers get smarter and to be more sophisticated and personalised with their targeting.

Vendramin said email is far from dead and that even on mobile it is advancing. Given some of the stats surrounding email and mobile, such as more than 80% of Gmail users read email on their mobile, and more than 50% of Outlook users access email via mobile, marketers would be crazy to ignore email marketing.

He also stressed that bulk sending of non-targeted emails isn't just a waste of time, but far worse, if you are firing out irrelevant and impersonal emails it will result in your target audience actually “hating your brand”.

What are brands doing?

Chief marketing officer at health insurance business HCF, Jenny Williams, said the business had an increased focus on member retention and knows that email marketing is one of the most powerful ways for HCF to engage with its member base.

She said success is getting good message cut through with digestible content and comparable open rates/CTR to desktop. HCF is currently running at 86% open rates on emails, 35% higher than in 2015 – which she said is significantly higher than industry average open rates.

Williams added that content should be ‘fit for purpose’ and needs to work in a digital format. She said HCF also has a range of messages that it's required by law to inform its members at particular times of the year – for example, notifying members of the annual change in premiums.

“Email is a major channel for this type of content for us. It can be confusing for consumers, so it is really important that we make our communications clear and easy to understand,” Williams said.

HCF has learned that email is ideal for small pieces of digestible content or a message that requires immediate action, with Williams adding that HCF has an integrated approach to marketing and email is one of the channels it always considers. However, she said like any channel, it's vital to make sure you’re using it for the right communication.

“Email marketing is moving to 1:1 communication – that is messaging that is based on previous behaviour or interaction with us,” she said.

"It’s also known as ‘mass customisation’ and is really about making sure you are delivering up the right message to members in a way that works for them, based on what we know about them. Subscription management is also critical – allowing our members to choose how we communicate is also part of the customisation piece.”

Chasing the one-to-one conversation

RedBalloon CEO Nick Baker said the online experience gift retailer has been transitioning to Adobe Campaign for its email marketing to leverage more personalisation and automation across its programs.

Looking at its overall marketing structure and how email marketing stacks up against other channels, Baker said it optimises its emails with a mobile-first approach – and that email is a very efficient channel for RedBalloon, accounting for 15-20% of total revenue.

“It's a key element of the overall mix,” Baker begins. “Email marketing is important as it allows us to have a one-to-one conversation with our customers as well as showcase relevant products and content.”

He added that everything RedBalloon does is “with the mobile customer experience in mind”, and the brand is seeking to better understand the role of mobile in the customer journey as it often sees lower conversion rates from mobile traffic.

Baker believes to be successful at email marketing you need good, clean data and a single view of the customer; and by aligning the email program to the customer life cycle, this means you can be relevant and targeted in the messages and offer. Lastly, he said it's crucial to constantly test, so you can learn what works and what doesn’t for your various customer segments.

Return Path's Noel is also a firm believer of the testing method, and calls email “the working horse of marketing”.

Citing the National Client Email Report for the DMA UK and Email Hub, which is based on a survey of client-side marketing professionals on the use and results of the email channel, Noel said email has an average ROI of US$38 for each US$1 spent. The report also found one in five companies report an ROI of over 70:1, that more than 50% of email revenue is generated by segmentation and another 30% is being produced by triggered emails.

Work it, own it - data

Vice president Marketing Cloud at Salesforce, Jeremy Smith, said it's all about the data when it comes to harnessing email marketing.

“Almost all the brands that we talk to say that while they capture millions of data points about their customers, they don’t necessarily know how to leverage them - this presents a huge opportunity for brands to get better insights out of their data to improve the customer journey,” Smith said.

He said another opportunity for marketers is how they can use email marketing to complement other channels such as online advertising. He said there’s been substantial research over the years that reveals when people unsubscribe from emails, it’s not because they fell out with the brand, but usually due to a number of factors such as relevancy, frequency, or they were just having a bad day.

Smith said historically, brands would simply exclude people who unsubscribe or don’t respond to email. Nowadays, brands can use the customer’s email address to re-target them on a different channel and re-engage with them.

Vice president sales, APAC at Oracle Marketing Cloud, Will Griffith said a company’s best asset is its data and to be treated with less respect than other corporate assets is a dis-service to the efforts put in place to capture it in the first place.

“Data should be at the forefront of the overarching marketing and customer experience strategy and all activity should always ensure they are following company data governance practices,” he said.

He said people jump straight to personalisation without testing but that gut feel is no longer acceptable. He said data should drive all decisions and the results will always reflect the importance of these data based decisions.


Vice president Marketing Cloud at Salesforce, Jeremy Smith, said email has improved leaps and bounds to a point where data can be leveraged from multiple sources to deliver personalised content - be it demographic, transactional or email behavioural data, right through to leveraging predictive intelligence to take behavioural data from in store, websites, emails, and app engagement.

 “This is a far cry from the days of simply using someone's first name to personalise an email,” Smith said.

“Email marketing is also complimenting other channels, like online advertising. Reports indicate that someone is 22% more likely convert if you follow up an email with a personalised advert using the rich data you know about an individual.”

New said the process of email personalisation also requires that a clean data set is used, low soft bounce rate thresholds such as six times in 30 days should be used with hard bounce rate thresholds set to one to make sure that communications which are sent, are delivered.

“On top of this, lists of customers shouldn’t be bought – only genuine customers and potential customers should be engaged with. This makes sure the business is viewed not only positively by active customers but makes email campaigns more effective,” New said.

No more batch emails

James New, marketing director Asia Pacific at marketing automation software business Marketo, which was acquired by private equity firm Vista Equity Partners for US$1.79 billion in June, said the rules of email marketing have changed as it has evolved from a method of mass communication, through transactional communication, to more personalised customer experiences.

“Traditional email marketing campaigns relied on batch emails which where every customer received the same email,” he said.

“The rules have changed however with customers wanting better relationships with businesses. This can be seen through the higher performance of trigger emails, with three time higher click rates than both batch and nurture types. This is because trigger emails are tailored to the customer, based upon their actions and behaviours either in store or online.”

New said templates need to be optimised for mobile responsiveness, and indeed landing pages and websites too – and that we’ve also got to the stage with marketing automation where predictive content is now a reality – with the technology selecting email content based on behaviours and segmentation.

Test, test and test again

“Data is number one and a key challenge for many brands, RedBalloon included,” said Baker.

“We don’t have a shortage of data, but it’s more a challenge around integration and pulling usable insights and actions from these numbers. Personalisation is the buzzword of the moment, but the opportunity speaks for itself. We want to be delivering the right messages to our customers, at the right time, no matter the device they are on.

“Cross channel attribution is something that we are working hard to understand so we can understand the true ROI on email activity.”

In terms of other challenges, Baker said mobile responsiveness is up there. “We know that the majority of our customers are browsing on mobile, so we must have this front of mind with all marketing activity,” he said.

In addition to getting your data house in order, focusing on personalisation of emails, being aware of security issues like phishing scams and fitting email into the complex path to attribution, according to Noel, another important issue, regardless of role, is that “we are all being asked to do more with less every day”.

“For marketing, this can be done with automation. Automated emails can be triggered for welcome messages, anniversaries, birthdays, to win back customers, remind them a shopping cart has been abandoned and offer customers special offers based on purchase activity,” Noel said.

“It's vital to be true to yourself and your brand, remember how to be a direct marketer, and test, test, and test again.”

“Spray and pray” method churns customer contacts.

Adobe APAC director of marketing, Paula Parkes, said content is still king, and brands that have been able to deliver meaningful and relevant email content will see the most success through the channel.

“Customers today expect a personalised experience, and those marketers that continue to follow the “spray and pray” method will continue to churn customer contacts,” Parkes said.

She said we’ve moved away from simply plugging in the contact’s first name, or making general references to basic demographic data and that when real-time email marketing is done properly, it delivers timely contextually relevant experiences, value, and utility in ways that reflect the customer’s preferences.

She added that context-based email-marketing practices require different metrics for measuring success.

"Unlike the “batch and blast” method, success is not measured on list growth or email volume when it comes to a personalised campaign. Rather, a lower volume of more personalised interactions actually signifies higher engagement. Successful marketers know how to make email work at the right stage in the funnel to impact the customer journey and the bottom line.”

Shouldn't be a stand alone channel

When it comes to the rules of email marketing, Griffith said micro-targeting is now a must as it's easier than ever for customers to disengage with communications as message volumes are higher than ever - which in turn puts more pressure than ever on marketers to be relevant.

“Ultimately in the new modern marketing era email marketing is successful when it drives engagement and revenue and provides a targeted personalised customer experience,” Griffith said.

Despite the positives and advances in email marketing, it isn't the main striker in the long-term marketing game.

“What we are seeing in market is that successful email marketing is most efficient when it's not designed and implemented as a stand alone channel,” Griffith said.

“By also incorporating mobile app push messaging, paid media and social, in-store, and increasingly SMS for an orchestrated experience across channels for either promotional or transactional marketing, we are seeing this drive the success of marketing campaigns as a whole.”

Mobile changes the game

Marketo's New said increased use of mobile means that email marketing needs to be more optimised to accommodate for these display types with 75% of smartphone owners saying that they are likely to delete emails if they can’t read it on their phones.

“This is a worrying number especially considering that only 15% of marketers test mobile layouts and images. Simple changes in the dynamic design of emails not only decrease the likelihood that an email is deleted but they also have 31% higher click rates,” New said.

Smith said mobile has made email even more accessible, however it does come with challenges that many marketers underestimate. He said while technology has made it easier for companies to generate beautiful looking emails and ensuring they work on any device, factors such as mobile screen space creates the challenge of what content should be prioritised to get maximum customer engagement.

“This is where leveraging data and predictive intelligence comes into play,” he said.

“Another consideration is the journey someone will take once they click on an email - will the website be easy to navigate in a mobile environment? If the answer is no, customers will disengage and you will see a huge drop off rate. While we are in this giant mobile growth phase, we need to ensure we are offering the customer the best possible experience. We also must prepare for a time when customers operate just one device,” Smith said.

Oracle's Griffith said mobile has been a complete game changer for email.

“Consumers browse, open, delete and engage with email on mobile, so marketers who don't design their emails to be mobile responsive are already falling significantly behind their competition,” he said.

“In addition, to have mobile responsive templates, such small mobile hacks like adding “click to call” buttons and a simplified mobile purchase experiences are really seeing innovative brands grow their market share.

 See P2: What's the biggest myth about email marketing? and P3: Email marketing: We need to stop being 'creative snobs'.

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