Email marketing: We need to stop being 'creative snobs'

Pippa Chambers
By Pippa Chambers | 25 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

See P1: Email is the 'workhorse' of marketing and P2: What's the biggest myth about email marketing?

When it comes to breaching the email walls and claiming that elusive open click, does the creative really matter? Or is the power all in the hands of those carefully chosen words on the frontline – the email subject.

Speaking to AdNews, executive creative director at Archibald Williams Matt Gilmour said he must be a “needy kind of person” as every morning he wakes up and deletes the same dozen emails from the same dozen email senders – however, he rarely unsubscribes. He adds that maybe it makes him feel important that he has emails he can delete. Perhaps he enjoys it? Either way he's not quite sure why he's in such a habit, and he's most likely not alone.

He said if the email doesn’t get past the ‘subject line police’, it’s gone forever, so every little detail of an email should be given the same love and attention. On the odd occasion that a brand gets Gilmour to read on, it’s usually one of only a few things that work.

“Firstly, the subject line is critically important, it’s the frontline against deletion and it has to appeal to me at this point in my life. Generic subject lines are swiped left,” Gilmour said.

“Secondly, if I like how a brand ‘speaks’ to me, and it’s consistently building on a brand story I’m more likely to trust what they’re sending me.

“Thirdly, the email should be short and to the point. It shouldn’t be a website in my inbox, it should always be treated as a way to get me to go further.

“If you apply this kind of scrutiny to your EDM creation, you may be lucky enough to get past my highly critical EDM bullshit meter. Or maybe I’ll be half asleep and delete it anyway,” Gilmour said.

The despair is still there

Luke Brown, CEO and founder of CX, media and ad agency Affinity said email, when it’s used correctly, is one of the most powerful and effective mediums for many brands. He added it has one of the best ROIs available, and for some brands email can represent around 30% of total sales.

“Which is why I despair when I open my inbox and see the drivel I receive from brands that really should know better,” Brown said.

On the subject of why is email so often relegated by brands and agencies as the poor creative cousin, Brown said there seems to be three things holding back email for many marketers. Those being the lack of relevance or personalisation; secondly, the fact that email lacks sex appeal for the agency and or client and, lastly, the lack of technical competence

He said if marketers focused on addressing these three things, their email would be more creative and effective – adding that nothing gets unsubscribes faster than irrelevant email, which is why relevance is the key to all advertising, but it’s particularly true for email.

Brown said email lacks sex appeal for many agencies and clients and often it seems to be the after thought within many marketing departments, having a low priority and to be fitted in around everything else.

“It’s the chore that everyone does every week, month or quarter. With this attitude, it means email marketing can struggle for resourcing in the entire marketing mix.”

This is about a culture shift

Brown added that agencies have the opportunity to embrace the email as an insight-driven creative channel to drive commercial outcomes for their clients.

“Sure, you’re not going to be talking up the production values of your email as you would your latest TVC or tech prototype, but it’s time we started getting more turned on about the results email can deliver when we take the creative potential for email seriously.”

He also stressed there's a lack of technical competence as any of the major commercial platforms today can handle mobile responsive and multivariate testing of creative.

“If your email platform can’t do these, burn it and move to one that does. If you can’t track the path from email open to an actual sale (online or in-store) from your email campaign then sack your agency, or appoint one if you do it internally. This is one of the main reasons why email marketing struggles for resourcing,” Brown said.

“One key change that will help improve the overall creativity and effectiveness in email marketing is to stop thinking of email as being free or cheap. This is about a culture shift, stop being creative snobs. If email is treated the same degree of creative and strategic rigour as all other elements, brands will quickly enjoy more creative and more effective email results.”

Bringing back the evocative manner

Accenture digital marketing manager Aditi Naik reckons email marketing has evolved with varying degrees of maturity, depending on the industry at hand.

She said leaders in this space have typically been fashion and online retailers who are constantly evolving their electronic data management systems (EDMs) in a bid to keep up with changing consumer trends.

“In particular, they seem to have embraced mobile as a channel really well, both from a content creation perspective and as a platform for consumer communication. For example, using mobile to develop 'snackable' content that is scalable and can be read with ease and speed,” Naik said.

“Some retailers are also starting to tap into data (insights, analytics, etcetera) to optimise their email marketing strategies for more targeted campaigns. In other industries, airlines like Qantas are slowly starting to embrace a storytelling narrative and are creating an experience-based desire by showcasing various destinations and deals.”

Despite the boon in collection of customer data, Naik said what's still missing is the ability to cultivate this information and utilise it in an “evocative manner”.

She said marketers should seek to use automation much more effectively.

“We see market statistics telling us that 67.45% of online shopping carts are abandoned before the customer completes a sale. A great example of automation here is setting up an automatic email reminder to notify the customer after a set number of days that they have an incomplete sale,” she said.

“Visually, the email should contain images of the item that is left in their cart to remind the customer of the product. However, organisations need to ensure appropriate rules applied so they don’t spam the customer.”

She also stressed the need to develop a reward-oriented culture and that the customer is handing over their data in exchange for an experience, not just a product or service.

“Through personalising this experience as much as possible, organisations can leave a far more meaningful impact on the consumer and embed a sense of interest and loyalty that will have them re-clicking on the email content,” she said.

Naik said the problem with clutter isn't necessarily stemming out of the creative within the email, and that this speaks to a wider branding problem.

She said for a customer to be engaged in email content, they need to be interested in the brand and find the subject line relevant and interesting enough to open.

“The creative only becomes relevant once these initial hurdles are overcome,” Naik said.

Accenture Digital's top tips:

For organisations seeking to differentiate their email content from the myriad of competitors, here are five key recommendations:
1. Have a point of view in the market and first spend time working on the brand. Think about what your organisation has to say, when and why people might want to hear from you.

2. Invest the time and money into building infrastructure that helps to get messages out at speed. The proper foundations will help sustain and consolidate an organisation's digital channels as well as cut operational expenditure over time.  

3. Test subject lines to see what type of messaging resonates to avoid wasting resources and content.

4. Don't force your organisation to be a storyteller. Every industry has its own content methodology. Whilst it might make sense for an airline to send customers an email on the top travel tips for a particular destination based on their previous search history, a homewares store sending customers stories about where their furniture has originated from is not relevant and does not stimulate consumer engagement.  

5. Lastly, track and test everything. Without proactive monitoring, you are simply stagnating your growth.

This article originally appeared in AdNews magazine.

See P1: Email is the 'workhorse' of marketing and P2: What's the biggest myth about email marketing?

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