Reports of the Death of Email Marketing Exaggerated?

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One of the most memorable quotes about customer relationships I have read in recent years comes from The Elusive Fan by Irving Rein, Philip Kotler, and Ben Shields. In the book, the authors make a point that sports fans today are easier to reach but harder to engage than ever before. We have an abundance of tools to connect with a target audience. While getting to an audience is crucial, getting through to them to achieve desired results is proving to be far more challenging.

This characteristic of easier to reach, harder to engage is not limited to sports fans. Businesses in virtually every industry can say the same about their customers. New options for communicating with customers continue to emerge. The evolution of communication channels has the unfortunate effect of further fragmenting audiences. Thus, creating meaningful customer engagement that meets business objectives has become more challenging.

The Staying Power of Email

One communication channel that seemed to face an uncertain future is email. The strength of permission marketing via opt-in email was offset by problems including message overload, irrelevant messages, and an image crisis caused by spam, phishing, and Nigerian princes seeking to get into your wallet. Surprisingly, email has overcome these challenges to become a marketing star.

When it comes to delivering results, marketers are bullish on email. Digital marketing firm Econsultancy surveyed over 300 marketers in its annual Email Marketing Census last spring. When asked to rate different communication channels in terms of return on investment, email won going away.

Econsultancy 2016 Survey

Although channels like social media and mobile are like sleek, shiny toys, they do not deliver results on par with email according to marketers surveyed.

The Three Ts of Email Marketing

Why is email a cut above all other communication channels in marketers’ eyes? The answer is in three characteristics email possesses that set it apart from SEO, content marketing, and other channels included in the survey question. You could call these characteristics the “Three Ts”: targeting, timeliness, and track-able. It’s not that the other channels are devoid of these traits, but email tends to deliver against them more consistently.

  • Targeting. Compiling email subscribers’ demographics, coupled with buyer behavior in the form of purchase history, enables sending communication to the right audience. The cleverest creative or unbelievably attractive offer does not matter much if they are not in tune with audience desires.
  • Timeliness. Email is a flexible channel for creating and sending messages quickly to take advantage of marketing opportunities. A school holiday could be the catalyst for a restaurant’s email campaign to entice family visits.
  • Track-able. The days of “half my advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half” are gone. Tools to track marketing performance no longer give us a pass to spend and hope for the best. Email offers many metrics that shed light on how well (or poorly) a campaign performs.

No Offense, Mobile

One surprising result from the Email Marketing Census is the perceived ineffectiveness of mobile marketing. Only four percent of marketers surveyed said mobile was excellent for delivering ROI, tied for last with online display advertising (ouch!). Mobile possesses the three Ts of targeting, timeliness, and track-able, too. Some mobile marketing advocates bristled at the findings of the Econsultancy survey, suggesting that marketers’ attachment to email was based on outdated thinking.

Why would mobile rate so low on marketers’ list of channels ability to deliver ROI? One reason could be many of these same marketers are still trying to figure out how to make mobile work for them. An encouraging sign is email design for mobile is gaining in importance. A survey of retailers last fall found using mobile-optimized design was the top email marketing tactic used (64% reported adopting the tactic).

retailer survey fall 16

This statistic, along with recognition of that mobile has become the number one platform for checking email, will undoubtedly boost marketers’ motivation to become more adept at mobile marketing. Going forward, email and mobile should be viewed less as competing channels in favor of a complementary view.

Email Newsletters: The Granddaddy of Content Marketing


The race to jump on the bandwagon of the newest and hottest practices in marketing is like how children long for the newest toy. When we get it, older toys don’t get played with as often and may even be forgotten… at least for awhile. Then we stumble across the older toys remember our positive experiences with them, and begin enjoying some of them again. This scenario resembles what can be observed playing out in digital marketing today. In the past 5 years, social media and content marketing have been like the toys shoppers stand in line for hours to buy. They have to have them, hope they like them, but may be unsure how to get the most benefit from them. If this description sounds familiar, maybe it is time to bring out one of your old toys: Email newsletters.

Good Email Marketing is Content Marketing

Many businesses wrestle with how to incorporate content into their marketing mix. Since a day does not go by that content marketing is not being given prominent coverage by industry media, a marketer cannot help but question the benefits of a content strategy. But, you may already be doing content marketing, particularly if you have an email newsletter. Email is simply a channel, a means of distribution. Subscribers agree to receive email from you not because they want another distribution source in their inbox; they want your content. Whether it is information about products, new stores, special events, promotions, or special interest stories, people subscribe to email newsletters because they find the content to be of value to them. Keep the content compelling, and they will keep you by continuing to give their consent for you to send emails.

Why Email?

If you are skeptical about the value of email or have had less than glowing results previously with email newsletters, keep in mind these statistics about email marketing shared by Kyle Lacy of ExactTarget Marketing Cloud with my comments in parentheses:

  • US adult email audience was estimated to be 188.3 million in 2013 and expected to grow to 203.8 million by 2017 (large numbers of people are using the medium- meet them where they are)
  • 95% of online consumers use email (for B2B buyers that number has to approach 100%)
  • 93% of consumers get at least one permission email daily (they are open to receiving content)
  • 70% of consumers say they always open email from their favorite companies (goal is to become a favorite company, no?)
  • Every $1 spent on email marketing yields an average of $44.25 in return (a ratio anyone could live with).

These impressive numbers do not assure email marketing success. It takes hard work to develop interesting content, determine optimal communication frequency, and build a subscriber list. But before you chase the shiny new toys of digital marketing, look in the closet and make the most of how email newsletters can connect with your existing audience as well as attract new subscribers.

This post was inspired by a recent article posted on “For Email Newsletters, a Death Greatly Exaggerated.” Check it out if newsletters are a part of your content strategy or you are wondering if email is still a relevant channel.


The Engagement Gap in Email Marketing

 Email is an inexpensive marketing channel for sending targeted messages. Another strength of email is that it can be used to meet a variety of marketing objectives – creating awareness for a new product, building brand or corporate image, and of course, generating sales. Permission-based marketing is one of the most important innovations in the marketing industry in the last fifteen years. While email marketing offers many advantages, work remains to be done to make email a more meaningful communication channel for buyers.

A recent study by Epsilon and the Email Institute reveals that there is great opportunity for email marketers to improve their efforts to engage people in their opt-in programs. Inactive subscribers, people who join an email list but do not open or click through messages, make up a large segment in the typical email program. Two pieces of evidence are:

  1. 66% of new subscribers to email lists had no opens or clicks in the previous quarter.
  2. 49% of long-time subscribers were inactive for the previous 12 months

 The latter stat on long-term relationship deterioration is not too surprising. After all, our interests change, particularly as we are exposed to new brands and options. But, if two-thirds of those people who sign up to receive communication never open the messages, the impact that email marketing is capable of attaining will not be realized.

 The results of the Epsilon study should be taken as a challenge by email marketers to close the engagement gap. Unlike other media that is characterized by audiences avoiding marketing messages, the concept of permission-based email is based on the audience saying “I want to hear from you.” It is up to marketers to make communications compelling so that messages are worth the recipient’s time to open. Among ways to increase relevance are:

  1. Do not overdo it! One of the main reasons people opt out of permission email programs is that they tire of frequent messages.
  2. Be timely – Triggered emails, or communication spurred by a particular behavior, have the effect of serving as a nudge or prompt to action. Examples include a welcome email containing an offer for new members and e-commerce triggered emails that follow up on abandoned shopping carts are two examples of interacting with people at very different stages of the buying process.
  3. Be relevant – I cringe when I hear marketers talk about email “blasts” – as a consumer, do you want to be blasted? Relevance is correlated with #1; email messages can be personalized to a person’s characteristics and tailored to appeal to their interests. Avoid thinking of email as merely a cost-effective substitute to traditional mass media for broadcasting messages .

Email marketing is a valuable tool in the IMC toolkit for building relationships and spurring sales. Take on the challenge of narrowing the engagement gap in 2013 by employing a strategy of timely, relevant messaging… that is timely and relevant to customers, not your marketing priorities.

Dealing with the In(box) Crowd

As a researcher and marketer, I like reading about studies related to marketing and consumer behavior. In addition to expanding my knowledge in these areas, sometimes I learn that I am normal, that my beliefs and behavior are in line with others. The latter feeling is what I experienced when I read about a study done by Blue Kangaroo on marketing emails.

Findings from a study of more than 1,000 adults on their opinions of marketing emails and how they respond to them reflected what I observe in my own inbox:

  • Clutter – More than half of the emails received in a typical week come from marketers
  • Enjoyment – Despite the clutter, people like getting marketing emails to keep up with offers and other news from marketers (43% agreed that they like getting these emails)
  • Work, but Worthwhile – 48% said it sometimes feels like a chore to open and read marketing emails but that it is worth the effort
  • Valuable – Most recipients are taking advantage of deals or coupons communicated via email; 35% had done it within the week prior to the survey and another 33% had taken advantage of an email marketing offer within the prior month.

Some marketing experts believe that increased social media usage will make email marketing less relevant in the future. In addition to people spending more time on social network sites, many people use the messaging functionality offered by networks like Facebook and Twitter as their email service. However, email still possesses the strengths of being able to deliver targeted, timely messages to people who have granted permission for the marketers to communicate with them.

The inbox is a crowded space. We need to be part of the in(box) crowd yet stand out at the same time. As is the case with many aspects of marketing, relevance is the key to fitting in and standing out simultaneously. Consumers want to receive and open email from marketers that is interesting and contains value for them- nothing complicated about that concept. The challenge is hitting on the right mix of interesting content, value-added offers or rewards, and the optimal frequency of message delivery.

An Email Marketing ‘Dear John’ Letter

I just ended a relationship. No, the break-up was not painful at all- it took only a couple of clicks and it was done. Now, I will no longer receive the almost daily emails you have showered me with recently. I like you, but your barrage of messages turned my impressions of you from a trusted source to seeing what you could extract from my wallet.

Why did I break up with you? Was it because you closed 2 out 3 stores in my area, making it harder for me to come visit? No, that did not factor into the break-up at all. I understood your need to leave. You had become too pushy, always wanting me to buy. Oh, you were nice and usually offered me a coupon. In the end, I felt sorry for you because you had to try to bribe me to be your friend. I know you are hurting right now, and that you need as many customers… I mean friends, as possible.

We have grown apart. It’s not you- it’s me. No wait, it is you. Perhaps you know it is you because when I left you asked me if it was because you sent me too many emails. Apparently, I am not the first to leave you under these circumstances. I wish you well, Borders- no hard feelings.

Permission-based email marketing is a valuable tool for connecting with customers and strengthening relationships. But, it is imperative that customers’ “space” be respected and not overwhelm them with email messages. Research shows that one of the main reasons consumers end permission email relationships is that the frequency of messages received is too high. Use email to deliver information and facilitate sales, but do not annoy customers to the point that they break up with you.

It’s OK to Say “I’m Sorry” but …

Customer service failures are inevitable. Even the best service providers will not come through for their customers sometimes, whether it is the fault of an employee, a product defect, or some external source. While minimizing errors and failures is a high priority, it is equally important to have clearly defined plans about how to recover. The question of how, when, or even if to say “I’m sorry” is raised by Neil Berman, CEO of email marketing company Delivra. Berman asks if companies are sometimes too apologetic, sending out apology emails for minor transgressions or even sending emails to all customers when an error affected only a few of them.

If an apology is warranted, Berman suggests the following guidelines:
• Be brief and to the point
• Take responsibility; do not make excuses or attribute the error to someone else
• Appearance of an apology email should be similar in appearance to other communications (e.g., use of logo, color scheme, and layout of email)

Berman’s suggestion that some marketers may be over-apologetic served as a pause for reflection on this issue. How important is a proactive apology in service recovery? Is it possible for an apology to fan the flames of customer discontent rather than correct a mistake? My take on this issue is that an apology, particularly if it is a sincere expression and not a scripted response, is a necessary first step in service recovery. However, the words of an apology are secondary to the actions taken to soothe an unhappy customer. An apology with no corrective action or worse yet, another service failure, serves no purpose.

The best rule to follow is AAA service recovery: Acknowledge, Apologize, Act. Begin by acknowledging an error or mistake occurred in a matter of fact way. Then, take responsibility and apologize for any inconvenience or harm experienced by the customer. Finally and most importantly, explain to the customer actions that can be taken (or have been taken already) to correct the problem.

Service failure can set the stage for a heroic recovery that instills customer confidence in your firm. Embrace that possibility by having a plan when it is time to say “I’m sorry.”

Email Insider – “Always Having to Say You’re Sorry: Our Love Affair with Apology Emails”

Make Any Occasion a Selling Opportunity

I received an e-mail offer yesterday that I thought was clever use of the low cost medium in attempt to influence purchases. The offer was from Fazoli’s, a quick service Italian food chain. The occasion on which the e-mail was based? Martin Luther King Day. The premise- kids are out of school Monday. The offer- receive a free Fazoli’s Kid’s Meal with the purchase of an adult entrée. What a brilliant move! The cost for communicating the promotion is minimal, and the promotion not only could drive store traffic, but it is tied to creating revenue (selling meals to adults).

Selling opportunities do not have to be naturally occurring. MLK Day has nothing to do with a quick service restaurant. But, marketers at Fazoli’s have identified a situation that many households will experience on Monday. Kids are out of school and may be bored at home. Getting them out of the house, including lunch at a discounted total cost, will be the solution many parents turn to… it likely will be at the Roy home! Eating out on MLK Day will likely cross my mind. I am unsure if Fazoli’s would have been considered (even though my family likes it a great deal), but as a result of the e-mail I received it is high on the list now.

Look for selling opportunities in not so obvious places. It helps to be able to be nimble in communicating with prospects (e-mail and social networking web sites are great to make it happen). What do you have to lose? See you at Fazoli’s this Monday.

Cyber Monday Emails: Poster Child for Message Clutter

Message clutter is a problem marketers deal with in many communication channels. Traditional media such as TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines are plagued by a high volume of ad messages vying for consumers’ attention. The action has moved to interactive and new media, too. A prime example is e-mail, a channel that experienced a significant clutter-triggered problem on Cyber Monday.

It is logical that online businesses would seek to capitalize on the large number of web surfers and shoppers on Cyber Monday. So, why not appeal to consumers via e-mail campaigns in an effort to drive them to your web site? Individually, it is a great strategy. Collectively, it led to congestion in e-mail delivery that hurt delivery rates. According to research by Pivotal Veracity, about 76%
of all e-mail campaign messages sent by marketers on Cyber Monday reached inboxes. That figure compares with delivery rates that typically range from 80 to 90% or higher.

What should e-mail marketers do? Forget about executing Cyber Monday e-mail campaigns? Not hardly! The stakes are too high in terms of number of prospective customers. But, the approach to luring traffic on Cyber Monday has to change. The Pivotal Veracity research found that the most popular time for marketers to send e-mail was noon to 1:00 PM on Cyber Monday. It seems that timing of messages should reach online shoppers early enough that they are aware of a seller’s Cyber Monday promotions in advance of the big day. Just as Black Friday deals seem to be publicized earlier each year, online sellers will benefit by spreading the word about Cyber Monday before the big day. Otherwise, e-mails will suffer a worse fate than message clutter: they may never have a chance to be ignored.

ClickZ – “E-Mail Deliverability Suffered on Cyber Monday”

Permission Entails Respect

Permission marketing is one of the most useful tools in a marketer’s communication toolkit. People agree to receive e-mails from your company. Their consent potentially overcomes the message clutter barrier that can hamper otherwise well conceived promotion campaigns. What could possibly go wrong when we have one’s permission to send e-mails?

Getting consumers’ permission to send e-mail is one hurdle; sending messages with relevant and compelling content is another hurdle, one that is not always cleared. According to a survey by Epsilon and ROI Research, unsubscribing from opt-in e-mails is a problem facing marketers. Survey results found 55% of North American recipients of permission marketing messages unsubscribe occasionally, and 14% said they unsubscribe frequently. The reasons? Irrelevant content (67%) and too many e-mails sent (64%) were the top two. A third reason was concern that e-mail address was being sold or shared (50%).

These results provide a call for responsible use of e-mail among marketers. Permission entails an obligation not to abuse the privilege of e-mail communication with a customer or prospect. Just like a person who gets tuned out because they talk about irrelevant topics or talk too much, a company can become a nuisance by sending e-mails that are uninteresting or too frequent. Customer permission is a significant commitment to gain. Treat permission respectfully to minimize the possibility of unsubscribes to your permission-based list.

eMarketer: “Why E-Mail Subscribers Unsubscribe”

Americans Buying Less, Clicking Less

The weary American consumer is creating major challenges for retailers. Two pieces of evidence: 1) declining retail sales and 2) declining open rates rates for e-mail. An article appearing online at The New York Times reports that retail sales in October experienced the largest monthly drop ever. It is feared that the 2.8% drop from September and 4.1% drop from last October are not the last dips to be felt in retail sales. Despite retailers’ best efforts to attract customers with promotions and incentives, consumer response may be soft for the near future.

If the bleak sales picture is not enough bad news for retailers, another study shows that a promotion tactic often used by retailers, e-mail, is less effective with consumers these days. Research by MailerMailer found that the open rate for consumer e-mails dropped from 16.1% in the first half of 2007 to 13.2% in the same period in 2008. Consumers that are being cautious at best or have less money to spend appear less interested in opening e-mails from marketers because it means they may have to decide whether to spend money they may or may not have!

The decline in e-mail open rates should hardly discourage marketers. E-mail is a very cost effective medium to use, and permission-based e-mail campaigns still are based on customers’ desires to have a relationship with a company from which they have consented to receive e-mail communications. It does mean that the relevance of every message sent to customers must be evaluated in an effort to make it worth consumers’ time and effort to open marketing e-mail messages.