Getting the right timing for e-mail marketing
Marketers need to constantly rethink their email strategies in order to remain relevant to consumers, according to Sam Cece, CEO for email marketing firm StrongMail, who suggests several ways to make sure email marketing communications are timed just right.
While the idea of 'right-time communication' is not a new one, it is a concept that has become vital to marketing effectiveness in the digital world. In recent years, email marketing has arguably become the most reliable direct channel for online brands, despite a plethora of new communication options (such as Facebook, Twitter, online communities, the mobile channel, and so on).
However, businesses that rely on email marketing need to look at how they are delivering value and creating trust with their subscribers, or risk a decrease in engagement that will eventually impact top- and bottom-line performance.
While many large brands have developed sophisticated email communications that are highly relevant, 'relevance' by itself is no longer sufficient to differentiate brand 'A' from brand 'B'. Most companies have figured out how to access preference or purchase data and apply this knowledge to content. Relevance has become 'table stakes'. So how will marketers continue to enhance programmes and drive ever- increasing performance? The answer, according to Cece, is with 'right-time' email marketing.
Consumers are inundated with content on a daily basis. Tools such as Google's Priority Inbox are being created to allow subscribers to automatically filter communications within the inbox. This works by dropping any unopened communications from specific senders to the end of the inbox queue. Having your email opened is now just as important as low unsubscribe rates, making right-time email marketing, critical.
- Defining Right Time Email Marketing Right-time email marketing is not only about delivering relevant content, it is about delivering the relevant content at a pace that is driven by the subscriber, your brand community or environment. Right-time email communications originate based on online activity, purchases, in-store behaviour or environmental situations that are important to the brand and those it communicates with frequently. To put it simply, brands must move away from defined marketing calendars and campaign schedules and create a mix of communications that are behavioural in nature.
Only with this mix of relevance and timing will email programmes stand out within the inbox. Marketers considering a move to right-time marketing must look at a number of areas within their business and optimise them for the journey.
- Subscriber Initiated Right-Time Communications The best place to start is identifying those behaviours that a consumer or subscriber initiates which result in the need for communication with the brand. Purchase confirmations, travel itineraries and other transactional messages have been identified by sophisticated email marketers as one of the most profitable opportunities to cross-sell services and value.
In addition to these, many marketers have taken behaviour-based messaging even further. Many brands leverage shopping basket abandonment programmes to drive increases in online sales. In this scenario, an online consumer adds a product to a basket and then decides not to purchase. The email marketer then triggers a communication with incentives to complete the transaction.
Finally, other brands look at browser activity as a potential trigger for email communications. The simple act of searching for specific products or browsing certain pages will trigger a targeted communication. Marketers should take an inventory of all such subscriber-initiated events and determine how many organic opportunities exist for right-time email communications and begin to implement programmes accordingly.
The challenge with these communications is integration. To enable the above scenarios, a brand must integrate the email channel with everything from e-commerce systems to customer service tools. This means that email solutions must be flexible and secure enough to connect to these business critical systems.
- Industry Initiated Right-Time Communications Most brands are experts in the industry in which they operate. This insight can be very valuable to consumer and subscriber alike and can introduce right-time communication opportunities.
Consider a retailer that specialises in sporting goods. It is likely that the retailer maintains relationships with experts in football, tennis, golf, etc. These experts have knowledge that subscribers can benefit from. Brands must find ways to tap into this knowledge base and share it with consumers in real time. The result is increased trust in the brand and increased engagement with the email programme.
The same holds true for almost any industry. The challenge with industry initiated right-time communications is identifying content providers and giving them an incentive to participate in your initiatives. Remember, these experts live within your company and its partners; offer them an outlet and recognition for their insight, and they will jump at the chance to participate.
- Community Initiated Right-Time Communications Perhaps the greatest opportunity for right-time messaging is in response to trends and topics within the subscriber community. The social web has introduced an almost endless source of information from an equally endless number of content creators. Right-time marketing requires that a brand track topics and trends in real time and is the first to inform and engage audiences around topics as they build momentum within the community.
The challenge with community-initiated engagement is two-fold. First, your brand needs the tools that will allow it to listen to the social web and identify topics and trends as they emerge within your community. Second, once trends are identified, marketers need tools that quickly allow them to be part of the conversation. Look for tools that enable the creation, execution and tracking of social and email programmes in tandem.
Regardless of how it is initiated - from the subscriber, from the industry or from within the community - brand marketers must understand the triggers for right-time email marketing and begin to move from traditional 'batch and blast' strategies; waiting to do so will surely result in lost subscribers, revenue, and overall brand equity.