Six email marketing trends for 2011
With consumers being targeted by marketing communications from all directions at all times, and email inboxes being flooded not only by adverts but also by social media alerts, there is a huge amount of 'noise' that marketers must cut through before their message will be heard, according to Ryan Deutsch, vice president of strategic services for StrongMail.
Digital messaging is at the core of every brand's marketing strategy and, despite the ongoing growth in SMS and social media, email still remains at the centre of the digital customer relationship. In fact, according to some industry analysts, almost three out of four consumers (73%) cite email as their preferred communication channel, and a recent poll of Windows Live Hotmail users found that shopping online, receiving statements and communicating with businesses were the top three reasons for using email.
But, despite of a wealth of knowledge about how email is used by consumers, most studies find that some 90% of all email messages sent are unsolicited commercial messages, or 'spam'. It therefore seems that, even after years of building email marketing programmes, marketers are still only just scratching the surface of email's true potential.
As a result, 2011 may well be a year of changes and development when it comes to the use of email in the marketing sector, with the following being StrongMail's top six predictions for the year:
- Increasing Investment in Channel 2011 is likely to be a year of highly sophisticated and intelligent email marketing and as such companies are expected to increase their investment in email marketing providers. There is a big requirement for smarter programmes that can run highly complex campaigns and provide ROI with brands are turning to the channel to deliver this.
StrongMail's recent research into marketing trends revealed that 93% of businesses plan to increase or maintain marketing spend in 2011, whilst 65% of businesses plan to increase marketing budgets for email alone. So clearly, brands are aware of what needs to be done and plan to make some big changes.
It's hardly surprising that many of them are turning to email marketing providers for support. The channel understands the ad avoidance and engagement problems that companies face and it has the expertise and knowledge to overcome these issues. It is highly likely that a large majority of 2011's marketing investments will be seen in the adoption of sophisticated platforms to help brands to improve their email marketing campaigns.
- Sophistication Gap During 2011 the gap between best in class marketers and those who are reluctant to embrace new techniques will continue to grow. Mass-market campaigns may have worked in the past but the consumer landscape has changed and users are no longer interested in receiving a generic email that doesn't address their needs and has been sent to 50,000 other recipients. As such, it is increasingly important that marketers include preference-based segmentation, right-time email marketing and personalised messages in their campaigns.
It is important to ensure that any new processes adopted, extend beyond implementation and include analysisng their success. Unfortunately, most companies are still only tracking basic values. Forrester's Email Marketing Review (EMR) scores companies on their email tracking and found that across all industries, marketers understand basic, but not advanced, email marketing practices. Out of the 70 campaigns that Forrester reviewed, only two passed, indicating that there is still a long way to go.
- Ad Avoidance Consumers have become savvy when it comes to identifying brand adverts that drop into their inboxes. So much so, in fact, that they are often deleted before even being opened. Up to 77% of all emails are not even read.
This has given rise to new business models like group commerce or flash sales developing in the email channel. Instead of receiving 20 different brand emails, a consumer receives just one centralised email, which lists offers from a number of different brands. This method is proving particularly popular across the pond, where consumers are opting to receive and read these emails in return for big money savings. Many UK companies are also adopting this new way of thinking, especially in the restaurant sector where consumers are being sent vouchers for discounted meals via third party emails and websites.
The great thing about these models is that, because they are subscriber based, they cut through the mass of irrelevant emails that fill our inboxes and this is a skill that marketers are going to have to perfect if they want to succeed in 2011. Switched-on brands are beginning to see increased value in these types of techniques versus more traditional advertising methods.
- The Growth in Social CRM In 2011 brands will start to sit up and take notice of the wealth of unstructured data that social media can offer them. Consumers are engaging with brands, communities and peers all over the web, leaving a vast trail of customer information behind them that can be used by brands to intelligently target their communications.
Social CRM is a relatively new term in the world of online marketing, but the concept behind it is based on age-old direct marketing principles. It's about measuring how customers interact with their online communities, not just the brand itself. Companies now have the ability to combine data and intelligence from multiple channels and use it to anticipate a customers' next move. Through social CRM, marketers can listen to the types of conversations that customers are having about their products and services, learn how they use the social web, engage with their best customers and influence and encourage sharing and brand advocacy.
By analysing this unstructured data, brands can gain a wider understanding of their best customers and can begin to build strategies that drive lifetime value and improve campaign and marketing performance across all channels.
- Integrated Marketing For most marketers, 2011 should be about switching their focus from a few short lived, labour intensive campaigns to a more ongoing and automated approach based on customer activity. Although accurately planning and monitoring the success of a campaign is still essential, brands should be ready to respond quickly to consumer behaviour and trends instead of spending weeks, maybe months, focusing on one pinnacle launch.
By ensuring that every part of marketing communications is integrated, brands can make sure that customers are engaged and interacting on a regular basis. The focus should be on regular contact and offering the customer an improved brand experience. Integrated marketing communications will ensure consistency of your message, identify customer insights and help you to develop a strategy with the right channels to forge a stronger brand-consumer relationship.
- Engagement Intelligent customer engagement is vital in a world of smarter inboxes. The introduction of Google's Priority Inbox and similar applications, mean that emails no longer drop into a recipients inbox in order of delivery. Instead, they are ranked by importance, meaning that if you are not providing consumers with targeted information, your emails are unlikely to ever be read.
This is just another example of why brands have to understand their customers. Emails must be targeted and tailored to suit individual preferences to make them feel more personal. The most efficient way of doing this is to combine preference-segmentation, right-time marketing and personal messages with social CRM.
Frequency must also be addressed. Customers are demanding relevant and timely emails, instead of inboxes full of irrelevant content. Achieving this will become an integral part of email marketing this year to ensure emails rank highly on the scale of inbox importance.
Contrary to popular belief, instead of damaging the effectiveness of email, the rise of social media is actually increasing its use. Consumers still look for emails from the favourite brands alongside notifications of activity on their favourite social networks. Instead of competing, the two channels should work together to drive customer engagement.
As a result, Deutsch argues, investing in your email marketing efforts is now more important than ever, especially as the user-generated content on social networks increases expectations for relevancy, interaction and design.
Consumers are receiving more marketing messages than ever before, which ups the ante for email marketers to get their attention with the right combination of eye-catching layout and data-driven relevance. Investing in these standout trends doesn't just increase your clicks and conversions; it deepens the customer connection, which ultimately improves interactions across all channels.
Leading brands must therefore learn to create this bond and to utilise the creativity and tools necessary to build relationships and drive brand advocacy. It is through leveraging the data and insights gained from marketing activities to build more relevant conversations, that results can be achieved.
Email has been at the centre of marketing campaigns for years and this trend looks set to continue. Techniques and practices are of course still evolving, but the winners in 2011 will be those brands that embrace changes and make investments to ensure they have the right tools for the job.