The Future of Email Marketing in a Creepy Data World

For years, the future of email marketing has been seen as tied to increasing data integration and personalization. But in a consumer data world that appears increasingly creepy to its subject, not to mention increasingly regulated, what does the future of email look like? At Emma’s Marketing United, marketers working for GasBuddy, Taco Bell and more talked about where this channel is headed.

For years, the future of email marketing has been seen as tied to increasing data integration and personalization. But in a consumer data world that appears increasingly creepy to its subjects, not to mention increasingly regulated, what does the future of email look like?

At Emma’s Marketing United, marketers working for GasBuddy, Taco Bell and more talked about where this channel is headed during the session “The Future of Email.”

Data, Trust and Your Email Program

“If 2017 was about what you could do with email,” said Logan Baird, design services lead at Emma, “2018 is really talking about why we make these choices about our email marketing programs.”

Email Marketing has always been a value exchange. Subscribers exchange their opt-in and personal data for the perceived value of what you’re going to send them. But as the channel has evolved, the nature of that exchange, the data you collect and the value you are able to offer for and with that data has shifted.

“Email at its best uses that one-to-one relationship with the person,” said Baird. “But to do that, you need data.” And using data for marketing today is a conversation that’s gotten to be a little creepy for your subscribers.

“It’s really important that when we are collecting data, we’re really transparent about why we’re collecting it and how it’s going to be a benefit to the user,” said Cher Fuller, senior strategist or eROI, who handles Taco Bell’s marketing.

She emphasized that it’s really a combination of transparency about data collection, and delivering solid benefits in return for sharing it, that mark the boundary between what’s OK and what’s creepy .

Melanie Kinney is the email marketing manager for GasBuddy, which tracks gas station prices and other driving-related data via input from app users. Those app users contribute a lot of data to gas buddy’s efforts, but also see significant benefits.

“This is a difficult topic in general,” said Kinney. “Of course, we’re asking you to share a lot of your data, but when you opt-in, we’re able to tell you important things about your driving.” And of course, the main benefit is the information and the app help users save money on gas.

But Kinney has to be careful in how GasBuddy uses the information it has in email communication. Email is better for ongoing communication, but she said mobile push alerts are better for immediate notifications. For example, if GasBuddy is using geo-location to reach out to a person about gas stations near where they are, that’s a job for push notifications, not really email. Via push, it’s helpful. Via email, it’s feels kind of like stalking — creepy.

‘People Marketing’ vs. ‘Brand Marketing’

“Email is one of the most personal channels that exists,” said Fuller. “Email’s really interesting because we can actually personalize it for the people who we’re sending it to.”

However, Fuller pointed out that the personal touch is exactly why you need to be careful in how you use email.

“I’m a really big advocate for people marketing and not brand marketing,” she said. “Give them content that’s worth engaging with, that they look forward to, so your open rates stay good and your engagement rates stay good.” That’s people marketing.

On the other hand, “brand marketing,” in Fuller’s analogy, is when brand’s use email to force people to consumer the brand’s message, not a message that’s tailored to them.

“When brands try to use their email to say ‘Hey, buy this! But this! Buy this!,’ it’s a little annoying.” Fuller compares it to the friend who asks you to help them move again and again, and you stop answering the phone. “If I know the only email I’m going to get from you is asking me to buy something from you, I’m going to get annoyed.”

Providing Value for the Data

There’s a school of email thinking that has always said send more, make more offers, and you’ll make more sales. And in many tests, the raw numbers hold up. Even when over-saturation drives up opt-outs, the bottom line can look like a win.

But if you’re not delivering personal value for permissions, data and trust those subscribers have given to you, you’re damaging your brand.