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.

5 Things to Do Now to Prepare for the Next Stage of Email Marketing

The email channel is well known for being a low cost high performance marketing machine. Generating revenue requires little more than the ability to acquire opt-in permission and change content in a template. It’s so easy that someone with no experience could create a successful email program. But the email marketing world is changing. Evolution has already begun. Companies have to adapt or lose the effectiveness of a channel that has served well as a cash flow king

The email channel is well known for being a low cost high performance marketing machine. Generating revenue requires little more than the ability to acquire opt-in permission and change content in a template. It’s so easy that someone with no experience could create a successful email program.

And, they do. This is one of the reasons that spam continues to grow. Someone with access to thousands of addresses can fill his or her coffers by blanketing the list with promotional messages or scams. Those emails keep coming because they work. If people didn’t respond to them, the spammers would find a new source of income.

The minimal requirements for success also contribute to the cookie cutter emails sent by established brands. Subject lines, images and content change, but the layout and offers are strikingly similar. When asked why they do this, marketers claim that testing has proven that their subscribers respond best to this presentation and offers.

The problem is that they decided to stop testing once a solution was found. Any halfway decent direct marketer will tell you that testing shows what works best AT THAT TIME. The winner becomes the control that is used to gauge the effectiveness of future tests. Email marketing lulls marketers into complacency because it works so well at consistently generating revenue. Following the “don’t fix it if it’s not broke” theory keeps them from finding strategies that work better.

In fairness, the demands on marketing teams are continuously increasing. Participation in high maintenance, continuously changing channels requires time and effort that might have been dedicated to improving email campaigns if the world were different. Resources have to be allocated by need and email campaigns do not require much to be successful.

The email marketing world is changing. Evolution has already begun. Companies have to adapt or lose the effectiveness of a channel that has served well as a cash flow king. That adaptation has to start now because it takes time to establish the relationships required for continued success. Waiting until campaigns start losing their effectiveness will be too late.

There are two shifts creating the need for change. The first is increased competition. According to the Radicati Group’s email statistics report for 2012 – 2016, 144.8 billion emails were sent in 2012. By 2016, that number is expected to increase to 192.2 billion. Business emails account for 61 percent of the emails today, increasing to 75 percent in 2016. Consumer emails are decreasing. In 2012, 55.8 billion emails were sent. By 2016, consumer emails will drop to 48.4 billion. More marketing messages mean that company emails have to fight harder for recipients’ attention.

The second shift is the ongoing effort to provide a personalized universal search experience. Google is the first search engine to test adding emails to results. It’s only a matter of time before the field trial rolls out and other search providers follow the lead. This changes the rules of engagement for the email marketing game.

Email campaigns will need to work overtime to deliver the best results. In addition to generating immediate cash flow, they need to have a “save for later” appeal that keeps recipients from deleting them. The saved emails will appear when people search the web for similar products or services.

Fortunately, preparing for increased competition and universal search has immediate benefits. The same tactics that position your emails for success in the future also make them work better today. To get started:

  1. Improve your customer relationships: Loyal customers are more likely to ignore increased competition and save your emails. Including emails that make it easier for people to use your products and services solidifies relationships and adds life to your messages.
  2. Optimize emails for search: Adding alternative text to images provides information that can be accessed by search bots. Balancing text and images makes your messages more readable by recipients and bots. It also improves deliverability.
  3. Use personalized trigger emails to improve the shopping and service experience: Trigger emails are a low cost way to keep customers informed about order status and new products or services.
  4. Customize emails by customer behavior: Sending everyone in your database the same marketing message works. Sending customized message to individuals based on their shopping and communication preferences works better.
  5. Keep everything simple and easy: The easier you make it for your customers, the more loyal they tend to be. Work to eliminate as many steps as possible between the marketing message and sale. People keep coming back when the process is simple.

5 Surprising Email Metrics That Transform Businesses

Email is the most effective under-utilized marketing tool available. The instant revenue generated with each send lures marketers into the trap of sending one sale email after another. Measuring these metrics will begin the process that moves email programs from one-off promotions to campaigns designed to acquire prospects and convert them into loyal customers.

Email is the most effective under-utilized marketing tool available. The instant revenue generated with each send lures marketers into the trap of sending one sale email after another. Investing the time to create a program that builds long term relationships seems almost wasteful. After all, the low hanging fruit is easy to get and there are so many other things that need doing.

Measuring the following metrics begins the process that moves email programs from one-off promotions to campaigns designed to acquire prospects and convert them into loyal customers. The people who subscribe to emails are highly qualified candidates for long-term relationships. They are interested in your company’s offerings and have given you permission to share information with them. Providing more than the latest sale prices opens the door to unlimited potential.

  1. Acquisition—How many prospects did your email program acquire last year? What percentage was converted to customers? Email is an exceptional prospecting tool. It is low cost with potentially high return. Create a specific process designed to acquire prospects and convert them into customers. Measure it carefully so you have benchmarks for improvement. Set specific goals to insure that the marketing team’s focus extends beyond the daily revenue stream.
  2. Retention—How well are you keeping customers coming back? Who is participating in your email program? Are they platinum customers with consistent purchase patterns of regular priced and discounted items? Are they discount customers who only buy sale items? (This type may be mislabeled if you only send discount emails.) Or, are they hit-&-run shoppers who subscribed with their first purchase but have never ordered again? Knowing the retention rates and customer types helps create a program that keeps customers coming back.
  3. Engagement—Direct marketers know that motivating people to do something increases the likelihood that they will make a purchase. This is why direct mail pieces have scratch-offs, peel and stick labels, and other devices designed to motivate people to act. Email is a tool that makes it easy for people to do much more than that. It has the option for the two way communication that builds relationships. Personal messages encourage people to respond emotionally and create connections between customer and company. Strong connections keep competitors from stealing customers.
  4. Lifespan—Email customers have a different lifespan from customers acquired or active via other channels. Knowing how people behave from first purchase to last provides information that can be used to fine-tune the email program. Monitoring this data helps identify trends. Watch for course changing events that shorten or lengthen individual lifespans so you can adjust marketing and service as needed.
  5. Comparable Values—Customers acquired via the same channel who have similar activity typically have comparable value in annual sales and profitability. A wide variance in comparable value provides an early warning system before the bottom line starts dropping. If you see value inconsistencies, look for causes that include marketing fatigue, service issues, increased competition, and niche saturation.

The people who subscribe to your email program are like the ones who receive direct mail pieces or catalogs. They respond to the same triggers, so the tactics that work for direct mail work for electronic media too. Design a strategy that moves beyond sale flyers to build a loyal following. Creating an email marketing strategy designed to acquire prospects, convert them to customers, and keeps them coming back for more is simply good business guaranteed to generate a great return.

Four Email Marketers, My Gmail Account, and Why They Matter to You

Let me tell you the story of four marketers’ emails and their placement in my Gmail account. Trust me. Their story matters to you. I gave none of the four marketers permission to send me email. Yet, two are making it into my inbox. Two are being shunted off into my spam folder.

Let me tell you the story of four marketers’ emails and their placement in my Gmail account. Trust me. Their story matters to you.

I gave none of the four marketers permission to send me email. Yet, two are making it into my inbox. Two are being shunted off into my spam folder.

The four merchants are Walmart’s PictureMe Portrait Studios, Kmart, Cigar Auctioneer and Weber-Stephens Products.

The two marketers getting shunted off to my spam folder are PictureMe Portrait Studios and Kmart.

PictureMe Portrait Studios began sending me email after I had a mug shot taken for my website at MagillReport.com.

Somehow, Gmail recognized PictureMe Portrait Studios’ messages immediately as spam. I can only guess, but PictureMe Portrait Studios’ emails were probably being delivered to people’s spam folders long before they started spamming me.

Regular offers on having portraits taken sent without permission is probably prompting people to hit the spam button. How often does the average person want their portrait taken, after all?

Kmart started sending me email after I gave my address during a big-dollar purchase to Sears, its sister company under the Sears Holdings Corp. umbrella

Astoundingly, while Kmart’s email is being delivered into my spam folder, Sears’s email is being delivered to my inbox.

Why is that astounding? Because I gave permission to one of Sears Holdings’ brands and not the other to send email. Gmail has apparently somehow discerned this and is treating their email accordingly and they are the same company.

Meanwhile, Cigar Auctioneer and Weber-Stephens are getting delivered into my inbox. Weber-Stephens began sending me email after I bought a grill refurbishing kit from its online store. Cigar Auctioneer began sending me email after I did business with its parent, Famous Smoke Shop.

Neither had permission to send me email. Yet both their messages are marked as priority emails in my inbox.

Why? Because I open every single message I get from them. Weber-Stephens sends a recipe-of-the-week email every Friday. I look forward to them. I open them and I cook about half the recipes in them.

And because of Cigar Auctioneer, I haven’t paid retail prices for my hand-rolled smokes in months. I don’t always get my favorite brands, but boy do I save money.

And here is why my inbox experience matters to you: Email inbox providers are reportedly increasingly eying how individuals interact with their email to determine whether or not it’s spam. As a result, email is increasingly becoming more about engagement.

Translation: You can get a little fast and loose with your permission practices with customers as long as you send email they want and interact with.

Conversely, you can exercise the gold standard in permission practices-fully confirmed opt in where people must respond to a confirmation message in order to be added to your file-but if you send a bunch of unwanted crap, your messages will be treated as such.

Email inbox providers’ spam filters are designed to deliver email people want and filter out email people don’t want.

Send messages people want and you’ll be fine. It’s really that simple. Or not, depending upon what it is you’re selling.

Cigar Auctioneer and Weber-Stephens have fairly obvious advantages over other marketers. Their messages invoke thoughts of highly self-indulgent experiences. As a result, they stand a better chance of being welcomed than email from marketers whose products and services don’t invoke similar pleasurable thoughts.

So Cigar Auctioneer and Weber-Stephens can afford to be a little loosey goosey with their permission practices while Kmart and PictureMe Portrait Studios apparently cannot.

The lesson: Make an honest assessment of your product or service and what it represents to customers and prospects. Then make an honest assessment of the email program you’ve set up around it.

Can you honestly say people are likely to want your messages? If not, go back at it. Something needs to be changed.

A ‘Back-to-Business’ Email Optimization Checklist

Back to school is also back-to-business time. Set aside a few hours this final week of summer to freshen up your email program and take advantage of the silence before the rush. Here are six ways to quickly improve reader satisfaction and response rates:

Back to school is also back-to-business time. Set aside a few hours this final week of summer to freshen up your email program and take advantage of the silence before the rush. Here are six ways to quickly improve reader satisfaction and response rates:

1. Put on the proverbial tie. Just as we don suits again in September, smarten up your email look with a template minirefresh. A simpler, more streamlined template will focus subscriber attention on key content and calls to action. Gather your creative and content teams and do a quick inventory of all the changes made to your newsletter template in the past nine months. Remove those that no longer make sense. Nearly every program has them, including the following:

  • small image, link or headline additions requested by the brand, product or sales teams;
  • the multilink masthead that no longer matches the landing pages;
  • that extra banner at the bottom of your emails promoting a special event that never seemed to go away;
  • a bunch of social networking links that no one has clicked on (usually, you’ll find two or three that your subscribers actually use. Keep those and give them breathing room so they’re more appealing and inviting); and
  • extra legal or other language in the footer.

2. Insure against failure. Take a quick look at two key engagement metrics this year: unsubscribe requests and complaints (i.e., clicks on the “Report Spam” button). First, ask everyone on your team to make sure the unsubscribe link works. Then, take a look if the unsubscribe and complaint rates for your various types of messages (e.g., newsletters or promotions) are erratic, growing or steady?

If erratic, you may find certain message types or frequency caps need to change. If growing, your subscribers may be moving to a new lifestage and are now uninterested in your content, or a new source of data may be signing up subscribers ill-suited for your brand and/or content. Both of these are great segmentation opportunities.

3. Turn frequency into cadence. Back when everything reached the inbox, being present was enough to earn a brand impression. So, many marketers just broadcast often to be near the top of the inbox. People are now fatigued from inbox clutter, however, and are employing more filters as a result. Being relevant and timely trumps volume. Subscribers visit their inboxes expecting to see timely messages tailored to their interests. On the other hand, repeated reminders about last week’s sale may turn them off forever.

4. Adopt a new attitude. Gather new information about subscribers, and use it to test content or segmentation strategies. Run a few instant polls to gauge how important key demand drivers are to your subscribers. Ask for a vote on some product taglines you’re considering. To get higher participation, make it fun by featuring the results of the poll on your Facebook fan page, inviting comments that you can share. Or keep a Twitter tally of response in real time.

5. Arm yourself for the crush. Just as traffic swells on the highways and commuter trains this time of year, the email transit way also fills up as marketers promote their fall offerings and gear up for the holidays/Q4. Just like in any rush hour, the more email traffic, the higher the likelihood that your messages will wait in line or be filtered.

Make it a habit to check your sender reputation every day that you send broadcast mailings — it only takes a minute if you have access to inbox placement data. If you don’t have this data, get it from a deliverability service, demand it from your email service provider (ESP), or even check simple diagnostics such as my firm’s free email reputation service SenderScore.org or DNSstuff.com, another free email reputation service.

Sender reputation is directly tied to inbox reach, and the best senders enjoy inbox placement rates in the 95th percentile. Don’t be fooled by ESP reports of “delivered” (i.e., the inverse of your bounce rate). Even for permission-based marketers, about 20 percent of delivered email is filtered or blocked and never reaches the inbox, according to a study by my firm. You can’t earn a response if you aren’t in the inbox. Imagine the immediate boost on all your response metrics if you move your inbox placement rate up 10 or more points.

6. Make new friends. You likely already read a number of blogs or e-newsletters that cover topics relevant to your brand and important to your audience. Audit these for new, fresh voices, then regularly link to those websites in your own messages as part of a regular “view from the world” feature. Your subscribers will appreciate the additional heads up to interesting or helpful articles, and you’ll start to build a network of experts and potential referrals back to your business.

These might be tasks already on your to-do list. Do them this week and get back to business a bit stronger and ready to optimize. Let me know what you think; please share any ideas or comments below.