It’s so easy to get caught up in the hype around social marketing these days that sometimes we can forget just how important the fundamentals are. Email marketing is such a staple part of communicating with customers that it’s become a part of the background texture of marketing. And yet surprisingly, given the fact it’s such a core part of the marketer’s toolkit, it’s an area that can easily trip up the unwary enterprise.
For many businesses, their first conversation with a customer will take place via email. This places a huge importance on making sure that the first contact is a positive one. “You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” comments Anthony Wilkey, strategic client director at Emailvision. “If you get it wrong right at the beginning, then it’s a long way back.” Particularly for online-only businesses, a significant amount of their brand value will be communicated via their marketing emails; while other methods for starting conversations exist, such as websites and social-networking, they all need some initial input from the consumer. “Their reputation hangs on how well those emails are targeted, how relevant they are, how personalised, appropriate and relevant the content is,” says Wilkey.
In part, the reason email marketing is so important to modern enterprises is the shifting nature of the industry. “Online marketers find themselves under growing pressure to deliver the highest ROI possible, particularly from their digital channels,” comments Simon Bowker, the country manager UK & I for eCircle and Aprimo. With increasing levels of consumer sophistication and customers interacting with brands across a wide variety of platforms, the demands placed on marketers for intelligent content is higher than ever. He continues, “The battle to maintain, let alone increase, revenue is becoming progressively more difficult.”
In light of this then, how does one actually define an effective email campaign? Rob Walker, founder of Xcitedigital, explains that it’s largely a question of building a genuine connection. “If the content builds a meaningful relationship and offers value rather than being perceived as spam, then you’re on to a good chance of building credibility,” he says.
“The most effective way to harness the maximum value out of your email marketing campaign is through segmentation,” says Bowker. Targeted marketing focused around small segments and demographics is much more valuable than indiscriminate approaches and will see much better results. “Today, the ‘spray’n’pray’ tactic no longer works and can’t be risked,” he explains. “Your content has to be relevant and adapted to your recipient’s needs to boost engagement and customer satisfaction.”
This is a sentiment that Wilkey shares. “The better that you can understand what your customers are doing, what areas they are expressing an interest in, where they’re most engaged and what kind of things they’re interested in hearing about, the more your engagement levels will go up,” he explains. Producing more tailored communication enables enterprises to secure more opens and clicks – by extension this leads to much higher conversion rates. Additionally, it provides a way to invest in customer relationships, producing a better flow between a company and its subscriber base. Wilkey continues, “Ultimately, what you’re trying to aim for is a conversation, rather than just a one-way transmission of information about you and things you’re trying to sell.”
Maintaining a realistic picture of a database of tens or even hundreds of thousands of contacts is no mean feat. Fortunately, many organisations have access to all the information they require – even if they don’t realise it. “Analysing big data is the best way to build up that kind of understanding of what the people within your database are actually interested in, what they need and what they might purchase,” says Wilkey. Most companies capture this sort of data as a matter of course, whether it be through their websites, purchase information or previous campaigns, and, with the appropriate software, you can begin to sift through that data. He continues: “You can use that to – for want of a better term – slice and dice the data that you’ve captured, and work out what areas and what channels are working for you.”
And this is where you begin to use testing to truly asses the effectiveness of email marketing campaigns. Bowker explains, “Testing on subject lines, calls to action and content and links, which will all have a direct impact on your click-through rate, can help you determine what is working and, more importantly, what is not.” Knowing what content is proving effective with specific elements of their database allows marketers to ensure they’re deploying the most effective techniques at their disposal. “By taking note of what generates higher click-through rates, you can enhance the content you deliver to them, thus providing a much sought-after rich customer experience.”
Despite its increasingly sophisticated nature, email marketing often has a bad reputation with the consumer. Because of this, it’s important to not let your email marketing overstep any lines. First of all, customers need the opportunity to opt out of correspondence and dictate the manner in which they’d like to be communicated. “You should allow the customer to set their preference,” says Bowker. He recommends that customers are able to choose how regularly they are contacted; a consumer may be interested in weekly or even daily correspondence but a trade customer is unlikely to want more than one email every few months. As Emailvision’s Wilkey neatly encapsulates: “There should be a default setting of treating customers with respect.”