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Email Marketing Is Nearly 40 Years Old. How Can We Keep It Thriving?

As email marketing approaches its 40th birthday, here’s what marketers can learn about making email communications more relevant and effective.

The first mar­ket­ing email was sent near­ly 40 years ago by a mar­keter named Gary Thuerk from Dig­i­tal Equip­ment Cor­po­ra­tion. Thuerk sent an email pro­mot­ing his com­pa­ny to rough­ly 400 peo­ple with an ARPANET address. While this first mar­ket­ing email gen­er­at­ed a huge spike in sales, it also led to what lat­er became known as spam — unso­licit­ed, unwant­ed mes­sages sent en masse.

Today, there is a major dis­tinc­tion between delib­er­ate, care­ful­ly craft­ed com­mu­ni­ca­tions from a brand and hap­haz­ard­ly sent spam emails. This dis­tinc­tion is the result of sat­u­ra­tion. As most brands have adopt­ed email as a major com­mu­ni­ca­tion hub, con­sumers have start­ed to get hun­dreds of brand emails per day both from brands they’ve sub­scribed to and from those they’re nev­er inter­act­ed with. This devel­op­ment has prompt­ed mar­keters to become savvi­er in the way they use the email chan­nel to com­mu­ni­cate with con­sumers. As such, email has become a cen­tral “hub” for all things dig­i­tal, mak­ing it more use­ful and impor­tant than ever. Just think: When was the last time you pur­chased some­thing online (and even in-store!) with­out pro­vid­ing an email address?

As con­sumers do more online, they’re turn­ing to brands to pro­vide infor­ma­tion. That’s one rea­son the num­ber of new email sub­scribers (those who have sub­scribed with­in 90 days) is at an all-time high.

Accord­ing to new research from Yes Life­cy­cle Mar­ket­ing, as of the first quar­ter of 2017, new email sub­scribers make up 6 per­cent of a marketer’s data­base, reg­is­ter­ing a 30 per­cent increase over the last three years.

At the same time how­ev­er, click-to-open (CTO) rates have been on a steady decline, indi­cat­ing that while mar­keters are effec­tive­ly entic­ing con­sumers to sub­scribe to and open their mes­sages, they still strug­gle to dri­ve engage­ment beyond the open.

Email mar­ket­ing is cer­tain­ly alive and well, but there’s work to be done. To make the most of con­sumers’ dig­i­tal hub, smart mar­keters should con­sid­er these best prac­tices:

Offer unique content.

Entic­ing sub­ject lines are the foun­da­tion of effec­tive email cam­paigns, but mar­keters need to do more to engage sub­scribers beyond the open. This means learn­ing more about your audi­ence, and offer­ing them valu­able, rel­e­vant infor­ma­tion that meets their needs at the right time.

Email con­tent shouldn’t always be pro­mo­tion-heavy or dis­count-ori­ent­ed. As long as infor­ma­tion is rel­e­vant to a brand’s spe­cif­ic audi­ence, mar­keters should get cre­ative. For exam­ple, a brand that recent­ly sold patio fur­ni­ture to a sub­scriber online could fol­low up with emails with ideas for host­ing sum­mer par­ties or recipes for grilling out. But, unique con­tent doesn’t always have to reflect a pre­vi­ous pur­chase. Loft, for exam­ple, sends month­ly horo­scopes to sub­scribers and makes cloth­ing rec­om­men­da­tions based on a consumer’s zodi­ac sign.

By deliv­er­ing con­tent that’s unique and keeps their brand top of mind, email mar­keters will leave their sub­scribers want­i­ng more.

Look at the time.

There’s no mag­ic day of the week or time of day to send emails, but ana­lyz­ing the per­for­mance of past email cam­paigns can help indi­cate which days dri­ve the best email mar­ket­ing ROI. In the first quar­ter, the same Yes Life­cy­cle Mar­ket­ing report revealed week­ends proved the most effec­tive. While emails sent on Fri­days gar­nered the high­est engage­ment, emails sent on Sat­ur­days boast­ed the best con­ver­sion rates.

Along with tim­ing, it’s also impor­tant to get the fre­quen­cy of email cam­paigns right. Sub­scribers will like­ly opt out if a brand reach­es out too lit­tle or too often. To best deter­mine what their sub­scribers pre­fer, mar­keters should uti­lize pref­er­ence cen­ters that allow users to cus­tomize their mail­ing fre­quen­cy.

Trigger engagement.

Anoth­er strat­e­gy mar­keters can use to improve engage­ment is trig­gered emails, which are informed by spe­cif­ic con­sumer actions or data. Grub­Hub, for instance, sends food deliv­ery emails trig­gered by dif­fer­ent weath­er con­di­tions, such as snow or rain, at each subscriber’s loca­tion.

This past quar­ter, Yes Life­cy­cle Mar­ket­ing found that trig­gered email cam­paigns gen­er­at­ed almost five times the click rate, almost dou­ble the open rate and almost triple the CTO rate of busi­ness as usu­al cam­paigns. Despite their excel­lent per­for­mance, trig­gered emails made up less than 7 per­cent of total emails sent in Q1, indi­cat­ing that mar­keters are not tak­ing full advan­tage of the poten­tial of trig­gered cam­paigns.

Because trig­gered mes­sages are time­ly, rel­e­vant, informed and action­able, their use is appro­pri­ate for almost any type of email mar­ket­ing pro­gram. With each trig­ger not imple­ment­ed, mar­keters are miss­ing a huge oppor­tu­ni­ty to dri­ve engage­ment and con­ver­sions.

Make offers meaningful.

Con­sumers’ pro­mo­tion tabs are full of emails adver­tis­ing a dol­lar amount off, a per­cent off, free ship­ping or BOGO offers. In fact, we found offer emails make up rough­ly a third of all mar­ket­ing emails. And while these mes­sages dri­ve con­ver­sions, emails that don’t con­tain offers gen­er­al­ly per­form bet­ter in terms of engage­ment.

Brands can improve their over­all email pro­gram (and ulti­mate­ly dri­ve more con­ver­sions) by mak­ing each mes­sage more mean­ing­ful. By bal­anc­ing offer emails with life­cy­cle mes­sages and val­ue-added com­mu­ni­ca­tions, an offer is per­ceived as a treat that max­i­mizes pur­chase oppor­tu­ni­ties.

Email mar­ket­ing will soon be over the hill, but it’s cer­tain­ly aging grace­ful­ly. As we blow out the can­dles on email marketing’s 40th birth­day cake, mar­keters must ask them­selves if they’re doing every­thing they can to max­i­mize the channel’s time­less appeal.


By |2017-10-30T08:56:25+00:00October 30th, 2017|Industry News|Comments Off on Email Marketing Is Nearly 40 Years Old. How Can We Keep It Thriving?