Revealed: the changing face of email

Our exclusive survey highlights how marketers are adapting their email campaigns to keep pace with changes in the digital space. By Nicola Smith

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Email has dropped out of the headlines in the digital world in the past few years, but it remains a staple of most companies’ efforts (chart one). Over half of respondents to Marketing Week’s Email Attitudes Research expect to increase the amount they spend on email marketing in the next 12 months (chart two), with over a third reporting that they have experienced an increase in both open rates and click-through rates during the past year. But as digital evolves, changing consumer behaviour is demanding a shift in the way marketers use email in 2011.

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One of the biggest growth areas in digital in 2010 has been social media, prompting a difference of opinion among marketers in their use of email. Some 47% of respondents use social sharing options such as Facebook and Twitter in their email marketing campaigns (chart three), suggesting many view this burgeoning space as an opportunity. Respondents from across the financial, technology, media and travel sectors all identify integration with social media as a growing trend for email usage in 2011.

A marketing manager in the media sector predicts “integration between Facebook and email providers” as a future trend, while a brand manager in the food and drink industry cites “getting consumers off the email database and onto social media platforms” as one of the biggest challenges when it comes to integrating the two platforms.

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Yet others see the social media explosion as something of a threat. One marketing director in the technology sector comments that “social media campaigns are taking over in some segments”, while a marketing director from the transport sector describes social media as a “rival channel”.

The marketing manager for a well-known alcoholic drink manufacturer predicts there will be an “increase in the use of Facebook messaging rather than email”, while the marketing manager at a packaging design firm adds that one of the challenges of integrating email with social media lies in the fact that, “as social media grows, email will become less interesting or more of an inconvenience to receive than a Twitter update, for example.” There is a definite shift taking place but attitudes will determine whether this shift presents an opening or poses a threat.

Mobile is another fast-growing area of digital, and one highlighted by a number of respondents as being an important trend for how email will be used in the coming 12 months. Respondents from sectors including travel and leisure, telecoms, financial, media and not-for-profit highlight the rise in mobile and smartphone usage as a key trend.

A group marketing manager in the retail sector specifically says that “how people access emails, ie, through handheld devices” will be a growing trend, and a marketing manager in the financial sector forecasts “even more mobile web access”.

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For some this “always-on” mobile generation presents an opportunity. A brand manager in the consumer goods sector predicts that “the usage of email will increase, especially with new technology every day in communications”, citing the iPhone and Blackberry as examples of increasingly popular devices. Meanwhile, a marketing director in the online lead generation space predicts the “increased use of email on an increasing number of sophisticated mobile devices.” The head of audience development at a major media group adds that we will see a “significant increase in smartphone adoption and users preferring to use personal email over text.”

The proliferation of mobile devices almost certainly demands change. One brand manager from the consumer goods sector predicts that “email is going to become increasingly read on the go and on mobiles as opposed to computers. This means that we have to rethink how we use images and not have content-heavy email campaigns.” A marketing officer in the cultural sector says he “can see an increase in shorter and sweeter communications or linking activities rather than traditional e-newsletters” as a result of the increasing popularity of mobile devices. The marketing executive at an advertising firm states that marketers need to create “more mobile-friendly variation and links within emails.” As the marketing manager for a media group comments, “smartphone increase will change the way communications are created – more and more people are accessing their emails outside of the office on a smaller screen” meaning less room for information. He concludes: “The way important information is conveyed has to change.”

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What is clear is that email, mobile and social media will demand greater integration in 2011. The research shows the first steps are already being taken, with 60% of respondents saying they share data from their email campaigns with people in charge of other channels, and a further 20% sometimes doing so (chart four). But the impact of email on other channels is not always apparent. Only 41% of respondents say they notice traffic increasing in other channels in sync with email campaigns going out, while a further 28% sometimes do (chart five). And 47% measure the effect of their email campaigns on other channels, with a further 23% sometimes doing so (chart six).

So there are clearly a number of challenges facing marketers when it comes to successfully integrating their digital marketing channels. One senior account manager in the financial sector says that achieving “consistent messages” is the biggest challenge facing marketers in this area, while a marketing consultant also in the financial sector agrees that “maintaining a consistent marketing message across all channels” poses the biggest challenge when it comes to integration. An added difficulty in the financial sector is tight regulation, with “compliance” also cited as a major hurdle by an industry marketing director.

The increasing amount of information consumers are exposed to is also causing concern, with a marketing manager in the travel and leisure sector commenting that “cut-through among the clutter of a crowded inbox” posed the biggest challenge, while a marketing director in the financial sector voices his concerns about “getting through the clutter of all the other marketing that’s happening in these channels”. The group marketing manager for a large confectionery company also says that achieving “shared data sources that allow a single customer view” is the biggest challenge when trying to integrate the different areas.

Of course, financial constraints also play a part, with a marketing executive in the travel and leisure sector citing “lack of budget” as the biggest obstacle, and a digital development director in the entertainment industry stating that “cost and resource” would prove problematic.

Many respondents are concerned about the consumer response to the growing number of communications channels being adopted by brands. The web and data manager from a not-for-profit organisation predicts “increasing recipient blindness” in the coming year, while a marketing manager in the financial sector says the biggest challenge is “consumers feeling overwhelmed by information overload”. The marketing director of a popular loyalty card company believes we will see “increasing apathy among receivers” during 2011.

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Yet over a third of respondents report an increase in open rates over the past 12 months, with less than a quarter reporting a decrease (chart seven), and over a third have also seen an increase in click-through rates (chart eight), so this feared apathy is not in evidence yet. The growing volume of communications in the coming year may, however, demand that marketers increase segmentation further: at the moment a fifth of respondents use no segmentation at all, while 12% use more than five segments (chart nine). Some 43% say that results don’t justify greater segmentation, but this may change as digital channels evolve (chart ten). Respondents from the automotive, engineering and travel and leisure sectors all predict more segmentation, while one marketing director from the financial industry cites two of the data points he wishes he could better segment and personalise as “tracking of who [customers] forward emails to, and friends on their network”; information that will prove pivotal to email integration with social media.

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The digital space is increasingly sophisticated and growing ever more crowded, and consumers are demanding progressively higher levels of both creativity and relevance from brands, as well as the ability to easily share content and access information on innumerable handheld devices. Marketers need to embrace this change in their email marketing, not fight it.

about this survey

  • The research was conducted in October 2010 among readers of Marketing Week magazine and MarketingWeek.co.uk subscribers
  • The biggest percentage of respondents work for organisations employing fewer than 50 people (23%). The next biggest group was those working for companies of between 101 and 500 people (22%).
  • Client-side respondents came from a wide variety of industry sectors. The largest percentage (14%) came from the financial sector, 10% from media, 9% from technology, 8% each from not-for-profit and retail, and 7% from travel and leisure.
  • 48% of client respondents with responsibility for digital marketing were marketing managers, 11% were marketing directors, 5% were managing directors and another 5% brand managers.
  • Results have been rounded up or down to the nearest full percentage point. Not all tables add up to 100 as there may be more than one answer given where indicated.

VIEWPOINT

Nigel Arthur, UK managing director, ExactTarget

Over half of respondents expect to increase the amount they spend on email marketing in the next 12 months. This is no surprise as email has a proven ROI and is easily integrated with other platforms and data sources. Our recent Subscribers, Fans, Followers study shows that over 93% of consumers (US based) are or have been subscribers to a brand or company’s email channel. It is important for organisations to understand and adopt email as a part of their overall marketing strategy.

What surprised us was that, despite the rapid growth of social media, less than half of respondents use social sharing options. Traditionally marketers have managed social media and email in silos, but at ExactTarget we see a huge opportunity for marketers to leverage the channels in tandem to interact with consumers and empower them to share your message with their online networks.

Social sharing in email is a great way for consumers to share content of an email message with their closest friends and their social networks. It’s the technology that is making word-of-mouth marketing possible from the inbox. As more marketers join the conversation on social media, enabling social sharing in email will continue to increase.

One of the biggest challenges cited by respondents when asked about integrating email, mobile and social media is being able to “cut through the clutter”. By integrating email, mobile and social media, marketers empower consumers by giving them a choice in how they want to interact with a brand. For example, offer consumers the option of getting more information about a service or product through an SMS short code. After a user texts in for more information, you can prompt them for an email address that allows you to send them a whitepaper or coupon. Or for impulse or regular purchases, companies can offer consumers the choice of getting deals via email, text or Twitter.

The challenge is to ensure that marketing programmes are tightly integrated. Working in channel-centric silos won’t cut it.
Mobile is another channel that needs to be integrated, and is often cited as a key trend within email. Mobile creates endless possibilities for marketers to interact and engage with their customers on-the-go and drive cross-channel interactions. Marketers can encourage customers to subscribe to email by text or earn an instant discount, for example – this allows marketers to secure the interest of the customer while they’re already engaged with your brand.

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