More power to your inbox

Email may no longer be the only digital channel for brand marketing, says Maeve Hosea, but it still packs a powerful punch when integrated effectively in the new media sphere

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Email marketing used to be the main channel of digital communication for brands. Now, however, it’s just one of many options out there.

But savvy marketers are still determined to pack as much punch as possible into these little ethereal packages. Car marque Nissan, which works with email specialist Tullo Marshall Warren, argues that by employing the right insight, email marketing is still an extremely effective way of engaging prospective customers. “Our eCRM programmes build high levels of engagement,” comments Martin Jobin, European interactive marketing manager of Nissan’s Infiniti brand. “Email marketing plays a very specific role which could not be achieved via other digital channels.”

This belief in the channel is shared by fellow car marque Renault, which uses visitor-centric tracking, advanced segmentation and “activity scoring” to measure every action that customers take on its site and feeds the data into a sophisticated email strategy.

Drop-down boxes within the Webtrends interface for the brand’s website provide Andy Holmes, Renault UK’s ecommerce manager, a convenient way to compare the actions of different customer segments. He can also generate daily reports that identify the visitors who are most interested in purchasing a car. Scores are determined by the relative value of a customer’s online activities, such as the number of times the person visited the site in the past month; the product demos viewed; the model, engine size or even the colour of the cars researched on the site. Visitors with the highest scores can then be targeted with tailored emails.

Nissan and Renault’s confidence in the email medium reflects the attitude of the vast majority of UK brands. In November 2010, exclusive research from Marketing Week revealed half of respondents to a survey on brands’ use of email expect to increase spend on it over the next year. But in order to continue to achieve the increased levels of open and click-through rates – an increase in both for a third of respondents – reported in the survey, marketers need to operate in a digital space that is more complex and crowded than ever. They need to consider factors such as the growth of social media; the rise in mobile and smartphone use; and the possibilities for integrating these trends.

Because of the increase of spam and inbox clutter it is vital to have a strategy for sending targeted, relevant communications. Email certification specialist Return Path recently undertook a research study, The Right Way to Say Goodbye, on the best practice for facilitating the unsubscribe mechanism. It found that including this throughout the customer life cycle enhances their view of the brand.

There is much room for improvement; the survey found that just 17% of companies gave subscribers the option of changing the frequencies of emails, and only 17% included an opt-out survey to gather feedback about the subscriber’s reasons for opting out.

Information overload on the part of consumers is also behind developments such as Google’s priority inbox – a feature that automatically grades email into four categories: important, important and unread, starred items and everything else – that really threw down the challenge down to email marketing professionals.

Incentives brand VoucherCodes.co.uk maximizes its email marketing by concentrating on core principles, including: featuring unique content in the form of exclusive offers; keeping to the simple format of a text-based newsletter without other adverts; using a friendly tone of voice and analysing response and engagement rates to identify which codes and offers work best. Testing and refinement is key: “While our email may look very simple, each element has been carefully tested to optimise conversion rate and user experience,” comments Max Jennings, marketing director and co-founder of VoucherCodes.co.uk. “As the newsletter reaches such a large base of members, small changes can have a big impact on the newsletter’s performance.”

If email presents the possibility of fostering a one-to-one relationship with a consumer, marketers should be ensuring that their innovation is keeping email relevant in the truest sense. “We understand how valuable a customer’s time is, and how many emails a day the average consumer now receives,” comments Chris Moon, digital business analyst at Visit London. “So we want to make sure that the content within an email is relevant to the person receiving it.” Visit London has worked with agency ExactTarget to formulate a strategy allowing it to produce emails carrying content that can be different for different subscribers, based on the preferences given during the registering process and onsite behaviour. It also triggers emails based on important calendar dates and customer actions.

Visit London is also keen to embrace the reality that users are now more willing to engage with email on mobiles. “In the past people would be happy to check, read and organise emails on their mobiles but would wait to reply until they had returned to their laptops or PCs,” comments Moon. “With the growth of smartphones people are more likely to interact with emails on the move.” This actuality throws up its own set of questions: has the best time to send an email changed? Is post-work, during the commuter rush hour, now as good a time as just before lunch? Should emails provide a different type of content, should they be shorter? Should offers be within the email rather than onsite?

“There are more questions than answers at the moment, but the time to think about them is definitely upon us,” says Moon.

Morgan Stanley Research estimates sales of smartphones will exceed those of PCs in 2012 and email marketers need to be geared up to the needs of the mobile user. And while innovation in email may not be as sexy as other developments going on online, understanding how to connect email to the ever-evolving social world is innovative in itself, argues Charlotte Robertson, vice-president of digital marketing at music company EMI.

“Even in organisations like ours the idea that social networks are the only thing people do online is a fallacy I like to implode on a regular basis,” she says. “People still search first, still check their email second and do social networking third.”

With the help of digital marketing consultancy Stream:20, email is an important instrument in Robertson’s toolbox. “Social should be learning from email marketing because for me the key pillars – relevancy, reporting, tracking of listening – come from the best email campaigns,” says Robertson. “Those principle questions of ’Why is this interesting to my consumer?’ and ’Why would they engage with it?’ were derived from the email discipline and without email, social media would not exist.”

Susan Young, web retention and communications manager at hardware supplier Screwfix says social media is serving to enrich its email communications. “Social media has woken us up to what more we can be doing,” she says. “It has enabled us to see that for a long time blast emails [one email sent to the whole customer base] haven’t been the way and we need to drive email by customer behaviour.”

Email as a channel is clearly a given in 2011, but how and when to use it remains a moot point for a generation of marketers terrified of being labeled ’spammers’. Dela Quist of the Direct Marketing Association’s email marketing council argues they should be sending more. “What I don’t understand is why people are so embarrassed about how much email they send when they are not embarrassed about banners or press or TV spend,” he adds. “If you send someone on your list two emails a month and your competitor sends one, you will make more money than your competitor – it’s a fact.”

According to February 2011’s email benchmarking report from the DMA, open rates for acquisition email remained unchanged through the first half of 2010 and open rates for retention mail rose to 24%. As in other channels, the more people see your message and the more you repeat your message, the better response you will get, he argues.

Consumers like email, says Quist. “Do you want brands to start writing on your Facebook wall or calling you at home? I don’t think so,” he argues. “The only way to find out how many is too many is to keep sending until the ROI goes below what is acceptable.”

This seamless melding of communication and ROI is what makes the concept of this medium so tantalising. However, a media context where consumers are inundated with ways to relate to the world around them does mean brand marketers have to think more carefully about pressing that send button.

fact focus

  • Acquisition email programmes represent almost one-third of the volume sent by UK marketers.
  • 42% of consumers said email is the best way to receive sales and special offer ads.
  • The email channel contributes up to 50% of marketing-derived revenues.
  • For those taking the basic approach to email marketing, it’s a balancing game: finding the sweet spot that maximizes total returns without tipping the list over into fatigue and deliverability problems.

Sources: Return Path, Econsultancy, DMA

figure focus Q&A

How many emails are sent by UK brands?
UK marketers sent over 1.7 billion emails in the first half of 2010.

How has that number grown?
Email marketing volumes increased from around 64 million in January 2010 to around 75 million in June 2010.

How many emails are opened?
Average open rates for email sent by marketers are holding up year on year at 24% for retention-based emails and 11% for acquisition emails.

How many recipients click through?
Average unique click-through rates for retention emails were at 7% in the first half of 2010.

How is social media being integrated with email?
A third of marketers are currently including ’share with your network’ (SWYN) links.

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brand in the spotlight

e-Dialog streamlines e-mail marketign for RCI.com

The customer account statements of timeshare exchange brand RCI had historically been conducted solely by direct mail. But, with a steadily increasing volume of customers, and a rising concern about the cost and time spent compiling the quarterly mailing, the company took the decision to migrate existing direct mail activity online in late 2009.

RCI decided to implement its first targeted email campaign for the European RCI Weeks Account Statement, a direct mail monthly statement, sent in 14 languages, to inform members of their account balance.

“Our communications to our members are educational,” explains Paul Moody, RCI digital marketing manager. “They look at how the exchange system works, provide options and information about the kind of holidays they can experience, and also keep them up-to-date with account information specific to their personal membership.”

The main challenge for the company was taking a format that is image-heavy and content-rich and translating it into a digestible email. The statement had thousands of possible permutations based on the preferences and specific interests of each individual customer.

RCI started working with e-Dialog in March 2010. By building an electronic version of their account statement, RCI has demonstrated its understanding of individual customers’ needs and the response from members has been extremely positive.

“The level of personalisation that we can offer through email is so valuable,” comments Moody. “We can tailor it right down to the ownership they have so we can talk to our members about where they own, and provide different offers and incentives to them at an individual level.”

As a result of the project in association with e-Dialog, RCI generated a number of business benefits including/ an increase in email open rates – up by 41%, with an 88% open rate that was the highest ever recorded for a RCI marketing campaign; an increase in click rates – up by 28%; improved conversion rates – 22% more deposits achieved in the day after deployment than any other day in May; increased registrations – up by 54% on the previous year, and increased 124% on the week before; log-ons also increased by 32% compared to the previous year and were up 138% on the week before.

RCI has departed from a one-size-fits-all approach to genuinely personalised emails reflecting the preferences of its 3 million members. “Next we will be making use of algorithms that can pluck out very customer-specific information,” says Moody. “We have a project this year to allow us to feed in that data and return the resorts and destinations most likely to strike a chord.”

top marketing tips you need to know

  • Grow your list – people who have purchased from you or asked to receive emails from you are highly qualified prospects, and 100 highly qualified prospects will always be better than 50.
  • Don’t try to get everyone to open every email you send. You can’t and they won’t.
  • Subject lines leave an impression even if your email gets deleted unopened – make that impression count.
  • Sell your programme – every email you send should tell your subscribers why they should open the next one.
  • Segmentation and targeting should not be driven by the desire to send less email, they should be driven by the desire to make people accept more email from you.
  • Focus on giving value – good value is always relevant.

Dela Quist, CEO, Alchemy Worx and chair, events and communications hub, DMA Email Marketing Council

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VIEWPOINT

Ryan Deutsch
VP strategic services
StrongMail

Personalisation has become table stakes in email marketing. It’s now all about creating relevant experiences for the recipients based on context and frequency. There’s a real push to put subscribers in control through personalisation centres.

We’re also moving towards right-time messaging. Instead of sending an email to a million people in one go, an event such as browsing a website will trigger an email message the recipient will be expecting.

Our clients are primarily in the enterprise market and we’re seeing a very high adoption of right-time messaging. Businesses that rely on ecommerce are also very high adopters. Obviously optimising your email programmes costs money, but at the same time we’ve seen CPM rates across email continue to decline, so many brands are reinvesting the money they’re saving.

In fact, the big investment is in human capital, such as creating new content and supporting these more advanced programmes. The amount you pay your solution provider will be less than or equal to the amount you’ll have to invest internally to support the programmes.

Another major 2011 trend is mobile. Mobile has become the triage point for email. People are looking at the subject line and the ’from’ line, and on that basis are deciding whether to flag the email to read later or delete it. That means subject line testing is more important than ever.

Skyrocketing mobile adoption also raises the need to optimise email for mobile reading. Brands are now doing render testing on mobile as well as for PC, which means they can then edit creative and optimise it for mobile programmes.

The question is how we leverage the smartphone opportunity to deepen the reader’s engagement with email? I think that’s going to happen with applications.

With social media, consumers can friend on Facebook and follow on Twitter using permissions similar to email opt-ins, and we can leverage that to deliver relevant messages. The first stage of email/social integration was ’share with your network’. The second stage is engaging brand influencers in what’s essentially an affiliate model. The third stage is amplification, using the different channels to create an multi-channel campaign. It involves more work, but the results are worth it if a brand has a significant social media following.

future trends opinions

Sarah Alspach
Marketing director,
Barclaycard Freedom

New channels, in particular mobile, are core to the way we are moving forward as we enable our customers to access the information they want, when and where they want. They can look up places to shop, see the most relevant offers, and immediately take advantage of them. Social media will also continue to play a significant role as customers carry out their own email marketing campaigns, sharing the offers and news that resonate with them among their social circle.

Caroline Durowse
General manager marketing
communications, Flybe

Marketers need to conduct conversations more attuned to their customer’s lifestyle and preferences. We will continue to be much smarter in terms of the targeting we have in place. What is really important is to drive awareness in terms of what consumers want and to increase our local presence because what consumers really want is to know what is relevant to them in their locality. We don’t heavily support social media at the moment but we will start moving into that space and taking our email activity with us.

James Simpson
E-business manager,
3M UK and Ireland

I have put targets to my team to double our email communications this year. Predominantly operating in a B2B market, it’s still the most cost-effective way to engage and inform 3M’s consumers. Some of the techniques that are newer to B2B – such as combining email with search – will become more valuable. Also social forwarding – sharing articles with friends on social media platforms – will become more important to build into an email strategy.

James Millett
Multimedia manager,
Domino’s Pizza

Social and email integration is becoming key as social environments have exploded onto the scene and consumers demand interaction with brands through these spaces. Other trends could include the explosion in smartphones and therefore the requirement to optimise email for these devices. Also the leap forward in online analytics will create another opportunity with new tools, which will allow us to understand how all digital tools in our armory are working together at different stages in the buying cycle and optimise accordingly.

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