November 24, 2020

Think email marketing is outdated? 5 reasons to think again

In the age of constantly evolving technology, marketing innovation, social media and SEO, email may seem a bit outdated. With so many other ways of targeting audiences, it might be tempting to let your email strategy fall by the wayside in an attempt to chase the latest social media craze or geotargeting campaign. Consider this, however: According to a recent survey from MarTechSeries, a vast majority of marketers are clinging tightly to their beloved emails:

  • Four out of five respondents would give up their brand’s social media for 12 months, rather than give up email marketing for 12 months.
  • 94% of respondents reveal email is one of their three most effective marketing channels.

If you find yourself agreeing with the respondents to this survey, you’re probably seeing a decent ROI on your email efforts. If you’re not, and wondering why, don’t lose hope. The answer is probably simpler than you think.

Like anything that involves technology, email is constantly evolving. The rules are changing by the day, requiring marketers to adapt their strategies and tactics to keep up. From updates in consumer privacy laws to capability improvements on email platforms to changes in consumer behavior and expectations of brands in general, there’s a lot to keep your eye on. But if built, monitored and optimized appropriately, email can be one of the most powerful tools in your marketing toolkit.

Before you resign yourself to using email only for required communications and policy updates, consider giving your email strategy a makeover, using one of the following categories for improvement:

1. Personalize your communications

We all know personalization is key, but that means more than including a name in a communication; it’s about building a relationship with your customer. And the foundation of every good relationship is trust.

Trust in email marketing begins with understanding and complying with the CAN-SPAM Act as well as state-specific privacy laws meant to protect consumers. Know the basics of what is and isn’t legal when loading contacts into your database and communicating with them. Nothing breaks trust more than emailing someone who didn’t agree to receive communications from you.

If you have consent, the next step is to know who you’re talking to. Beyond throwing their name in a greeting line, understand why they subscribed to your brand in the first place. Where did they find out about you? How long have they been a customer? How active are they? Is there purchase data you can rely on to build a picture of who they are and what makes them tick? The more information you have to go on, the better, more authentic content you can create, leading to more engagement and a happier customer. It’s a win-win. Plus, according to SmarterHQ, 72% of consumers say they now only engage with marketing messages that are personalized and tailored to their interests.

To create a personalized experience, think through the following checklist:

  • Personalization starts with the subject line.
  • Where you can, send from a real human. Leverage automation to remove manual steps in the process, if needed.
  • Personalize your greeting line where it makes sense (and it doesn’t feel forced).
  • Personalize the content as much as you can based on interest, place in the marketing funnel, length of time as a customer, etc.
  • Make the action you want your subscribers to take built into the process and as easy as possible (e.g., A “Login” button may go directly to a subscriber’s account online).
  • Send appreciation emails. These can include a “Thank you” following a purchase, as well as anniversary or birthday emails.

2. Leverage automation

Email automation is easier to master and more readily available than ever before:

  • According to Social Media Today, 75% of marketers are using at least one type of marketing automation tool.
  • Mapping out the customer journey and using personalized content are considered the most effective ways to optimize marketing automation. (HubSpot)

Benefits include less manual work for internal teams, less chance of human error, streamlined communications and enhanced analytics. From setting up auto-responses to web forms to building yearlong automated customer journeys, there’s a lot to explore when it comes to email automation. Below are a few simple ways to start:

  • Set up drip campaigns that run on a timeline. Space out messages every couple of days and keep the messages in each email short and to the point. This type of automation is great for free trials or new leads to your CRM who want to learn more about your brand.
  • Incorporate if/then branches. Most email platforms now allow for some form of if/then segments within your email journeys. This can be as simple as, “IF subscriber opens an email, THEN they are put on a separate contact list for interested leads.” If/Then conditioning is useful for identifying hot leads in ongoing campaigns.
  • Date-based messages. This type of automation includes anniversary or birthday messages. These are set to trigger on a specific date and have the perception of personalization.

Does your current platform offer robust automation capabilities? If so, dig in and test out a few ideas. If not, look at a few of my favorites, such as Hubspot, ActiveCampaign, Mailchimp and Constant Contact.

3. Use metrics to your advantage

Beyond the typical open and click rates, what other activities can you be measuring? Take a close look at your CRM and make sure it’s segmented in a way that makes the most sense for your business model. Are your subscribers grouped by longevity, interest, place in the funnel, or something else? Can you build in custom CTAs that will show you how your contacts interact with your brand and self-identify for specific product or service lines, or marketing messages?

Don’t be afraid to play around with different mechanisms and test the outcome. Have a specific hypothesis in mind, set up your test and sit back and let the data build a picture of your audience. A/B testing is a great place to start and can teach you a lot about different tactics and how they are received. Set up surveys in emails and build in if/then branches to parse out responses into smaller groups. The options are endless.

Start simple and build in more tests as you go – constantly gather the learnings – and build them back into your strategy. You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn with a little time and focus on what can be tracked and what you want to learn from your customers and prospects.

4. Keep your lists clean

This is the golden rule of email marketing. Nothing hampers performance more than an outdated, unengaged list of subscribers. Once or twice a year, do a deep-clean of your CRM and archive any subscribers who haven’t opened a message from you. Let’s be real, if they haven’t even bothered to open an email from you in 12 months, they aren’t interested in hearing from your brand. It’s not personal, and you’re better served spending your time and energy on a lead or customer who actually wants to hear from you. You can always run a re-engagement campaign in the future, but don’t hold on to those who’ve made it clear they’re no longer interested.

Also, organize and label your lists in a way that makes sense to your strategy. If geographic location is important, make sure your CRM is organized in a way that supports that, and make your content specific to that categorization.

Savvy marketers know in the very near future, email marketing will be seen as an almost “luxury” channel for reaching customers. Email address are becoming more protected and coveted, so getting access to a customer’s inbox will be more prized than ever. And with that will come great responsibility to build a relationship and offer extreme value to that subscriber. Make sure your database is organized in a way that allows you to be respectful of the valuable piece of contact info your customer has handed over to you.

5. Map to your funnel

Always keep your funnel top of mind, and build your email strategies to support it. Emails sent to leads in the Awareness phase of your funnel should look dramatically different than messages received by leads in the Intent phase. Think about each step in your funnel and what is driving the behavior to move to the next—and build your messages based on that knowledge. And don’t forget your customers in the Advocacy phase. Email is a great way to engage current and past customers for future purchases, positive reviews and word of mouth and referrals.

If you’ve felt a little disenchanted with your email marketing lately, maybe it’s time to try something new. The good news? You now have more bells and whistles – and ways to interact with your target audience – available than ever before. Dig in and try new ideas, test theories and measure your results. You’d be surprised how fun – and effective – it can be.

Jessica Toms is a Senior Account Director and Writer at Crux KC, Kansas City’s first “un-agency.” How do you build relationships through email marketing? Let us know on LinkedIn, Facebook or on Twitter @FindYourCrux.

About the author: Thanks to a career working across multiple major industries and in countless capacities, Jessica approaches marketing from a business perspective. Throughout her 14-year career, she's supported national sales teams, built comprehensive campaigns for some of the nation’s largest brand names, managed consumer brands, written for and directed award-winning videos and commercials, and implemented executive and corporate communications plans for industry leaders.

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