The growing popularity of social media and mobile marketing has caused many industry leaders to question whether email marketing is still a relevant consumer marketing channel. In fact, email remains an incredibly powerful and trusted communication vehicle that enables marketers to build long-term relationships with the most loyal and engaged customers.
While the vast majority of subscribers – some estimate as high as 80 percent – admittedly subscribe to email lists purely to receive coupons, discounts, and deals, email is emerging as a powerful tool for gathering, analyzing, and applying customer data.
You see, despite the promise of “Big Data” to revolutionize the way we segment and target audiences, marketers are still having a hard time putting the wealth of information to good use. In a recent Monetate survey, 39 percent of marketers said they can’t turn their data into actionable insight, and one-fourth said they still don’t use real-time site data to personalize the Web experience. Thus, it seems the promise of Big Data remains an enigma.
Instead of more data, what we really need is better data — and, that’s where email can help. The goal of email marketing is shifting away from data quantity (growing subscriber lists) toward maximizing data quality — expanding the depth and breadth of data about existing subscribers and leveraging that to maximize customer engagement and lifetime value. Email is an excellent vehicle for gathering better, richer data and applying that data to create a stronger, more personal connection with customers. Here’s how:
- Progressive profiling: Email gives us an opportunity to add more layers of data about subscribers beyond purchase activity, all keyed to a single email address. By tracking responses to our messages, we can build more complete profiles for subscribers and better understand what resonates with them, and then use that data to personalize and refine content.
- Testing the waters: Email subscribers are a valuable focus group — they’re already interested and engaged with your brand and what you have to say. This provides an excellent opportunity to test branding, positioning, voice and tone, taglines, and more, in order to learn what resonates with existing customers before rolling these out to wider audiences. This can be done directly by specifically asking for their feedback — a great way to get subscribers to feel invested in your brand — or subtly, by simply testing marketing elements and measuring their responses.
- Incorporate real-time or interactive content: Embed active content into emails to drive engagement or urgency based on what you know to be relevant for your customers. Deal sites often leverage this in the form of countdown clocks and the number of participants who have “bought in” to the deal. But, other options include dynamic product features based on available inventory, such as adjusting the highlighted product to ensure no one receives a promotion for a product that’s out of stock. Embedded weather forecasts tied to featured products is another interesting option. For example, this month’s polar vortex was an excellent opportunity for outerwear merchants to entice shoppers with cold-weather gear by including the forecast temperatures for each subscribers’ geographic location.
Without a doubt, email remains a valuable marketing channel that enables brands to gain useful knowledge to help strengthen customer relationships, boost loyalty, and ultimately drive more sales. But the reality is, the inbox is a battlefield. Your email messages must contend not only with those of your competitors, but also vie against all other messages in subscribers’ inboxes.
Cutting through the clutter requires devising a strategic plan to start and continue the conversation, gather and leverage subscriber data, and maximize its value for both you and your customers. Remember that it’s not just about the quantity of subscribers; the value of email marketing lies in the quality of the data and what you do with the data. And, most importantly, designing email campaigns that are meaningful for all involved — subscribers, your brand, stakeholders, and partners — is the most effective way to drive desired behavior and deliver maximum results.
As consumers, we live in a real-time world. We have the technology to access the information we need, when and where we want it, and the "when" is usually "now."
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