E-mail Marketing Trends You Cannot Ignore in 2010

For too many of us, 2009 was the year that “wasn’t” in terms of investment and innovation. It was a victory just to survive with some semblance of customer loyalty intact. I’m cautiously optimistic that 2010 will open up new opportunities for digital marketers, but it won’t be an all-you-can-eat buffet. It’s time to set some priorities. There are three major trends that will impact your e-mail and social marketing, and these must be factored into your strategic plans. These are: the proliferation of devices, fatigue of the “almost engaged” subscriber, and the changing metrics of sender reputation.

In this and my next column, I’ll outline the impact of each and what to do about these key trends.

  1. Device matters. It’s never been truer that one size does not fit all. There’s always been a matrix of factors that determine relevancy and if your message is welcome. Things like personalization, subscriber profile/segment, domain/ISP, e-mail client/rendering, and content customization. A new dimension will come into play in 2010: the multitude of devices, including e-readers, smartphones, inbox aggregators, and PCs. While I’ve long been an advocate for intelligent segmentation, too few marketers actually do it. It’s just too easy (and inexpensive) to broadcast the same message to everyone. Perhaps what will finally kick e-mail marketers out of their broadcast mentality and database management apathy is the device revolution. It’s now about making sure the right message is customized for the right subscriber at the right time…and for the right digital experience.
  2. What to Do:

    1. Know how your messages render in all the important e-mail clients and formats. Test before you deploy.
    2. Track response lag and time of day to understand if subscribers are reading and responding during times most likely to be on a mobile device. Track to see if subscriber-level open time (e.g., on the mobile) differs from click (e.g., back at the desk).
    3. Pay attention to headers. Large headers and navigation bars can push content down or confuse mobile clients. Messages that are hard to read will be deleted. Also, much of the formatting and authentication required by mobile or e-reader devices needs to be properly stored in the header.
    4. Start to audit lifecycle by some portability factor. Survey subscribers to learn their device habits. Which messages or transactions are done “on the go” or while commuting? Would reminders and alerts be best offered as a choice between either e-mail or text? Consider adjusting to optimize for device, as well as simplifying the call to action. Frequency, cadence, and format all factor into experience, perhaps just as much as content strategy.
  3. “Almost engaged” subscribers are at risk. There’s some segment of your file that loves your e-mail marketing. They open, they click, and they buy. They are responsible for your success. Don’t change a thing for them — they are happy. Status quo, however, doesn’t scale. Beyond this core group, there is deep fatigue. These “almost engaged” subscribers who do no or little engagement at any level are in desperate need of a different cadence, content strategy, or relationship driver. The dormant “long tail” of your file will start to hurt you this year — not just in missed conversion but in branding, loyalty, and inbox deliverability as well. The inbox is too crowded to assume a defensive posture of “just be there.” Marketers must be proactive and engaging in order to earn a place in the inbox and consistent response.
  4. What to Do:

    1. Profile by response behavior to understand if your best customers actually value your e-mail marketing. You may have an active file, but if you are alienating your best customers, you miss the mark.
    2. Adjust your measurements and business drivers accordingly. Set different response goals for different segments, and focus time and attention on those segments with the biggest business opportunity. Consider that some segments may not need e-mail marketing at all — they may prefer a different channel, or only transactional alerts.
    3. Remove non-active subscribers from the file on a regular basis — probably every 180 days for most marketers but sooner if you send daily.
    4. Implement a 90-day win back program for all segments. It’s hard to reengage with subscribers on e-mail when they have tuned out your e-mail messages. Strike early to reclaim their attention and win them back. Test out some reengagement tactics like surveys, invitations to change preferences, a discount offer or special white paper download, or even to change frequency or channel (e.g., invite them to move from e-mail to RSS or mobile alerts for some message types).

Next column, we’ll dive into the third big trend of 2010: the evolving nature of sender reputation and reaching the inbox. Meanwhile, please let me know if and how these trends are impacting your planning and investment strategies in 2010.

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