Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Email marketing: timeless classic or just horribly old-fashioned?

I recently chaired the Econsultancy Client Roundtable for email marketing specialists. Over an afternoon in London, we discussed email marketing - trends, challenges and best practice. Attendees were people who know; they do this stuff every day for major corporations and charities.

The discussion was very stimulating and wide-ranging.

The whole session was held under 'Chatham House Rules'; so I won’t associate specific comments with individuals.

For the expert practitioners who attended the Roundtable, the big issues in email marketing currently include:

Best Practice

·       Deliverability – still a problem: (ISP throttling, Sender Score, data quality etc.)

·       Email challenges with a range of email clients (e.g. MS Office)

·       Customer segmentation models (behavioural triggers and targeting)

·       E-mail as a customer acquisition tool is virtually dead, whereas for Abandoned Shopping Cart reactivation and customer retention, it’s thriving

·       Multi-channel marketing e.g. e-mail + direct mail, + call centres. Lots of evidence of 2=2=5

·       E-mail Video/ audio growing but still problematic

Research and Measurement

·        Open rates are not a great measure  (consider the rise of image-blocking software) but still widespread. Clickthrough rate is a better metric but not enough on its own

·       List, creative, timing make a difference: normally in that order

Budget and Resource allocation

* E-mail marketing still believed to be under-invested (money, time, people) given the revenue it generates. Attitude seems to be  “It’s not broken, so why fix it?” in some organizations

* Resourcing – What to outsource? Where to find people with the right skills? Generally an HR policy decision. Marketing needs to get more involved.

General Discussion

* Deliverability : do emails even reach the inbox? Still a challenge, with ISPs increasingly keen to protect their users from 'unwanted' commercial messages.

* Integration of email and social media – some suggest email is just ‘another social channel’?  Others consider Facebook and Twitter as eCRM channels. It was noted that you need an email address to sign up for Facebook…

* The rise of mobile email – becoming more important, and in some cases, more likely to be opened and read by a mobile user 'killing time'. But most email is still not optimised for mobile…  Few email senders seem to be treating mobile email recipents/ viewers as a separate segment (yet).

* Amazon's Simple Email Service – picture not clear, but may lead to big drop in deliverability prices?

* Gmail Priority Inbox: email marketers need to get their messages into the 'top part' of the inbox. Along with Microsoft’s Windows Live Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail, email clients are increasingly providing webmail interfaces which make it easier for users to sort email and better integrate social media, videos, and photos. It’s all about protecting the user from 'less important' commercial messages, even if they’re not strictly spam…The challenge for email marketers is of course to get into the 'Important and Unread' section, preferably because the recipient actually wants to read the message.

* New Facebook Messages: can’t be ignored owing to Facebook’s scale, but consensus seems to be that the interface may confuse some users, that take-up of the new service will be patchy and that there is no guarantee that significant numbers of users will want to use the new @facebook.com addresses.

* There’s a general feeling that email has lost some status within digital marketing departments. It may not be as ‘sexy’ or fashionable as Social Media BUT: it’s still quietly making big money for those who know how to get the most out of it. CFOs like this, and they tend to come out on top…

Overall, email marketing appears to be alive and well. Perhaps we should bear in mind that in 1976 Punk Music didn’t kill The Rolling Stones, Elton John or Paul McCartney. (And indeed some might even suggest The Bay City Rollers weren’t such a big loss). In 2011, following the Social Media Revolution, email marketing is certainly changing, but looks to be here to stay.