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How to succeed in email marketing?

By Crispin Heath, Group Digital Director, Teamspirit.  

Outside the marketing industry, email marketing has tended to get itself a bad name. Mainly this is because historically, it has been done badly. Very badly.

In many ways it was the foundation stone of digital marketing. One of the first ways you could access and talk to a brand new, digitally engaged audience. It was quicker, cheaper and more measurable than direct mail and all on this whizzy new thing called the internet. And boy, did it get (over) used.  No sooner had you signed up for your shiny new AOL account than your inbox filled up with spam. Email marketing went and got itself a bad reputation. It seemed indiscrete, indiscriminate and over time, somewhat inconsequential.

As well as its somewhat justifiably bad reputation, it also became an after-thought in marketing departments. It was always on the channel plan, but received very little love. Often it was seen as little more than a hygiene factor and yet, all that time it had the capability to deliver truly needle shifting results. A Cinderella just waiting for a sparkling address.

However, the emergence of smarter platforms, a greater focus on full funnel attribution and even tighter squeezing of budgets has seen emails renaissance in the past few years. For us at Teamspirit, 2019 was the year that email came racing back. Having banged the drum for many years, suddenly the cogs came unstuck and we’re now neck deep in workflow planning, AIP integrations and data cleansing.

Harnessing new technology

The renaissance has come with the harnessing of new automation technology. And ‘harnessing’ really is the emphasis. For far too long email and automation was seen in many organisations as a technology and IT led purchase – as opposed to a communications led purchase.

We’re currently spending more time consulting on aligning IT, marketing and sales objectives and understanding buying workflows than we are actually developing the technology. Making marketing efficiency your first goal should be the starting point and then after that you can focus on your email marketing goals.

Successful email marketing is about people, processes and data. Once you have that right, then you can talk about the right technology.

There are five hallmarks of successful email marketing:

  1. Business clarity – what role does it play in the customer experience and which departments need to work together to ensure its relevance to each part of your business?
  2. Workflow clarity – where does it sit in the workflow, how does it map against different touchpoints and what are we trying to achieve with each mailing?
  3. Data clarity – as has always been the point, the quality of your data has a huge impact on the quality of your interaction. If it’s not clean, if it’s not well flagged and if it’s not recent, then how can we get that right?
  4. Technology clarity – with an understanding of the first three steps the technology decision becomes clearer. Your tech stack has to be a jointly held responsibility as it will potentially have to live and integrate with your internal IT systems, your CRM and sales software, your web presence, social media platforms and software and many others. If all of these are considered, then you have a better chance of making the correct procurement decision.
  5. Creative clarity – it goes without saying that the creative has to have impact. From the right subject line, to the singularity of the key message, you have less than three seconds of the recipient’s time to make an impact, so it has to hit the mark.

If it’s not improving, you should pack up and go home

The important thing to keep focussed on is that email marketing is not a stand-alone exercise, its eventual and attributable success is based on how it sits within your overall communications mix. Your marketing database is your most valuable asset and its potential to provide the basis for integrated use, through programmatic, native and social advertising, means it can be utilised with more and more relevance and become richer the longer it is utilised.

If you can get the process above right, and the communications mix right, it paves the way to greater open rates and far greater interaction rates. If those aren’t improving then you should pack up and go home, because as email software gets smarter, users that aren’t opening your correspondence simply will stop seeing the emails in their inboxes as they get relegated to junk, ‘promotions’ and ‘other’.

It’s time to fall in love with email marketing again. It has to be seen as personalised performance marketing. The more relevant and personalised you can make it, the quicker that tarnished reputation of email will disappear both internally and externally.