Email marketing in 2020 is not just sending emails

I suspect we all felt that first rush of COVID-19 related emails in our inboxes.
Every company we had ever interacted with (and some we probably did not even remember), all raced to assure us that they were responding to the pandemic appropriately. But after that initial scramble, we actually did not see many more marketing emails being sent than there usually are, despite more businesses emphasising their online services. Maybe that’s out of concern for overloading subscribers—a fair concern,  given that the most commonly cited reason to unsubscribe from marketing emails is that recipients are receiving too many of them.

However, Paved reports that by the end of March 2020, email open rates had increased by 21% from only a couple of months prior. In the days of COVID-19, customer engagement with emails is way, way up.

And, as expected, more people are shopping online due to the COVID-19 pandemic—that’s even happening here in Australia, where online shopping has historically seen more modest success than overseas.

The reason’s obvious: people are bored, anxious and safe at home—and glued to their phones, tablets and computers. We are all paying more attention to our inboxes right now.

So let’s talk about some things you can be doing to make sure your email marketing is pulling its weight in your efforts to construct an exceptional customer experience:

1. Segment creatively

Chances are, you know what segmentation is by now: according to Campaign Monitor, 76% of email marketers are doing it. But, if you’re in that final quarter of marketers who aren’t, now is the ideal time to catch up.

Segmentation is simply taking your list of email subscribers and splitting them up to receive different content based on what you might know about them. The idea is that more personal, relevant communications increase engagement, so the best marketing campaigns are tailored using information about subscribers. Even the very basic information you have about a recipient, like their post code, can be tremendously helpful—for example, if your company sells clothing, knowing what the climate is like in someone’s location can do a lot to help you send relevant offers.

Segmentation and relevance really go hand in hand. When you can split your consumers into groups based on significant attributes, you can communicate to them about the things you already know these people have in common. There are so many ways to inform these segments: you can take information about past purchases, collect web behaviour information, use surveys of even just infer information from contact details to enhance your customer profiling.

Although basic segmentation is in common use among marketers now, very few organisation are using it to its capacity, or with the degree of precision necessary to create an extraordinary customer experience. There’s no end to the creative ways you can use your information to segment into narrower and narrower groups of recipients, with whom your tailored communications are most likely to land well.

Grouping your recipients based on the overlap of information you have about them is the next step from basic segmentation. Seeing what someone viewed on your website might help you send them a message relevant to their interests—but within that segment, you could be paring your number of recipients down by grouping them into different, more specific groups. Are their past habits thrifty or are they extravagant spenders? Have you been in contact with them many times or are they relatively new to your service? Will this change what message you want to send them? It should!

2. Automate cleverly

Marketing automation is technology that allows you to manage marketing processes and campaigns automatically. It’s used broadly by large companies, but small and medium enterprises can also use it to great benefit.

Email automation, specifically, allows you to trigger email sends based on customer activity (or inactivity) without manual intervention. The most common examples we see are emails welcoming new subscribers to a newsletter or service. But, like with segmentation, most marketers who automate are not using these tools optimally.

When you use email automation, you are sending messages with customised content, which are triggered by consumer insights. Your automated system captures a behaviour—it could be a resolved customer service call, a purchase, a query, a follow up flag for a service or check in—and triggers a previously created message, which is then sent to customers who meet those criteria.

You can have an email sent to customers a few days after the resolution of an appointment or one to remind them to get a service 12 months after a purchase. You can create programs intended to re-engage contacts who haven’t engaged with your organisation in a while, or to wish a customer a happy birthday on the right day.

All of these things can use the data you have about your subscribers to deliver content tailored to them, on time, as that data develops—and, given that 91% of consumers are more likely to shop with companies who recognize, remember, and provide relevant offers and recommendations to them, that’s important to your bottom line.

3. Make quality content—not just ads

Your email subscribers want to get some value out of allowing you into their inbox. There are many benefits to making good quality content for them.

Content marketing, like email marketing, is no longer new. But like email marketing, it also hasn’t gone out of fashion—that’s because it’s effective. When we talk about content marketing, we mean the creation and dissemination of material online, usually in the form of social media posts, videos or blogs. It doesn’t include traditional, direct advertising. Rather, this will be material that’s relevant and valuable to your audience, and which allows them to engage with your brand.

So make sure you’re telling the people who are already interested in your organisation that you’re making that valuable content for them.

Email subscribers right now are spending more time on their inboxes than they ever used to, so now is the time to use that to establish a relationship with them.  Receiving direct ads and catalogues can be interesting when there’s a new product or a particular sale, but it doesn’t help you establish a long term relationship of trust. Providing relevant content does.

That’s why 78% of consumers prefer getting to know a company via articles rather than ads.

Making quality content for them to consume helps establish your authority on your subject matter, creates trust between your subscribers and your organisation and gets your information shared around via social media.

It also increases your audience retention—of course it does. When you’re sending people information they’re interested in, they don’t unsubscribe from your marketing emails. And on that note…

4. Allow users to control what they receive

It’s reasonable to worry about whether or not sending more or different emails to your list will make people unsubscribe from your emails. Maybe they don’t want to receive news of special offers. Maybe they don’t want to receive emails more than twice a month. Perhaps not all your subscribers have the same interests, or maybe their interests or circumstances have changed, leaving them in segments that are not quite right.

Using web behaviour and past history to determine what segments your subscribers fall into is extremely valuable, but it’s still an educated guess. You can help yourself here by allowing your subscribers to tell you what they want to see.

Setting up a preference centre can help with that.

It offers a user-controlled alternative to unsubscribing from your emails, and it gives you an invaluable chance to learn directly from your recipients what it is they want to hear about.

Not only does that take a lot of the hard work out of slotting them into segments via your own processes, but it also means that they’ve engaged with your organisation and given you some information about themselves. They expect that you’ll listen to them, which also helps build trust in your use of their personal information. And, luckily, there’s plenty of information available out there as to how to construct a preference centre that’s right for your organisation.

About the Author

Martin Soley is Group General Manager Data Services and has over a decades experience across data quality, analytics and related technology in ANZ and abroad. Martin’s strategic insight and expertise drives commercial outcomes for DCA’s varied clients.

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