With all the buzz surrounding social media and tablets, you might be forgiven for thinking email marketing a bit passé. Yet, publishers continue to churn out enormous and increasing amounts of email, so it looks set to remain a centrepiece of our marketing for some time to come. Henry Hyder-Smith summarises the main findings from recent research.
Back in 2007, Apple had just launched the first iPhone, a new company called Twitter had just appeared on the scene and media owners were repositioning themselves for a digital explosion.
Since then, new channels have grown exponentially changing the marketing landscape dramatically. Social media is the channel of the moment and the take up of smartphones has ensured m-commerce is now fully established. This all means a brand’s engagement and interaction with customers is more under the spotlight than ever before. So email has had to adapt – which it has done successfully.
Now in its fifth year, the Adestra and Econsultancy Email Marketing Industry Census looks at what's changed since 2007. Also using statistics from the Dovetail Publisher Email Benchmarking report, produced in association with Adestra, the two reports together provide a good indication of how publishers are using email and how readers are consuming it.
Email marketing is a phenomenally successful communication channel. It has become the de facto sales, customer service and engagement channel for most brands in the world. It is proven to deliver results and marketers are increasingly making better use of the technology and practices as the market matures. Email volumes are up and the share of marketers’ budgets that it commands is higher than ever (18%). Ultimately, email delivers a consistently impressive ROI.
However, according to the Census, email marketing is still not being fully utilised or embraced. Not only is it not being used beyond a basic implementation in many organisations, but even some of the fundamental best practices are being overlooked. While it is maturing in terms of mass market acceptance, the email channel appears to not be maturing as quickly in terms of key areas such as deliverability, relevance, data management and automation.
What about Publishers?
Publisher email volumes have grown consistently over the last two years, mirroring the wider trend of increased use of email by all marketers. In 2009, publishers surveyed by the Dovetail report sent 800 million emails and this had just reached the 1 billion mark by 2010.
Looking at both reports together, what are publishers doing well compared to other sectors? Improved relevance and data quality are two key areas:
* Relevance. With email volumes on the rise, this is consistent with the trend overall, but publishers are also sending more campaigns to smaller datasets. The volumes sent per campaign have dropped from an average of 70,000 in January 2010 to less than 34,000 in December 2010. This means publishers are getting better at segmentation and targeting - sending more relevant emails to smaller segments of data. This can also be explained by the increased use of automated trigger campaigns, based on recipient behaviour such as failure to open an email, or abandoned basket emails.
* Improving data quality. A clear trend of data improvement from 2009 to 2010 can be tracked with a reduction in the number of hard bounces from 3.6% to 1.4% as publishers suppress hard bounces in their databases.
What could be improved upon? Relevance, automation, delivery rates, social media integration…
The push for relevance
Even though there has been some headway in sending more relevant email, the Census shows that since last year, the use of basic segmentation is down 3% across all sectors. Regular list cleansing and re-marketing are also lower than last year, down 5% and 13% respectively. Relevance isn’t just segmenting and targeting your data carefully. There are many other things you can do to improve the relevance of your email:
* Timing. Make sure the email is sent at the right time for your recipient. So, if your audience are all opening before 9am, perhaps think about sending your communications at that time? Also, if your emails are being opened early in the day, they may be using a handheld device so perhaps a plain text email will be easier for them to read and digest.
* Frequency. Make the amount of email you send relevant to the recipient. If you’re finding your open and click-throughs are declining, change the amount you send and how often. With better targeting this will naturally happen…
* Timeliness. Make sure your email is sent at the appropriate time, ie. when your recipient is most engaged with you. For example, abandoned basket / subscription campaigns should be sent soon after the recipient abandons the process they are a part of - so this email is highly relevant to them.
The rise of automation
A key theme in email marketing that has grown enormously in recent times is automation, so it makes sense that automated campaigns are up 30% since 2007. Automation means less resource is required in producing content and creating email campaigns, meaning marketers can spend more time being strategic about their email marketing. Many of our publishing clients are focusing more and more on email automation. Automating email content from websites is an easy win for publishers.
A good example of this is provided by the Autosport email newsletter which was created manually on a weekly basis by the editorial team. Not being specialists in HTML, the team were spending approximately half a day creating the email every week. This was taking far too much time – copying and pasting content, then re-styling it for email. The Autosport editorial team approached Adestra for a solution that could reduce the amount of time they spent creating the email template, and improve the click-throughs of the email campaign.
We proposed working with their editorial team to automate the creation of the majority of the email content using XML feeds to pull in articles from the Autosport website. This then populates the email template and is styled to how the email template has been set up.
The Autosport team now spends half an hour creating the newsletter, rather than half a day. This means they are only developing content for their website rather than duplicating for email too. The results have been great with an increase in audience engagement too.
Jim Foster, digital product manager, autosport.com says: “We wanted to send a weekly email newsletter to our database, but didn’t have the resource to create a large amount of bespoke content. The solution was to use an XML feed which automatically pulls content directly from our website into the template. As a result, the email only takes 20 minutes to create and launch each Friday. Only the editor’s letter is entered manually. The email has been well received – it has definitely helped us promote and sell content more effectively.”
Deliverability is still a mystery
When talking about the importance of deliverability, it is assumed marketers understand the absolutely critical nature of this process. Your email campaigns need to physically arrive in in-boxes before any interaction can begin. The Dovetail survey states that it is increasingly difficult for marketers to reach the reader’s inbox - with a peak in early 2009 of 95% delivery, falling to just over 78% in the last quarter of 2010; a reduction in delivery by over 17% in two years.
This confirms that marketers still don’t really understand how important deliverability is. The Adestra census asked what factors affect email deliverability; the survey shows “cleaning up lists” is (correctly) top (64% say this), and “relevance” takes second place (52% say this). Although relevance does ultimately affect deliverability, you need to be getting your emails into the inbox first. This highlights the need for marketers to get to grips with email best practice processes.
Looking into it further, the stats for deliverability make ominous reading. A staggering 88% of marketers have no idea how much budget they lose through non-delivery, a figure that is getting worse year on year. Don’t underestimate the importance of delivery rates – it is critical for every marketer to focus on. If you can improve deliverability by just 1%, it can have a dramatic effect on your overall response rate.
Social media is not being measured
Clearly the likes of Facebook and Twitter weren't a consideration as a channel five years ago. Now there is seen to be a process of acceptance and gradual integration with existing marketing techniques. But there’s a long way to go… 57% of marketers don't integrate social media and email, 45% see them as separate channels and 52% don't see social media as a channel for getting new email subscribers. However, the two channels work very well alongside each other, driving interaction back and forth. In fact, using social media is an excellent opportunity to grow your database with interested / opt-in contacts for future email activity.
Email and social media create a synergy, proven to make the ultimate response rates even more powerful. Far from killing email, social media provides new opportunities to create data lists and develop relevant content. However, especially as this is a growing channel, it’s important to get measurement in place early. When asked if they are measuring the impact of email on social media activity, 72% of marketers answered no.
Social media platforms for publishers are a great medium for readers to share content. Signposting and discussing news and features improves engagement with publications, and brands are investing in this area.
One easy way to link social media and email is by adding an email sign-up form to your Facebook page…
Over one third of companies (37%) say that email marketing is very successful or quite successful in generating social media activity relevant to their brand, products or services – plus 23% of companies and 30% of agencies are focusing on social media integration this year. However, this just doesn’t have to be a one way relationship; Facebook has a great little tool that allows you to host email sign-up forms on your fan pages also. It’s a three-step process: first add the static FBML app to your page; then add your sign-up Form; finally add as a tab to your Fan Page. Full instructions can be found on the Adestra blog archive.
Email marketing has been through a transition over the last five years, adapting to the advent of social media and maturing to be a key channel in publishers' activity. Get the basics right, and use the available technology and best practice advice, and there's no reason why email can't evolve again over the next five years into an even better communication and customer engagement channel, delivering yet further improved response rates.
Download a copy of the Adestra and Econsultancy Email Marketing Industry Census.