4 E-mail Marketing Trends Taking Shape
As Tom Goosmann, chief creative officer of New York-based agency True North Inc., said in his luncheon keynote address at this year’s DM Days New York Conference & Expo, two years ago some marketers didn’t know a “MyFace” from a “Spacebook.” Now, more marketers are busy Twittering away while they digg, del.ici.ous and reddit press releases, articles and blogs to add to their companies’ e-mail marketing and e-commerce efforts. And as the online environment continues to shift shape, the e-mail channel is expected to evolve to better serve consumers’ and business professionals’ interaction preferences. With inbox advertising avoidance on the rise, experts predict that e-mail will become more social, marketing will become more transparent and trust marketing will become the new norm.
Here, Michael Della Penna, president and co-founder of brand interaction and relationship marketing firm Aiti Solutions LLC, details top trends in the changing e-mail landscape.
Trend #1: Inbox 2.0
“E-mail and all the major e-mail clients out there really haven’t changed all that much in 20 years,” Della Penna claims, adding that the industry’s focus and development dollars have been spent on fighting spam rather than inbox innovation.
But that’s going to change in the next few years. “Yahoo and the others are talking about how to make e-mail more social with Inbox 2.0,” Della Penna says. For example, he says, “new features will give users the ability to prioritize messages and determine what they want to see first and not just what was sent.” The major e-mail clients will be looking at how people use social networking tools and then applying those concepts to their offerings to deliver a better experience. Obviously, he adds, such large conceptual changes will affect the graphical user interface as well as interaction with commercial senders.
On a side note, Della Penna predicts that more marketers, as they rethink their e-mail relationships, will bring their e-mail programs back in-house. “Aside from the obvious cost-saving, security and data reconciliation benefits, integrating e-mail with other in-house marketing applications—such as campaign management and analytics tools—will dramatically improve campaign processes and time to market.”
Trend #2: Back to Basics
“Like the economy, I think e-mail marketing is broken, and it’s time to hit the reset button,” says Della Penna. Companies that want to see healthy e-mail marketing programs will have to focus on efficiency and effectiveness. That, Della Penna explains, means not blanket mailing inactive addresses, looking for ways to re-engage customers and pruning e-mail files accordingly.
In addition, marketers will be reinvesting time in the development and testing of subject lines to improve open rates. “If you want to get opened, read and clicked on, devote the necessary time and energy to build a robust testing strategy across your various customer segments,” he emphasizes.
And what goes hand in hand with testing is the drive for relevance in marketing messages. “Despite all the talk about using data to create more relevant communications, marketers continue to struggle,” Della Penna finds. “The truth is only 5 [percent] to 7 percent of all the marketers out there are really creating any degree of dynamic content that will make a difference.” He advises marketers work to improve communication within their companies so they can leverage information across the organization to better support customer-facing initiatives.
Trend #3: Trust-Building
Logically, people do business with companies they trust. But why do they trust them? Della Penna says trust builds between a customer and company over time, as the latter makes its actions and intentions transparent to the former. With regard to data collection, a marketer should be conscious of the data it collects and tell customers how it intends to use this information—and then honor that agreement.
Della Penna points to ING Direct as a company that has earned high levels of trust from its customers. “ING Direct has done a fantastic job online. They are always consistent with the way they deal with customers across channels with the theme of, ‘how can we help you save your money.’ In addition, they are very transparent on the Web site itself and often displaying customer survey results. Efforts like that help build a level of trust over time.”
He adds that, “Doing what’s best for the customer and not just what is best for the bottom line is Forrester [Research]’s definition of customer advocacy. When you do that, you begin to build a trust that will pay enormous dividends in terms of sales, loyalty and future cross-sell opportunities.”
Trend #4: Customer Experience
Every marketer should know that perception is reality. And that’s what the industry is talking about when you read the umpteenth article on or participate in the umpteenth discussion about user experience.
“In order to design the best customer experience, you need to, in essence, become the customer,” says Della Penna. “Marketers can accomplish this by setting up personas around their most valuable customer segments and re-enacting the typical process those customers go through when they interact with their brands. Once you understand what the customer is experiencing today, you can look for opportunities to improve that experience.”
He explains further: “There are many front doors into a brand, and marketers need to ask, ‘Are those clicks and processes by which the visitor gets to my Web site the most efficient they can be?’ Question everything: ‘Is there one easy sign up?’; ‘Am I providing a seamless experience from site to site, page to page?’; and ‘How can I improve it as it exists today?’ The ultimate goal is to operationalize the customer experience for consistency across all touchpoints—from the call center, to -e-mail and all the way to logging in online.
And Della Penna recommends doing third-party and competitive audits to broaden your perspectives. He suggests marketers examine some of the newer brands in the online environment, since they’re not fettered by legacy systems and processes, as well as brands that are outside your industry vertical. “For example, Saturn collected my e-mail address through a chat session and offered a coupon to test drive a new Saturn. This is a great e-mail acquisition tactic that you might want to bring to your own brand,” Della Penna notes.
—Senior Associate Editor Kate DeBevois also contributed to this article.