If you are graduating from college with a degree in business, marketing or communications, this article is for you. English lit majors who aren’t continuing on to grad school and who hope to someday pay back their student loans, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for you to read this as well. I’d like to discuss one of the most important, if underrated, marketing tactics of today: email.
Before going any further, we should discuss the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Putting MySpace aside (sorry, Tom), social media has taken off like a rocket since 2004. Facebook fundamentally changed how people around the globe communicate with one another. Companies quickly learned that they could reach their customers through the platform and have been pumping ad dollars into the social giant ever since. In 2015, the company grossed about $18 billion, almost entirely from selling ads. Of course, Facebook is far from the only social media company on the block. Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest and many others vie for our attention. And yet, email remains one of the most critical platforms for companies that wish to engage with consumers.
I didn’t learn much about email marketing in college. It seemed antiquated. We focused on new technologies and how marketers would harness them to amplify their messages. In fact, my first job out of college was managing the Facebook page for a Fortune 100 company. But only a short time later, I found myself a part of the email marketing world. I have learned over the years, email is still a highly valuable, deeply ingrained and timelessly important medium for marketers.
I hope this article proves the importance of email, equips you with some practical tools for defining and striving for success in your first job as a marketer and convinces you that email not only has a place in the future, but will continue to be a cutting-edge marketing resource.
Email Is Here to Stay
According to Radicati Group, in 2015 there were about 2.5 billion people using email worldwide. Compare that with 1.6 billion Facebook users, 400 million Instagram users, and 300 million Twitter users. Consider also that individuals often maintain multiple email accounts, which makes the global reach of email even greater. Additionally, email is the primary means of internal business communications and remains a must have for marketing groups.
One of the key differentiating factors between email and other modes of marketing communication is what might be termed “explicit participation.” Users intentionally — or explicitly — sign up to receive news, information, deals, offers, etc. via email. This creates an expectation that they will receive communication and primes them for interaction with companies.
As successful as social has been, business-to-consumer (B2C) social communications tend to be passive. Companies gather data about individuals and serve ads they think might be relevant. And even though individuals can (and do) choose to follow brands on social media, the medium isn’t able to recreate the proactive connectedness or long-form engagement of email. This, coupled with continued proliferation of email users, guarantees email will be a vital marketing channel for years to come.
Good Email: It’s the Law
You already know about spam. You might have even marked an email as spam today. But you might not know there is a law against sending spam email. Back in 2003, Congress passed the CAN-SPAM act, banning the practice and requiring “good” senders to comply with certain rules like adding unsubscribe links in emails. Enforcement was a bit slow to follow. By the mid-2000s, spam emails represented over 80% of all email traffic worldwide.
Thankfully, we are largely past the days of emails from Nigerian princes. Nevertheless, spam still makes up about 50% of all email traffic, making it a nagging problem. Knowing the law and making sure your emails are compliant will not only make your subscribers happy, but will also make you look like a rock star among colleagues.
The Most Important Email Metrics
Repeat after me: Opens and clicks. Opens and clicks. Opens and clicks. Get to know the mantra now and save yourself time trying to figure out how to ensure your email campaigns are successful. Typically expressed as ratios, opens represent the percentage of recipients who actually opened your email and clicks represent the percentage of recipients who clicked a link in your email.
While after four years of school, you might know a thing or two about return on investment (ROI), the first step to understanding how well an email campaign does is monitoring opens and clicks. Luckily, your email service provider (ESP—think MailChimp for small/medium businesses and Salesforce Marketing Cloud for larger companies) should have a dashboard showing these metrics.
Many who have been in email marketing since its inception in the mid to late 90s still focus primarily on opens and clicks, so if that’s all you ever learned about tracking campaign success, you’d do pretty well. Though if you want to really impress your boss, start paying attention to campaign costs and return on marketing — or marginal — investment (ROMI). Cash will always be king and the sooner you can learn how to connect marketing spend with revenue, the better off you’ll be.
The Future of Email
Marketing futurists love alluding to Minority Report. I’m sure I’ve done it myself at one point or another as well. If you haven’t seen the movie, it shows a future in which billboards scan our eyes and serve ads for things we might like at that very moment. A bit creepy, right? Well, science fiction is fast becoming reality.
The buzz phrase in email marketing today is “contextual marketing.” This type of marketing uses data to learn about an individual and advertise based on various contextual clues. For instance, if you have ordered Domino’s Pizza every Friday for the past six weeks, Pizza Hut might send you an email on Friday afternoon with a coupon. How did they know you were buying Domino’s? A discussion for another time.
Contextual marketing can seem a bit daunting since it involves data collection, storage and analysis, plus potentially multi-modal (i.e., email + social + mobile) communications. The good news is we’re still far from that. Your first email marketing job will very likely include segmenting and targeting, but we are still a couple years away from automating campaigns based on contextual clues. Still good to know what’s around the corner.
This isn’t anywhere close to complete, even for a primer. We still need to cover email design, coding, segmentation, personalization, major players in the space and a dozen or so other topics. That’s alright. This is a start. Whether your first job is at an ESP or you never end up entering the industry, having a broad range of knowledge will prepare you to tackle most challenges you’ll face as a marketer. Congratulations on graduating college and good luck out there. If they still play Vitamin C at graduations, remember that as your career changes, from whatever, email will still be, your friend forever.