Email's Evolving Role in a Social World
With all of the talk surrounding social and mobile, it would to be easy to overlook the role email plays — and will continue to play — in cross-channel marketing campaigns. But doing so would be a mistake. That was the key takeaway from an hour-long session on the topic at the recent Online Marketing Summit in San Diego.
Joining moderator Karen Talavera, founder and principal of integrated marketing and advertising agency Synchronicity Marketing, were three email marketers — Matthew Pham, associate creative director, Responsys; Barry Berkowitz, vice president of digital marketing solutions, Yesmail; and Ryan Phelan, vice president of strategic services, BlueHornet — along with Laurie Beasley, president of direct and interactive marketing agency Beasley Direct Marketing. Here are some highlights from the session:
Email isn't going anywhere. All the talk about the death of email is just that — talk. In fact, email is still the hub of all consumer touchpoints, even with the expansion of social media, claimed Beasley. Certain types of communications — namely transactional and registration — are most appropriate for email, said Berkowitz. Adding to Berkowitz's thought, Phelan noted that email must also be an engagement channel if it wants to survive; it can't just be a transactional channel.
Optimize your emails for the device your subscriber is going to be viewing it on. Consumers jump back and forth between their mobile device and desktop to manage their inbox, said Beasley. Therefore, optimize emails for mobile that you know (or strongly believe) will be viewed on a mobile device — e.g., app purchases, mobile coupons, mobile engagement with the iPad. When a consumer signs up for your email program, ask them if they want to receive your emails on their mobile device, Phelan advised. Segment those that do in your database.
Pham cited a recent campaign from Southwest Airlines as an example of a successful integration of mobile and email. The airline sent a SMS message to its subscribers detailing its “Click 'N Save” program, where subscribers are the first ones to be automatically notified via email about special travel deals. Recipients of the SMS message just had to text their email address to be enrolled in the program. This one-time, low-cost campaign netted close to 30,000 email addresses.
Rules to live by. The panelists gave some design advice for creating mobile-optimized emails:
- Simplify the header area, said Beasley. This spot needs relevant and useful information that's going to grab the reader's attention. Push graphics to the side, she added.
- Say who you are, what you're offering and include a call to action in the pre-header section of your email, said Pham. Optimize your emails for mobile devices by using Arial or Geneva font, he added.
- Addressing what he called the “fat fingers” theory, make sure you provide a 30-pixel cushion around all links on mobile emails, Pham said.
Quality over quantity. Social has become a numbers game, noted Phelan. Marketers are thinking more in terms of “I have to have a million Facebook fans” rather than what those fans actually mean for the brand. Take a quality over quantity approach when it comes to your email list. Focus on how you can grow relationships with loyalists and influencers. Social media has changed email marketing, said Phelan. “ISPs [internet service providers] will now ding you for mailing to inactive addresses as hard as they would for sending spam.”
Building on Phelan's thoughts, Berkowitz said that email marketers should look to Facebook and other social media platforms as acquisition opportunities.
Share to make friends. Making your emails as viral as possible is key to a successful email program. Most consumers are familiar with “share this” links or Facebook “like” links, so incorporate them into your emails, Berkowitz advised. Give e-newsletter subscribers the ability to share a portion of your e-newsletter without having to send the whole thing, he added.
Track, isolate, segment and market to those who share your content, Phelan advised. They're your loyalists. Retailers have become addicted to sending more email, he added. Social media has forced marketers to be more conversational. Following up on Phelan's point, Beasley added that offering an incentive to sharers (e.g., percentage off their next purchase, free shipping, etc.) can help increase the sharethrough rate on your emails.
The panelists concluded the session by offering up some final takeaway thoughts for the audience to consider:
- If your product is being talked about (e.g., product reviews), that's social media, said Phelan. Don't just focus your efforts on Facebook and Twitter.
- Brands might need to be thrown on the back-burner for the time being in favor of deliverability concerns, said Pham.
- Provide a value to subscribers (e.g., an incentive) and they'll prioritize your address, said Berkowitz. And there's no harm in asking subscribers to prioritize your address, he added. We're not afraid to ask for social fans or likes, Phelan pointed out.
- When subscribers opt out of your email program, take them to a landing page detailing what they'll be missing out on, said Pham.
- Design emails for Facebook Messages as you would for Twitter — i.e., very stripped down of graphics, said Phelan. And within Facebook Messages’ emails, use short URLs that are trackable, added Berkowitz.
- Email copywriters’ lives are going to be hell, lamented Beasley. They better learn how to write really, really short copy. The email design rules to follow (at the moment) are more text, less graphics and shorter copy, she said.
- There's an opportunity on the B-to-B side to build your authority via Twitter, said Phelan.
- If you have a product that you can make a video of, put it on YouTube, advised Phelan. People are searching YouTube and Google all day, he said.
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