A dozen years ago, when working in a large B2B enterprise I made a pretty momentous move – I shifted across from a general marketing role to my first fully digital marketing role. This seemed like a big deal back then – a statement of career intent, an opportunity to position myself as some sort of marketing pioneer. I was tasked with assembling a new team from scratch, building processes, investing in marketing capabilities like search advertising, content and email marketing – capabilities that many of my colleagues still considered as emerging. Exciting stuff!
Back in the mid-2000s, this meant a significant part of my time was focused on email marketing. Surprisingly, I encountered a fairly significant amount of doubt about the place of email marketing in B2B customer journeys – doubt that this young(ish) upstart medium could usurp direct mail as an essential part of the marketing mix. I invested a significant amount of time and effort (and data) building business cases to convince colleagues that their time and efforts (and budget) were better spent integrating email into their marketing strategies rather than relying heavily on direct mail.
Email Marketing Now…
Fast forward to 2017. Marketing is significantly more complex: Lots of shiny new media vying for your audience’s attention and your marketing dollars, making media planning more complex than ever. This presents a fresh set of challenges for email marketing. Why would you invest in good old email when you could be carried on the shoulders of colleagues, lauded as an innovator for that latest Snapchat campaign? I mean, nobody wins a Cannes Lions Grand Prix for an email campaign, do they? (Please note that there is a category in Cannes’ Direct Lions that looks at the use of digital platforms, including email.)
“By year-end 2018, an estimated $500 billion in digital commerce revenue will be attributable to email marketing.”
The truth is that email continues to play a vital role in customer journeys, both B2B and B2C. So, in 2017, don’t ask “should I do email?”. Instead, consider “how can I do email better?”.
First off, recognize that not all marketing emails are created equal. The medium is only as good as its execution. Far too many marketers fail to capitalize on email’s ability to deliver real-time, personalized messages to audiences, across a range of devices. This is evidenced by Gartner’s multichannel marketing survey, which reported that, while event-triggered and real-time are becoming more widely adopted, batch-and-blast still plays a significant part in email marketing tactics.
The challenge is that batch-and-blast messaging harms your ability to build meaningful connections. Think back over the holiday season – of the many hundreds of emails that landed in your personal inbox trying to coax your hard-earned dollars from your pocket, which worked? Which tempted you to open, click, or even convert? Was it the generic message from the brand that you gave your email details to when you bought something a while back? You know, the message that says “hey, we’ve got some money-off stuff – we know we’ve not invested in our relationship, but we’ve got aggressive revenue targets this quarter”? Or was it the email from the brand that continues to offer you value across its engagements with you? The email that reflects back at you what you like about the brand, and anticipates what you might find valuable at that particular moment, whether that’s content or offers or opportunities to engage further.
Speaking personally, my favorite email over the holiday period didn’t even want me to buy anything (although I’m already a customer, so they do want to retain me). To further dispel the email-as-outmoded-medium argument, it came from music streaming platform Spotify, offering me shareable stats about the music I’d listened to the most in 2016 and the link to a personalized playlist. I love music, I love data, I like playlists – perfect. It reflects a brand that understands me.
Your brand may not have the data or deep personal connection that a music streaming platform has, but, across a range of touchpoints and data sets, you know about your audience. Your email marketing efforts should reflect that you know them, and should be primarily about offering them value and anticipating their needs.
It’s not 2005 anymore. Nobody’s going to click on your email just because you sent it, so make 2017 the year you mobilize your team and your tech to best meet your audience’s needs, and use email as a central part of your customer journeys.