It is incredible to think that email has only been around since circa 1993 – it recently had its twentieth birthday. In reality you have probably been using it for little more than fifteen years. It was the same with Google’s 15th anniversary recently… you really can’t imagine a world without either of them. Email has become such a core component of every facet of modern business from quick and instant communication to an audit trail to track who said what and when. It brings about enormous cost savings and efficiencies and speeds up most of our processes with the ability to deliver instant and personal communication.
Email has also become one of our main marketing tools, enabling us to send instant communications to individuals or groups at the click of a button, but are we using it as effectively as we could and maximising both the efficiencies and opportunities it offers?
Let’s start with the most obvious question – how effective is it? Well, the simple answer is it depends on how you use it. Different surveys show different sets of results. It also depends on how you’re measuring effectiveness and what the intention of the email was. A typical open rate for email marketing, for example, is circa 22 per cent. That is, 22 per cent of recipients have opened the email and are assumed to have at least read it.
Click through rate is often a more accurate measure of an email campaign. It can be measured when you’ve sent an email to the recipient and you’re asking them to click on a URL link or interact with the content in some way. It’s a better measure of how many recipients are engaging with the content therefore rather than simply reading it before deleting, filing or ignoring it. A survey of companies and marketing agencies by e-consultancy in late 2013 revealed that the average click through rate from a desktop computer was nine per cent and from mobile devices four per cent. It can be much higher however, so what causes lower engagement?
Personalisation and targeting
Email gives us the ability to deliver instant and personal communication. The problem with email marketing is that too often we do not use it to do just that. Too often emails are sent out to databases and are generic in their nature and in their message. Topping an email with the recipient’s name and tailing it with a signature does not make it a personalised communication. Making the content of the email relevant to the recipient makes an email personalised.
It is important that the recipient receives the email and believes that it was intended for them rather than intended for anyone who may be online. The key to this therefore is accurate segregation of your customer database. Blanket communications will give you click through and open rates lower than the average. Carefully targeted email messages will give you considerably higher results.
There is also much research to suggest that the time of day that an email is sent can influence results and that this also varies by customer profile. For example, it has been found that men are more likely to click through on an email in the morning, particularly between the hours of 5am and 9am. Women are more likely to click through an email than men around midday and in the evening. Similarly, higher earners are more likely to click through an email in the early hours of the day and average earners are more likely to engage with email marketing in the afternoon. These findings from MySocialAgency illustrate that even the most basic of segregation and targeting can yield better results. Being able to target specific customers with specific messages yields even greater results.
Topping an email with the recipient’s name and tailing it with a signature does not make it a peronalised communication.
E-consulting’s Email Marketing Census 2013 highlighted that companies spend more time on the design of an email than simple things such as targeting, the subject heading and the message itself.
Another big driver of poor engagement is not having emails that are optimised for viewing on a mobile smartphone device. You run the risk of falling into the same trap as mobile web versus desktop web, customers won’t tolerate having to make an effort to read a marketing message.
Men and high earners are more likely to click through an email in the early hours of the day.
Think about the way you receive emails yourself – how many do you receive on your smartphone? How many have not been designed for your smartphone device? Do you persist with them? Neither do I. And neither do your customers. Around a third of all emails are received and first viewed on a smartphone device. Not surprisingly the click through rate is considerably poorer than on a desktop PC if the email hasn’t been optimised for smartphone viewing. This figure will only get worse as smartphone use continues to increase. It is vital that your email marketing accounts for this going forward into 2014.
Email Service Providers
There are a number of Email Service Providers (ESPs) that can help you with database segregation, targeting and designing emails to be device specific. Mailchimp, InfusionSoft and Constant Contact are among the better known and are inexpensive options for effective email communication and management. Many back office CRM systems also have integrated email marketing offerings too but their capability varies significantly.
To get the best efficiency for your business your email marketing tool should be integrated into your CRM system and your website. Most ESPs have an API that enables it to be ‘hooked up’ to your website and internal systems. This allows the systems to talk to each other and share information back and forward.
ESPs are inexpensive options for very effective email communication.
For example, if your website encourages a visitor to set up a user profile or to sign up for a newsletter this information should go straight into your email database automatically without you having to manually cut and paste the email address from one source to another destination. Better still, it should give the customer the opportunity to set up preferences (what would they like to be contacted about) and now you are starting to get some segregation for targeting.
Personal information should also be captured for further segregation and targeting. There are usually development costs associated with integrating an ESP into your systems and website but they shouldn’t be prohibitive and any good web developer can do this for you. The results should more than pay for themselves with greater efficiencies, better targeting and more personalised communication.
Many of these ESPs also enable design for specific device types which will enable you to overcome the mobile email issue.
Measurement and tracking
Email Service Providers also enable you to track your results and provide some excellent analytics tools. They will tell you how many of your emails are read, how many click through engagements you obtain and how many replies and unsubscribes you receive. This is important for marketing effectiveness but also enables you to try new things and measure the effect that these changes have.
For example, try sending emails at different times of the day/week and seeing if the results change significantly. Or you could try subtle variations on the content or call to action and again track the results to see which option was more effective. As with any testing like this it’s important that you change just one thing at a time to enable you to see the effect of that one specific change. If you change more than one thing at a time you won’t know which change made the difference and to what extent.
An ESP will also manage your unsubscribes from your email marketing activity. This is worth the subscription fee on its own. You do not want to fall foul of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) which can lead to fines or prevention of future email marketing. An automated process that is fail-safe is much safer than a manual process. Let the ESP manage this risk for you. It will give you the peace of mind that when someone unsubscribes from your email database they will not receive subsequent messages – particularly if you have separate databases for different parts of your business. Having an automated solution can also give individuals the opportunity to unsubscribe from certain types of email only so that you do not lose them from your database altogether.
Email marketing can be extremely effective. It is cost effective and very efficient but the results you achieve are proportional to the effort you put in to getting it right. ESPs can help you manage the processes but ultimately you have to tell them what you want them to do. Use them to personalise communications and make them relevant to the recipient. If you can be specific in your targeting, do not be generic with your communication. Ian Laverty is Managing Director at Intelligent Mobile. www.intelligentmobile.com l
5 Top Tips
1. Spend as much time on the message as you do on the design;
2. Segregate your database and aim for targeted email messages;
3. Ensure that you have a mobile solution for your email marketing;
4. Integrate your email database into your website and/or your CRM system for efficiency and risk management; and
5. Measure and track all of your email marketing activity.