A reliable performer faces new threats

A reliable performer faces new threats

We should continue to have faith in email marketing, but beware of the impatient consumer

In digital terms, email is a dinosaur technology that pre-dates even the creation of the World Wide Web. Yet, despite its age, it has survived everything that the digital revolution has thrown at it: social networks, smartphones, apps, tablets, blogs, webinars, SMS, and so on. As each new channel has risen and flourished, email has quietly continued to grow, and we now send and receive around 200 billion emails every day.

Lately, email growth has been driven by business usage which – according to Radicati – is increasing by around 4% a year, while consumer usage growth has slowed almost to a halt as people have adopted other communication channels (for example, instant messaging, SMS, social media).

But the consumers’ slowdown doesn’t affect their appreciation of email as a marketing channel. The latest research by the Aimia Institute shows that consumers in markets as diverse as India, the UK, France, the USA and Canada all cite email as the vehicle most likely to make them notice a brand communication. Other channels, such as direct mail, TV ads, SMS, brand websites, were far less effective at attracting consumers’ attention. 

This backs up previous research over the last couple of years. A 2014 study by the UK’s Direct Marketing Association (DMA) found that email was the marketing channel most preferred by between 75% and 83% of UK consumers in all age groups, handsomely beating direct mail, telephone, social media, SMS and face-to-face. In 2013, a retail loyalty study by Conlumino and SAS found that almost 61% of UK consumers preferred email as a channel for retailers’ marketing communications, far ahead of the 21% preferring post and the 2.5% preferring social media. 

Small wonder that both B2C and B2B marketers continue to place their faith in email marketing. The DMA’s National Client Email Report 2015found that the average ROI (does this need spelling out?) for email campaigns rose by 53% in 2014, securing £38 for every £1 spent; 90% of marketers in the survey described email marketing as ‘important’ or ‘very important’ for achieving their business objectives. Omobono’s latest What Works Where in B2Bsurvey finds that, after the company website, email is used by a higher percentage of US and UK marketers than any other medium (79%), including all the shiny and innovative digital channels that we are all so obsessed with, such as social media, online video, organic and paid search, mobile and so on (indeed, Omobono reports that while 67% of marketers rank mobile as being ‘important’ or ‘crucial’ to their strategy, only 23% are actually using it as a marketing channel).

Part of this continuing success is that email has been enthusiastically adopted by mobile (smartphone and tablet) users, now accounting for 71% of email opens, and that spam filters have become increasingly effective at keeping the rubbish out of the inbox.

And now, the ‘but’.

But...there are growing problems for email marketing that need to be addressed before the medium’s very success ends up killing it.

In B2C, there are clear signs of growing consumer impatience with excessive email marketing. What does ‘excessive’ mean? You might be surprised. Aimia’s research cited above finds that UK consumers receive on average around seven emails a day and 74% of them are already complaining that this is too much. US consumers, on the other hand, are made of tougher stuff – while 68% say that they get too many emails (on average around 10 per day), they feel they can handle it.

However, many consumers who feel overwhelmed or over-messaged are ‘handling it’ by breaking their ties with the offending brands, opting out of their communications altogether – what Aimia labels as ‘deletist’ behaviour. Worryingly, the more digital technology a consumer adopts, the more deletist they become, with the predictable result that the most ruthless deletists are Millennials, followed by Generation Xers. So this is a tendency that is only going to grow with time.

In B2B, the sheer growth in email volumes is a significant, if not leading, contributor to information overload. Aggravating factors are the ‘cc’ culture and the fact that because your mobile is with you from 7am till midnight, you can email colleagues and clients every waking hour of the day or night.

And B2B email marketing communications are now facing a new threat – this time, from your own colleagues. The Omobono research shows that your carefully crafted and measured usage of email marketing is likely to be ruined because other departments are busily bombarding customers with their own emails. Which departments? Basically, all of them. Sales, customer service, HR and internal comms all claim current and potential customers as key audiences, and only 28% of businesses surveyed had a formal digital comms strategy in place to ensure a co-ordinated approach across the organisation.

So what can marketers do to ensure email marketing will continue to work for them?

First, your email marketing needs to make maximum use of personalisation and direct relevance to each targeted individual. Automation, built carefully and thoughtfully, can help deliver emails that are timely, measured and fully in step with the target’s context.

Second, as the longest-standing and most skilled outbound communicators in your business, encourage the adoption of a formal digital comms strategy and ensure that marketing takes control of it.

Mark Rosselli CPL Chairman
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