Do marketers really get email?
by James Lawson.
Email is unique in its ability to deliver dynamically targeted messages in a true one-to-one fashion. And as other channels, such as mobile and social, begin to grow in popularity, email has the potential to be more powerful than ever – if marketers take the time to think strategically about each channels and carefully integrate them into a comprehensive program. But given that most email marketers have historically ignored other channels and blasted out untargeted messages, are they likely to take up these opportunities?
Email and web are king
“Multichannel marketing is more talked about than done,” says Nick Gold, Managing Director for Northern Europe at Emailvision. “It can be very difficult to co-ordinate the different elements and bring the back-end data together. Deciding on the mix and sequence of offers is also hard.”
So, though multichannel campaigns have been proven to work more effectively over single channel promotions, the resources, data integration and process co-ordination required still deters most. In truth, the vast majority of multichannel work today lies simply in web and email. These two channels work so well together that many companies feel there is no need to use anything else, while the response and purchase data that the web delivers is becoming far more influential than sociodemographic indicators in deciding whom to target via other channels.
Work in using online behaviour to target future offers via email or the web is a big focus for many marketers at the moment. Cognesia is one of the leaders here and reports a, “250 per cent increase in income due to personalising based on web behaviour”, according to managing director David Hudson.
“If they exhibit a behaviour that shows an interest then you can do something about it via email or perhaps another channel such as the phone,” he says.
Hudson also notes that rather than a battle for budget between on and offline channels, it’s still more about web and email. “Now the cost of PPC and SEO are being compared to email, particularly by pureplays,” he says. “Search looks a lot more expensive these days and they are looking at behaviourally-targeted email”.
Putting his money where his mouth is, Cognesia is extending its individual email targeting and customisation capabilities to web applications with the launch of its Engage software module. This can personalise web content based on previous behaviour (either on a website or in email response) and works with existing web content management systems (CMS).
“It can work out which of say, five to ten variants should be served based on previous behaviour,” says Hudson. “The average CMS can’t do this.”
Of course, which channel to choose to use in conjunction with email depends very much on the media a company has at its disposal. Which channels do the customer base prefer to use? And which are already in use that can be used more effectively?
StrongMail's VP of Strategic Services, Ryan Deutsch picks the mobile channel as being particularly well suited to soliciting opt-in for email communications. One Strongmail client acquires customers’ mobile numbers in the course of in-store purchases, then texts individuals to join its email marketing programmes. “Acquiring new email subscribers is a general challenge and the mobile channel is a great way to do that in retail,” he says.
RueLaLa.com, another Strongmail client, inserts referral offers within the orders it ships to customers. The printed referral card solicits the email address of the customers and of a friend; when the card is returned with both email addresses, the customer receives a discount coupon or other reward. In a similar way, Discover Financial pays customers $50 when they recommend a friend and provide an email.
“Word of mouth is where we are seeing a lot of activity,” says Deutsch, whose company offers a dedicated module – Influencer – for tracking and managing referral marketing.
“Very few brands are doing properly integrated multichannel marketing, usually because they have their channel data in silos,” he continues, listing Apple and Intercontinental Hotels as leaders in multichannel work. These companies have years of programme development behind them and have built data collection into their business processes; Intercontinental has 52 million members in its loyalty scheme.
At Apple, the email programme starts in-store with customers asked for their email address to send a sales receipt to. This means Apple can immediately cross-sell relevant products such iPhone cases and other add-ons as part of a comprehensive welcome programme that introduces customers to the device they have just bought.
“This a big system issue,” says Deutsch. “You have to be aware of what’s happening in other channels and have access to the data. One of the reasons Apple are able to do this so well is their email is tightly tied to their commerce systems.”
If an offline channel is to be used with email, the telephone is often the best way to follow up those that exhibit buying behaviour but have not as yet purchased. US basketball team Boston Celtics use it as part of their extremely effective multistage, multichannel ticketing campaigns.
With 30 days to fill 3500 seats, the team’s marketers sent a highly-targeted email to pre-determined clusters in the customer base. Next the company handed a list of all the customers that had clicked on links about the game, but had not purchased to its telemarketers.
With very detailed information on what customers had clicked on, the agents were able to pitch better offers or seats, determine why there had been no sale and follow that up with another offer, or store the reason for refusal in the database for future analysis. With the game sold out, the third phase involved another set of emails offering six-game packages, season passes and team merchandise. ROI for the combined campaign was double the norm.
Emailvison’s Gold does see plenty of multichannel work, but many of his clients would prefer to switch much more of those communications to online media only. Big mail order operators like Next, Boden and The White Company are striving to move customers beyond traditional direct mail and catalogues.
“They are still using direct mail along with email or email with a catalogue,” he explains. “Email is still inextricably linked to the brochure that lands a few days later. They want to educate customers so that they can send an email or SMS that links to a website rather than post a catalogue.”
B2b marketing is an even more likely environment for combining email initiatives with phone follow-ups – long a staple of b2b marketing where high value sales justify investment in building strong relationships with clients over the phone. Gold points to various commercial property agents such as Colliers International that make good use of multiple emails interspersed with high quality glossy brochures, then followed up by high pressure phone calls.
“It’s still a relatively old fashioned approach but these tangible communications work very well,” he says. “However adding social to this mix is tough.”
Along with web and email, social media is very much the flavour of the month and many businesses are trying to bring it together with their work in other channels. Likewise email vendors are adding functions to their software that allows content to be passed across (and tracked) to social media.
“For below-the-line, it’s definitely about the integration of email, web and social at the moment,” says Simon Davis, director of Atrium Group, whose company is currently expanding its social media consultancy. “On social, you can get a message out at virtually no cost and it works very well where there is an affinity, though age skew can be a problem. Some people are trying to target over-60s but the age profile of Facebook and Twitter tends to be much lower.”
Email is a compelling choice as the “glue” between the various proprietary social media platforms. Through email, companies can at least partially avoid the barriers each platform owner attempts to set up in order to control access to their valuable user base. According to Richard Evans, Director of Marketing EMEA for Silverpop, marketers should increase their use of email to grow follower and fan numbers, increase app downloads or explain the benefits of a check-in programme.
“Once your fan and follower base has grown, email is also a great way to keep subscribers engaged in these channels,” he says. “Social and mobile are less robust communication experiences than email which will continue to reign as the best vehicle for delivering private transactional messages ill-suited for social arenas.”
In both b2b and b2c, Davis points to the use of email automation to qualify inbound leads typically gathered via search engines. Used intelligently, this type of lead nurturing has the potential to make more efficient use of the relatively expensive phone channel.
Atrium runs a programme like this for Vertu, a luxury mobile phone retailer. To be eligible for the company’s concierge services, customers register their phone on the website and answer various questions as part of the registration process. Further emails are sent based on the initial responses and all data flows to the internal customer database to inform further contact.
“You can ask a series of short questions on the web about their intentions and score the responses,” Davis explains. “Then you can send a relevant email to offer them a call or to further qualify their interest.”
However most marketers once again struggle with multichannel in b2b, often because they lack email addresses for their own customers due to a historical blindness to the value of collecting them. Other constraints include time shortage, staff turnover and the ever-present temptation to hammer rented email lists in the hope of easy returns.
“Multichannel tends to be a haphazard exercise,” says Jamie Gledhill, managing director of Emailmovers. “Often the way companies have collected their data is the problem - they simply don’t have the email address.”
Gledhill notes that his company’s service that appends email addresses to house files is increasingly popular and work in reverse appending (appending postal and other attributes to an email address) is also picking up momentum. “We have data sets going back 15 to 20 years and work with Alcatel on exactly this issue,” he says.
Indeed Emailmovers offers its clients access to its free software package that helps manage phone follow-ups. Using the Callmovers tracking and reporting tool in conjunction with Emailmovers’ telesales agents, clients need only contact those individuals that have either clicked through or opened an email using. But they hardly ever use it.
“We give it away with data sales, but the small amount of follow-up on b2b email campaigns is amazing. There’s usually none, especially if the email campaign is working,” he says. “The key factor is lack of resource and email is seen as a quick fix.”
Gledhill also pinpoints the split between sales and marketing as hampering multichannel work in b2b. Marketing tends to run the email while sales owns the phone relationship, and never the twain shall meet.
Marketers are certainly combining multiple channels but increasingly those channels are all digital, and most still struggle with the basics. Reduced marketing headcounts, silo’d data and tough planning challenges all conspire to make sophisticated on- and offline multichannel work largely the preserve of the big businesses like Sony, Orange and BMW.
“The most successful companies will take advantage of this multichannel landscape and leverage all the available channels to engage, educate, convert and build loyalty,” says Evans. “By thinking strategically marketers can connect with customers and prospects in exciting new ways.”
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