Are the Days of Batch and Blast Behind Us?

Everyone says 2013 was the year of mobile. Hardly noticed was the fact that it was also the year when email marketers decided to get serious about direct marketing.

Hey, we're individuals, you know!
Hey, we're individuals, you know!

In reviewing the findings of this year's Silverpop Email Marketing Metrics Benchmark Study, the company's VP of Industry Relations Loren McDonald couldn't believe one number staring him in the face. He was sure his analytics people had messed up and he had them run the data a second time, but the same number came up:  The median hard bounce rate had declined 95% between 2012 to 2013, from 0.8% to 0.04%.

“We seem to have crossed this chasm in the last 18 to 24 months where marketers have finally gotten the message. Whether it's the ISPs or the blocked sites, if you don't clean up your data, you're not going to get through,” McDonald says. “Not getting emails into people's inboxes for three or four days means millions in lost revenues. When we go to see clients, CMOs and GMs will walk into the room and say, ‘You are going to help us not get blocked, right?'  And we say, ‘No, it's up to your guy sitting here at this table to clean your data.'”

Silverpop's results—which breaks out performance quartiles for all emails sent by 3,000 brands in 40 countries—truly indicate a clear divide between best and worst in email marketing. Emailers operating in the top quartile worldwide all have bounce rates of 0.00. It was lesser performers getting with the program who moved the ball last year. The median bounce rate in the U.S., for instance, was 0.037—more than 100% under the mid-range from last year's study.

Ever since email established itself as the primary direct marketing vehicle for everyone from big-box retailers to neighborhood dentists to global financial institutions, the targeting formula has been simple: You don't need one.  Just batch and blast to every name you can get hold of, then blast again, and repeat. Let email's 40-to-one ROI ratio do the rest. So what if half your list hasn't bought anything from you in two years? So what if they've moved to Argentina, or they're deceased? Buying software and hiring data analysts to clean lists and customize messages in such a way as to increase things like repeat business and brand advocacy is nice, but it's expensive. Why bother if the cash continues to flow and the bottom keeps getting blacker?

Last year, however, that attitude apparently began to lose esteem. Companies began to realize that stricter attention to customer lifecycles, Web behavior, and preferences could build a stronger brand and send ROI even higher. “These are the kinds of conversations we're having with our retail clients these days,” McDonald says. “They're seeing so many people on their databases not buying and going inactive. If 25% of your database hasn't opened an email in 18 months, why would you continue to keep sending to them?”

U.S. companies in the top quartile for unique opens in the U.S. in Silverpop's study put up a rate of 38.5, more than double the 16.8% median number. Top performers' click-to-open rates—which gauge clicks as a percentage of emails actually opened, an indicator of relevance—came in at 30.8%, more than three times higher than the median. You can drive a USPS trailer truck through the gap between the good and bad players in email market, but McDonald is of the opinion that more and more are striving to be good.

“The people getting A's in email are moving to marketing to people more on a one-to-one basis,” he says. “Instead of basing everything on a calendar and sending everybody the same message at a given time, the top quartile is saying, ‘Lets create 10, 30, 40 messages and tie them to cart abandonment, post-purchase, and browse abandonment.”

Batch and blast may not be dead, and it most likely will always be with us. Among serious direct marketers, however, it is now officially disgraced.

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