What Works (and What Doesn't) in Email Marketing

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A new study finds that visual elements and offer-laden emails boost engagement; batch-and-blast messages don't.

No one likes to be disappointed, especially today's consumers whose expectations are higher than ever. In fact, a new IBM study shows that the more those consumers feel satisfied with email messaging and its value proposition, the more likely they are to engage—and hopefully purchase. New findings from IBM's 2015 Email Marketing Metrics Benchmark Study analyze email marketing trends from some 3,000 brands across the globe. Analysts at IBM Silvepop say that the data implies that engagement can lead to the highly coveted sale.

“Engagement is most certainly the gateway to conversion and then sales,” says Dave Walters, strategic marketing evangelist at IBM Silverpop. “Engagement is the magic first step. For e-commerce companies it can translate directly into revenue. For other industries, it might prompt a deeper conversation [with customers] or even spark new conversations.”

Some industries, such as the travel industry, are excelling in email open rates, with more than 56% in opens—10 times more than some lower-performing peers, the study shows. One of those lower performers, according to the data, includes the retail and e-commerce industry (33.8% opens)—a rate that pundits insist shows this industry is flat out missing the mark. The report says that today's customers demand “perfect moments” from brands, which means relevant deals on items or services, at the right time, on the right devices.

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“The choices from the consumer side are almost astronomical, and the challenge for marketers is to be that chosen provider or vendor. Perfect moments do that,” Walters says. “It's getting that moment when the customer is primed for the purchase, is listening, and understanding. And marketers need to use all of that [customer] info to provide the right product and time to drop a perfect email at the perfect moment.”

Walters insists that the reasons behind success or failure are clear. Travel brands, for example, use strong visuals and offer lots of deals in each email, so readers have higher engagement with click-through rates (CTRs) of more than 15%. Email marketers in retail, however, have much lower engagement rates. The study points to the industry's persistent use of batch-and-blast methods, which lack in personalization that's required by consumers today.

“Personalization homes in on the fact that you have to build a relationship with people,” he says. “With all of the consumer choices, it's incumbent upon marketers to know their customers—who they are, what they've bought in the past, and what they need next.”

Highlighted in the report are the top three performing industries for CTRs: computer hardware (16.3%), lodging and travel services (15.2%), and consumer products (14.6%). At the bottom sits automobiles (8.8%), retail (7.5%), and media (6.2%).

The research also finds that brand marketers who use a person's previous actions, such as a purchase or password update, to trigger email campaigns had higher engagement. In fact, transaction emails produced an open rate of 72% and an average CTR of about 30%.

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