Maximizing email

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Avoiding common email marketing mistakes will ultimately drive better campaign ROI
Avoiding common email marketing mistakes will ultimately drive better campaign ROI

Freshpair.com reworked its welcome email series last year to begin profiling customers after their first interaction with the brand. “We like to target based on purchase history, but obviously if they sign up before they buy, we don't have the data,” says Scoggins. “We now use welcome emails to ask preferences, so that we can start that customization right away.”

FedEx plans to use transactional emails to help increase sales and ROI, says Andrew Bailey, marketing principal at FedEx Services.

“For FedEx, using transactional emails to cross- or upsell customers is a frontier we'll put a lot of focus on this year,” says Bailey. “With transactional emails being extremely relevant to customers, what better touchpoint [is there] to offer highly relevant content?”

Keep an open mind

Focusing on driving sales alone will not necessarily make a good email program, experts say. Rebecca Lieb, digital marketing analyst at advisory firm Altimeter Group, says email marketers need to stop using the channel just to push direct response messages and think about how to use it to increase brand awareness.

“There isn't enough experimentation with content,” says Lieb. “Marketers should be talking about the area they are in without the specific product. If you sell pots and pans, you might send content about cooking rather than just sending an email that says ‘buy our product.”

Davidson, of Bronto, agrees that marketers fail to take a big picture perspective when it comes to email programs. “A lot of brands are thinking about how they can make money with email, but they also need to think about establishing a foundation of who these subscribers are,” he says. “They need to learn how to market to them to drive a longer lifetime value.”

As if email marketing weren't tricky enough on its own, Internet service providers are making it easier for consumers to ignore marketing emails. Many consumer email clients like Hotmail and Gmail created automated filtering and foldering tools to help users avoid commercial email messages. “If marketers aren't aware of this and are proactively trying to drive engagement, they are going to see their engagement rates come down in 2012,” says Blank.

Another tactic that often gets overlooked is using different channels to build email lists. While most brands include opt-in opportunities on their websites, many channels for email capture are not fully capitalized on, including in-store customer opt-in or on the phone with call center representatives.

Some marketers find that social media pages are an ideal place to gather opt-ins. For example, PGA Tour uses social to help build its email list through promotions. In the fall, the company ran a campaign in conjunction with Electronic Arts, in which Facebook fans who opt in to the PGA Tour's email list received access to a free video game. “We are planning on doing more contests and giveaways on Facebook, which is good for our partners and is the best way we've seen to get more opt-ins,” Humphreys says.

However, not all marketers think list growth is a good thing. Scoggins, of Freshpair.com, refers to list growth as a “double-edged sword.” “You constantly hear that you need a bigger list so that you can send more messages and make more money, but I believe in being smarter about the list you've got,” he says. “This is better than going out and trying arbitrarily to get more names.”

Aside from using Facebook to capture email addresses, some marketers add share-to-social buttons, and cutting edge marketers incorporate social graph data into emails to enhance messaging. For example, more advanced marketers send emails that include information about a recipient's Facebook friends who have already “liked” the product that is being promoted.

Despite the rich opportunity, Blank says few marketers go beyond email capture on social media. “Facebook just began opening up some of this information and a lot of marketers don't even know it's there yet,” she says. “It takes some work to get it up and running and integrated on their website.”

DirecTV plans to use Facebook Connect functionality to add this kind of content to its emails in a move to make the messages more social. “[We] are hoping to potentially bring in Facebook Connect functionality that might allow a customer to see what movies her friends have recently recommended,” Kirsch says.

Exposing consumer recommendations and interests to friends across channel is the “Holy Grail,” Kirsch contends. “I don't think the future of email, however, is to somehow seamlessly integrate everything. Email is a perfectly healthy stand-alone vehicle.”

Integration with mobile is another area upon which marketers can improve. According to email service company Return Path, 23% of email messages were viewed on a mobile device during the six month period ending in September of last year, which was a 34% increase compared to the previous six-month period. “There is no excuse for not optimizing emails for smartphones any longer,” says Lieb. “We are now at a point in time where smartphones have achieved critical mass.”

No matter what the approach and what kind of integration a marketer takes, it remains clear that email marketing is still a viable channel and has the possibility to help marketers drive revenue. “Email remains a remarkably effective and efficient marketing vehicle, but it will decline if we don't make the improvements that are right at our fingertips,” concludes Kirsch.

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