Email will be the top target for increased investment across all digital channels in 2016, according to the Selligent and StrongView 2016 Marketing Trends Survey. The stalwart channel beat social media and display, which took the second and third spots, respectively.
The survey of 295 marketers also found that a little more than half (56 percent) plan to increase marketing budgets this year, about the same amount that planned to increase marketing budgets a year ago.
However, simply sending more email is not an effective strategy, says Jason Klein, Selligent senior director, corporate marketing. “If you just send more email, you run into email subscriber fatigue,” he says. “You’re training customers that you’re going to send email after email, so they won’t pay attention to an email, because they know they’ll get another one. Their interest in individual emails tends to dip.”
A more effective approach is to use data from customer interactions from various channels to understand individual customers, and then sending targeted emails directed to customers in the moment (e.g., at the start, middle, or end of the sales cycle), with messages optimized for the device the customer is engaging the brand on. “You need to provide value with every interaction to [earn] loyalty,” Klein says, adding that emails need to be timed to engage customers at certain points during the sales funnel, rather than just based on the marketer’s own promotional calendar.
“Increasing subscriber engagement” was by far the most important marketing initiative for 2016 noted in the survey, cited by 34% of respondents—more than double the next-highest response, “improving segmentation and targeting.” In their quest to master consumer engagement, marketers have to contend with several challenges, the survey findings infer. Most notably, respondents cited “leveraging customer data from multiple channels and data sources” as their top challenge in the coming year.
The social/email connection
Marketers’ focus on social media engagement and interaction marks a sharp increase from 2015, according to the survey. Nearly half of marketers (45%) cited “social media channel growth” as their top email marketing initiative for investment in 2016, compared with only 34% in 2015—edging out more traditional promotional programs and triggered email programs. Integration with social media is by far the most popular channel integration initiative, at 61% this year compared to 47% last year. Respondents chose social media was above website integration (58%) and mobile integration (42%).
“The creep up in social media interest is telling because it shows that brands realize they need to understand their customers in a deeper way,” Klein says. “If you want to understand customer moods and how they’re feeling about a brand, social media is [essential].”
Additionally, the effectiveness of social media as a “pull” channel has made it a growing area of interest for marketers. In fact, the survey results show that marketers now understand that social is where a lot of customers are engaging with the brands, Klein points out.
Even with all the positive focus on email and social, marketing initiatives are not without their share of obstacles. According to the survey, respondents’ top email marketing challenges for 2016 are leveraging customer data from multiple channels and data sources (27%); improving segmentation and targeting (18%), and inadequate data and analytics capabilities to engage in contextual marketing 12%).
Another concern among marketers is the growing prevalence of ad blockers, Klein notes, citing social media as an effective tool for marketers to circumvent the ad blocking challenge.