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Email: Still the Lovable and Reliable Diva of Digital Messaging

Email has been around for more than 12 years and is a creative vehicle with creative flair. Email just continues to belt out the hits and last year was no exception. Metrics are healthy, content is getting better, and email marketers are adapting to changing media and technology at an impressive rate. Further, a report published by none other than McKinsey & Company affirmed that “91% of all U.S. consumers still use email daily” and that email continues to remain a “significantly more effective way to acquire customers than social media—nearly 40 times that of Facebook and Twitter combined.”

So, to all the naysayers who say “email is dying”—how do you like them apples?

The facts speak for themselves. In early 2014 Inbox Marketer released a report that found email metrics had improved across the board in 2013. Here’s a snapshot of 2013’s clickstream metrics and increases:

  • Average open rates are up 10.5%
  • Clickthrough rates increased 3.4%
  • Click-to-open rates improved 7.3%
  • Bounce rates decreased by 42.9%
  • The North American Inbox Placement Rate (IPR) improved by 7.5%. (Note Canada’s average IPR was slightly higher than the U.S., 90% to 86%, respectively.)

Like the mighty oak, email is getting stronger with age

Email is getting stronger because email marketers have become more disciplined with their messaging strategies and consistently apply continual testing and optimization. While 2013 was a remarkable year for email, perhaps most notable was the shift in email opens on mobile devices. Midway through 2013, open rates on mobile devices officially surpassed desktop. The 2013 average was 51% mobile versus 45% desktop. (4% of consumer view emails on both.) This change has required email marketers to think differently about the way they design and execute their messaging. Many marketers design for mobile devices first. In 2013 email marketers utilized responsive design and scalable design as well as mobile landing pages and websites to better cater to the growing segment of on-the-go consumers.

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In light of the positive news, we encourage email marketers to continue to refine their approach to list hygiene and adherence to industry best practices to ensure email marketing continues to stay strong, relevant, and provide great ROI. We spotted four main trends to keep an eye on in this year:

1. The (continuing) rise of mobile devices

As of the end of Q4 2013, more than 55% of all email opens occurred on mobile devices (i.e. smartphones or tablets). As a result, email marketers have had to shift their strategies and tactics to a “mobile-first” mentality. Going forward, it will be important for marketers to optimize their messaging so that subscribers can view and interact with it in whatever form on their preferred device (i.e., phone, tablet, desktop, or other). Email marketers must consider the full reader experience to ensure that email design, copy, subject line, landing pages, and Web forms engage them.

2. List growth challenges

The conventional theory is that the more subscribers there are on an email list, the greater the potential for revenue. As a result, email marketers often face two fundamental pressures:

a) To increase the number of addresses within their lists

b) To reduce unsubscribe rates

Most marketers understand these pressures all too well, but still spend too much time on acquisition and not enough on content. Instead, marketers should decide early on what their goals are and how they’re going to be achieved. Disruptions are inevitable, but having a good plan to reference will ensure that you remain on task. Discipline is the name of the game when it comes to list growth.

3. Inactives and email list fatigue

This is one of the biggest challenges for email marketers. “Inactives” are (or at least should be) defined as valid email subscribers who have not opened or clicked in the last six months. Some ESPs use the 12 month period, but we believe that to be far too long of a window. You can quickly fatigue your subscribers if your sending frequency is too high or if you send irrelevant messages. Inactives can have a negative impact on your overall email metrics, but they also represent a segment rich with potential revenue. Implement campaigns targeted at inactives that focus on reactivating and reengaging them. It’s important to be selective in the messages you send and to only send if you are certain that the message is relevant to subscribers. It’s much cheaper and easier to reengage an existing subscriber than try to gain a new one.

4. Increased privacy concerns

Privacy continues to be a sensitive issue in the digital world. Already in 2014 there have been several reported data breaches at large U.S. companies, and data practices at both Google and Facebook are also under scrutiny. (Think floating data barges…) As a result of this increased concern in consumer privacy, industry associations are trying to be proactive by establishing more stringent guidelines for email practices. One such example is Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) which goes into force on July 1, 2014. CASL comes with very heavy fines and targets spammers, ensuring that email best practices will be followed.

Best-in-class versus the rest-in-class

The divide between best-in-class and rest-in-class marketers is widening all the time. Best-in-class marketers have metrics that are double or triple industry averages. This is because email leaders are typically more disciplined and do more planning, segmentation, and targeting. Campaigns should not be intermittent and rushed; rather they should be strategic and well planned throughout the year. It’s not always easy, but the leaders are doing exactly that.

Email is an opportunity for a two way dialogue, but too many marketers miss the opportunity to proactively gather information from their subscribers. Smarter messaging needs data to identify the real opportunities and gaps that marketers can leverage.

Geoff Linton is president of Inbox Marketer.

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