With the current focus on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, what is the status of good old-fashioned email? Is it dying, or thriving? Are marketers still using email as effectively as possible? Delivering Value sat down with email marketing expert Dan Swartz, vice president of marketing for SubscriberMail, a Harland Clarke company, and got some straight answers.
Dan: The first question usually is: Do I have permission to email these people? The CAN-SPAM Act established highly specific legal requirements for commercial email, including the right of recipients to opt out of mailings. We only work with permission-based marketers that have clearly received permission from recipients to communicate with them via email. Not all lists are permission-based.
Organizations also want to know how to manage “unsubscribes” and “bounces” (undelivered emails). We automate these processes to ensure clients are following best practices in this area.
Another question that often arises: How frequently should I send out emails? Weekly? Monthly? There really is not one answer, because it depends on the situation. One way to gauge frequency, based on the audience, is to look at email response reports and analyze program trends in terms of who is unsubscribing, or who is reading the messages and what they are clicking on. That gives us insight as to how much we should mail. If we send too much email, we will typically see a trend toward more unsubscribes or toward less engaged recipients. Another concern, especially for small community banks and credit unions without a team of technical programmers: How am I going to build or manage all of this? That is where vendor platforms and tools come into play, especially for clients that may not have a lot of technical experience. Through our interface, we have made it very easy to build messages using templates and to manage a program from beginning to end.
Dan: More experienced email marketers generally are focusing on integration, which means taking the data we are collecting from our email campaigns and integrating it with other marketing initiatives. Part of how we handle this is to use an API (application programming interface) that enables our systems to talk to different systems within the client organization so we can start feeding data back and forth.
Another concern is ensuring the overall efficiency of an email campaign. For example, a client that has 20 segmented offers may want to know if it is better to create separate messages or to create one message and have pieces of it dynamically replaced for each segment of the audience. Clients want to evaluate how to best manage this sort of dynamic list segmentation. The more we can automate, the more efficient we can help our clients become.
Also, in the past few years we’ve seen a lot of marketers saying, “Okay, now what?” They may have some basic experience with email, or perhaps they are somewhat sophisticated in what they are doing. Either way, they want to know how to take it further and what is next out there. It is important to review the specific, overarching goals of the program periodically and to take an overall look at the program strategy and say, “Here is where opportunities exist to improve results or to increase operational efficiency.” Even if the bases are covered, an organization should ensure the strategy is still sound and it continues to grow the business as effectively as possible. It is an ongoing process of testing and refining. Marketers never want to rest on their laurels.
Dan: Gone are the days when an organization could send out a generic newsletter and people would open it because they thought email was cool. Consumers are inundated with email now, and marketers have very little time to capture their attention. A big problem is that most marketers treat everybody the same and expect to get good results. This is the “email blast” mentality that we try to steer clients away from — the same message does not work for everyone.
Marketers need to segment their messages more, meaning they need to tailor them to the specific preferences, behaviors and demographics of their audience. As recipients receive more email, the message has to be more relevant or it will go unread. It is a mistake when marketers do not pay enough attention to content. We see many organizations focusing on how an email message looks visually, to its design, but not on the actual content.
We also see many organizations not paying enough attention to strengthening the email “call to action,” to creating opportunities for the recipient, and to managing what actually happens when the recipient clicks a link. For example, if the email is linked to a website, what sort of landing page does it provide? Driving traffic to a website is only part of the equation; it is important to provide a clear path for that traffic, which leads to the point of conversion.
In addition, it is a mistake to think of email as a stand-alone medium. Email ties into many different marketing and communication areas within an organization. It can drive people to a website or to a branch location, depending on the offer. So all of these elements — email, direct mail, the contact center, website and branch — need to connect and provide the account holder or prospect with a unified experience and message.
Dan: It depends how much background information is available on a particular audience. Is there demographic information, or are there records of their past actions with regard to email? If the only thing available is a list of email addresses with no other information on what is relevant to those recipients, segmentation is challenging. It is important to see what information can be obtained about the people on the list. Are they recent purchasers? Big-ticket or small-ticket buyers? Longtime clients? Are they within a certain geographic area? The content of the email message might change considerably based on those parameters.
If only email addresses are available, we can create different messages based on whether recipients have opened or responded to email in the past. The more data we have, the better we can segment, and that helps drive content and, ultimately, increased ROI. Organizations may have more data than they think; it just means looking at the data creatively in terms of how to segment it.
Five Best Practices for Email Marketing
Email marketing expert Dan Swartz, vice president of marketing for SubscriberMail, recommends adhering to these five best practices when implementing email marketing campaigns to account holders and prospects:
Dan: A lot of clients ask about response rates. The fact is that it really varies based on many factors, including the message and the audience. There are many variables to consider, making an industry standard response rate somewhat misleading. It is possible to have 100 different email programs and 100 different acceptable response rates. We tell our clients to look instead at overall trends — look at how the needle is moving in a specific program.
It is also a matter of deciding how to define “response.” Is it the number or percentage of recipients who open the email message? Or is it the number who clicked through to a website? Or who made a purchase? The email response should be moving the institution in the right direction. The bottom line is that email is considerably more complicated than an old-fashioned direct mail package.
Dan: One emerging trend is that companies are making sure that their email programs complement their social media programs. The buzz out there is still Twitter and Facebook, and marketers want to know how email plays into that. The biggest opportunity is to have email drive people to social media networks in order to interact with them again there. Organizations also want to know how to best use social media sites to acquire new email addresses. The trend is toward a lot of integration between email and social media.
Another integration point we see is mobile messaging, because some people prefer to receive certain messages in a mobile application. We are currently working on developing tools to enable that sort of multi-faceted approach. There is an increasing awareness within marketing circles that email and text messaging are not separate platforms; we view them as components of a fully integrated approach to electronic communications. I think clients are seeing this process in a much more integrated, dynamic way.
Dan: No, I do not think there is a shift away. In fact, it is the opposite. It is less about sending out email messages and more about making email as effective as possible. A shift is taking place toward seeing email in conjunction with social media and other marketing tactics. Just like television did not kill radio, and the DVD did not kill the movie theater, we continue to make room for new technologies while finding new ways to use older, more established vehicles. The number of worldwide email accounts is projected to increase from more than 2.9 billion this year to more than 3.8 billion by 2014.1 Email is not going away by any means.
SubscriberMail is an award-winning provider of email marketing services that helps email marketers design and deliver cost-effective email campaigns. For more information on using SubscriberMail to reach account holders and prospects, contact your Harland Clarke account executive or visit harlandclarke.com/contactus.