With rise of social, the demise of email has been greatly exaggerated

4 Mar 2014

There’s a certain level of familiarity that can be achieved by those in local business. The grocer that knows his regulars by name. The hairdresser that remembers where the last conversation with her client left off. The barista who knows how the frequent coffee consumers like their brew.

Yet, being familiar with customers and able to anticipate their needs and desires is not solely the reserve of local businesspeople. These old-school tactics can be applied to modern e-commerce to invoke a similar level of customer loyalty.

Inbox overload

Email marketing has advanced beyond software that will insert a username into the right slot on a template, because it has had to.

“Everyone has inbox overload,” said Kestrel Lemen, marketing strategist, Europe, at Bronto Software. “So, if that’s a given, and you know that you have quite a lot of competition for that inbox, the major question I’m asking my clients is: how are you going to stand out?”

Bronto Software provides a cloud-based marketing platform to more than 1,000 organisations worldwide. The challenge is not only finding a unique value that can fight customer boredom, it’s also avoiding relegation to the spam folder.

It’s not just bank information requests from sketchy Nigerian royalty that ends up there, it’s anything that users consider junk mail. “Why is it junk? Because it’s boring,” said Lemen.

Evolution of email marketing

Kestrel Lemen

Kestrel Lemen, marketing strategist, Europe, at Bronto Software

Colin Lewis, programme director of DMX Dublin 2014, a digital marketing conference that will be hosted by the Marketing Institute of Ireland on 12 March, describes email marketing as “the original digital channel.”

Lewis notes how this marketing channel has evolved from crude “spray and pray” tactics of broadcasting a single message to all channels, to a much more refined, tailored approach.

“It’s possibly more subtle than just saying ‘personalisation’,” he said, explaining how a good strategy will send out varied messages for acquisition, conversion or retention, addressing customers at all phases of the buying cycle.

Never assume

Businesses can now track the behavioural data and past purchases of customers, and mistakes are easily made when this information is taken at face value. For example, a business owner can’t assume that every customer who buys a womenswear item is a woman.

Incorrect assumptions and misguided judgments are easy-to-encounter pitfalls when it comes to personalisation, and caution is advised. “It can be really powerful and really interesting but, on the other hand, really creepy and really inaccurate,” said Lemen.

Businesses also need to consider how what they know is presented to users so they don’t look like Big Brother. The same goes for how this information is requested.

“There’s a big difference between ‘Tell us your birthday’ and ‘Let us know when your birthday is and we’ll send you a gift’,” said Lemen. The first prompts the user to question why this information is needed, while the latter encourages them with a reward.

Know your audience

Colin Lewis

Colin Lewis, programme director of DMX Dublin 2014

An example of email marketing done right comes from Hunt Office, an office supplies retailer based in Newcastle West, Dublin. With intelligent use of customer data, Hunt Office achieved a 22pc lift in email marketing revenue, accounting for 10pc of its overall revenue in 2013.

“The biggest way we were able to see email marketing help out with Hunt Office was client retention,” said Lemen.

Hunt Office’s automated campaign delivered personalised emails to re-engage customers who had not made a purchase in the past 60 days. Through behavioural data, Hunt Office was also able to send custom messages it knew would be relevant – such as a reminder to buy toner for the printer just bought.

The result was an increase in engagement, as well as a 500pc improvement in frequency interaction (the number of visits to the website and the time between visits).

Right here, right now

While direct marketing has suffered a decline with the growth of email marketing, Lewis does not foresee the same demise for email marketing in the face of social media and mobile marketing.

“It’s used because it works. It also cuts costs and you can actually test it very quickly,” he said.

In fact, Lewis believes that email can drive results quicker than any form of social media because of the medium and its positioning. “If I want to get a deal across, if I want to get an offer across, if I want to inject some scarcity into what I’m doing – email is the most powerful,” he said. “Because we don’t see all the social media messages directed towards us, whereas email is right in your inbox, communicating with you there and then.”

A version of this article appeared in The Sunday Times on 2 March

Email marketing image via Shutterstock

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.