With proven performance and an enduring presence in virtually every marketing campaign, email remains a reliable channel for b2b marketers, according to a new study by BtoB.
But that doesn't mean that email marketing is stagnant. The report, BtoB's “Email Marketing: An Established Channel Evolves,” found respondents expected email to help businesses engage with existing customers, nurture leads and acquire new customers. Its success hinges on investments in content and data, rapidly evolving areas that marketers cited as top concerns for their programs.
“We're just scratching the surface of what we can do,” said Linda McGovern, VP-marketing at USG Corp. The building materials manufacturing company uses email marketing to support road show events, build its database and bolster the efforts of a downsized sales force.
USG recently introduced an e-magazine to help engage existing customers, and it develops email campaigns for a mobile audience—something about a quarter of marketers who completed the survey indicated they would undertake in the next 12 months. USG is also working to integrate its marketing automation system with a sales automation system.
Almost 50% of respondents said their top tactic for improving email marketing efforts involved developing content relevant to individual market segments. Delivery of quality content also ranked in the top six tactics for improvement cited by respondents, as did data management and analytics-driven solutions, the development of lead-nurturing programs, segmented lists and personalized email messages.
More and more, marketers are linking databases, leveraging cross-channel data and using insights provided by those actions to create personalized programs that better track the impact of their marketing initiatives, the study found.
But not all marketers have their data in one place, said Michelle Eichner, product leader for IBM Corp.'s enterprise marketing management group. “A lot of companies aren't there yet,” she said. “They have disparate systems.”
Greg Donahue, director-marketing programs at Mercury Systems, said that data-centered email marketing initiatives have driven the need for content. Mercury provides processing systems, software and services to the commercial, defense and intelligence markets. The company produces two e-newsletters, one published bimonthly and the other, quarterly. The quarterly publication will shift to a bimonthly production schedule this year, Donahue said, and the company will focus on creating content tailored to specialized market segments.
“We've segmented our database more and more,” he said. “We want to deliver targeted content. The more you can microtarget your audience, the more you can develop content that will appeal to those people.”
Targeted content results in higher open and click-through rates, Donahue said, metrics endorsed by marketers who responded to the BtoB survey. Respondents said opens and clicks, more than any other metrics, measure the effectiveness of their email programs.
But Donahue said his ultimate goal is to see past those numbers, developing a system to link click-throughs to conversion rates and customer relationship management.
“I want to drive company key performance indicators, not just marketing indicators,” he said.
Other marketers also indicated an interest in linking results to email marketing tactics. Transportation company Maersk Group links its email marketing to ROI, looking, for example, at the number of cargo sales booked as the result of an email initiative, said Timothy Simpson, the company's director of marketing communications-North America.
Financial technology company Cummins Allison tracks the return on investment of all of its marketing initiatives and focuses on conversion rates achieved at customized landing pages, said Carol Moore, VP-marketing.
About 40% of marketers who completed the survey said that they would work to measure the ROI of their email marketing programs within the next 12 months.
Marketers indicated a strong preference for building their own lists, the study found, with 84% of respondents preferring that to using lists rented or bought from third parties.
Caitlin Moran, marketing manager at Arrowstream, said traditional methods such as face-to-face events pull in new leads, but digital content, including webinars and white papers, also gives potential customers an incentive to register and opt in to an email list. The company, which provides supply chain technology to restaurants and food distributors, is pushing into new verticals and building marketing efforts that now include an e-newsletter and other email programs.
Business communications company Avaya segments its audience and tailors email marketing programs not only to reach new customers but also to better connect with companies already in the database, said Cheryl Hatlevig, director-U.S. field marketing. The company delivers links to landing pages via both email and social media, and also uses other channels.
“You have to understand the preferences of the buying audience and the tools that help reach that audience,” Hatlevig said. “Email is just one vehicle to get to other ways to communicate with a customer.”
The company embeds podcasts and video clips into its emails, and the multimedia elements have performed well, Hatlevig said. About 60% of the marketers who responded to the BtoB survey said that they used video clips in email programs.
BtoB's study was based on an online poll completed by 424 sales and marketing professionals in February and March. Representatives of companies with less than $100 million in annual revenue made up about two-thirds of respondents. About a quarter of respondents represented technology companies.
For more information, or to obtain a copy of the report, click here.