Marketers favor email, the workhorse among b2b tactics, for its effectiveness in acquiring customers and nurturing prospects, but there are widely divergent approaches to using it. These include frequency as well as opt-in best practices—or lack thereof—when assembling contact lists.
Those are some of the findings of “Email Marketing: A Legacy Channel Continues to Deliver,” a new BtoB study based on an online survey of 332 b2b marketers in December and January. It found that customer acquisition, cited by 32% of respondents, and lead nurturing (27%) are the two primary goals of email programs.
The survey found marketers approach the frequency of their email blasts in different ways. Almost half (48%) worry about alienating contacts with too much volume and send out non- e-newsletter emails once a month or even less often. By contrast, 19% email their contacts once a week, and 16% hit the send button once every two weeks.
“Email is still a very effective medium, but just like with direct mail it's about quality versus quantity,” said Matt Papertsian, research director at marketing consultancy SiriusDecisions. “You want to send out [non-e-newsletter] emails perhaps once a week but no fewer than once a month. A lot of companies miss that. It's important to keep your database warm.”
The survey found that 39% of marketers have an official frequency cap in place.
Greg Donahue, marketing program manager-key accounts at Mercury Computer Systems, a supplier of digital image, signal and sensor processing solutions for the defense and intelligence industries, is one who is sensitive to email frequency.
“We have a couple of new products coming out, but I'm not going to spam people with ineffective emails and various calls to action,” Donahue said. “You have to realize you're not the only one emailing these people, even within your own company. There's also customer support, contract people, sales, etc.
“We try to limit what marketing sends out to two or three emails a month, and a maximum of once a week.”
Papertsian, however, said official frequency caps can be unduly restrictive.
“Once somebody has opted in to getting your emails, that person's messages no longer qualify as individual emails, “ he said. He added that for frequency purposes, such messages should be lumped together and considered “a single email stream.”
“For the same reason, you shouldn't worry about the frequency of reminder emails sent to webinar registrants,” he said. “Is frequency numerical or thematical?” Without an understanding of multiple-versus-single email streams, he said, “Frequency caps can be limiting and hinder marketing.”
According to BtoB's survey, marketers feel they face significant challenges in growing opt-in contact lists. To do so, 88% build their own databases in-house; 64% said such an approach provides the highest ROI. List rentals, cited by 26% of respondents, sponsoring another company's email database (16%) and co-registration tactics (15%) also are commonly used to build contact lists.
The survey revealed that opt-in practices are far from ideal and may sometimes threaten the viability of entire campaigns.
While 64% of marketers said they build their email lists with opt-ins, 28% send out unsolicited emails with no prior opt-in approval at all, and 17% who use rented or sponsored lists said they “trust my list provider” that the recipients have opted in.
Only 13% of respondents to BtoB's survey said they use double opt-ins, in which recipients must confirm via a follow-up email request that they've agreed to receive email messages.
Chris Thompson, manager of the block list team at spam watchdog group Spamhaus Project, said marketers need to keep a keen eye on how they build their email contact lists. “Spamhaus—and nearly all the rest of the online world—insist on opt-in only, where the address owner gives his prior, informed consent to have his email address added to a particular mailing list,” he said.
Thompson has little use for appending email addresses to existing contact information without a user's permission.
“[That] does not meet the opt-in criteria,” he said, and may put a company's email programs at risk of being blacklisted as spam and blocked.
A substantial proportion of marketers is using marketing automation to send triggered emails based on recipient actions, according to BtoB's survey.
Such customer behaviors as registering for a webinar or downloading a white paper are the most common actions that prompt an automatic follow-up email, cited by 69% of marketers. Other actions that trigger email messages include requests for product demos (36%) and call-center interactions (15%).
“We have automated follow-ups linked to whatever is going on with our site,” said Rachel Rodenborg, marketing manager at Insite Software. “If someone searches for us or our products and winds up on one of our landing pages, we'll generate an automated response.”
Rodenborg carefully customizes her email messages to recipient segments. The reason: Her target audience for Insite's main products—integrated b2b e-commerce platforms and shipping software—isn't always within the IT department, she said.
“It's often driven by an executive or marketing initiative searching for opportunities,” she said. “With email, you have to be very smart and refined about your target audience and relevant messages.”
Mercury Computer's Donahue also uses triggers and is especially careful with them, given his key targets.
“We market to defense contractors, and we're all under the gun about cyber security,” Donahue said. “Their servers are getting very touchy. Sometimes those triggered emails can get blocked.”
Among industry sectors participating in BtoB's survey, technology companies comprised 31% of all respondents. Manufacturers (9%), financial services companies (9%), consultancies (9%), advertising agencies (8%), publishing/ media companies (5%) and healthcare companies (5%) also were well-represented.
Company size was diverse, although weighted toward small-to-midsize companies: 72% of respondents reported annual sales of less than $100 million; on the high end, 14% work for enterprises with more than $1 billion in annual revenue.M
For information about obtaining the complete research findings, go to Purchase the report">www.btobonline.com/emailstudy.