Though many now consider it a legacy channel, email marketing continues to adapt to the evolving needs of marketers and their customers. Increasingly that means an accelerating reliance on content to fuel email campaigns, according to a new study by BtoB.
According to BtoB's “Email Marketing: An Established Channel Evolves,” 47% of marketers responding said improving their email programs hinged on increasing their ability to deliver content relevant to specific segments of their audiences. That was ahead of such other needs as improving lead nurturing (43%) and list segmentation (30%), increasing personalization (25%) and analyzing data (24%).
The primacy of content was also highlighted when marketers were asked about their greatest email challenges. Leading the list again was content, according to 58% of respondents, followed by perceived difficulties in measuring ROI (40%), concerns over deliverability (34%) and problems with expanding opt-in lists (30%).
Email marketing is experiencing a renaissance, in part because content is playing a more significant role, said Jay Schwedelson, president-CEO at multichannel marketing company Worldata. “The surge of content creation is helping fuel the proper response to email,” he said. “As a result, email isn't just a legacy channel. The dialogue has shifted. Email does work, but only if you're doing it right with your content."
According to BtoB's study, marketers said they are increasing the frequency of e-newsletter production, investing in video and multimedia content and creating tailored messages based on these types of content. None of this is easy, said Ginger Shimp, marketing director at SAP America.
“I have a healthy respect for my database marketing team in determining who I want to reach, and when,” Shimp said. “But in the background you have to churn out new content, and at some point you're saying the same thing over and over again. The numbing factor can be significant.”
Marketers seem to believe video is a solution to that numbing factor: 60% of business marketers use the medium, and of those who do use video, 83% use either stand-alone email marketing programs or a combination of both email and social media programs as the primary way to distribute video, according to BtoB's survey.
Content downloads are a key trigger for automated email messages, but only 18% of survey respondents use marketing automation programs to trigger more than half of their regular, nontransactional email volume.
Among those marketers employing automated delivery of emails, 63% said registration and attendance at face-to-face events are the key prospect behaviors they look for. That was followed by form registration for online events and white papers (62% each), requests for product demonstrations (36%), actual purchases (32%), website browsing behavior (32%) and call-center interactions (17%).
The relatively low position of prospect browsing behavior to trigger email responses may indicate that other factors are rising in importance, said John DiStefano, research director at BtoB and author of the survey.
“In the past if we asked this question about what triggers email responses, undoubtedly Web browsing would have been higher on the list,” DiStefano said. “However, today we operate in a content-rich marketing setting that is more multichannel than ever before.”
Social sharing is a tactic that helps improve email marketing campaigns, survey respondents indicated: 54% said social sharing via email increases brand reputation and awareness, and 24% said the tactic extends the reach of email content to new markets. Other benefits of social sharing via email include increasing email ROI, accelerating the growth of email lists and generating more qualified leads.
“At some point with email, you always come back to the idea that it's push marketing,” Shimp said. “How do you get around that and coordinate email with inbound marketing? Through social media. With email, you can embed or stream a video, for example. That allows you to do something interesting with your YouTube channel.”
A little more than a quarter of marketers surveyed by BtoB said they are developing a mobile strategy as part of their email-marketing program. The mobile interface requires adaptations to both content and design, with 39% of marketers indicating they are scrubbing images from their messages, adding “mobile-version” links and mobile landing pages (36%) and redesigning their messages for a touch interface (31%). They are also moving to single-column formats.
As for performance metrics, more than half of marketers track click-through rates, open rates, click-to-open ratios and unsubscribe rates. Marketers place the most emphasis on click-through rates, cited by 72% of respondents, and open rates (67%), but they also value results-based metrics that link marketing to tangible results, including leads and sales.
Other findings from BtoB's study include:
- Homegrown lists trump other methods of list acquisition by far among respondents. More than 80% said they build their own lists, followed by 31% who rent lists and 24% who sponsor mailings sent to a third-party list.
- More than 60% of respondents currently use a single email database, an asset that allows them to segment their audience and better manage email frequency. About a third of marketers who currently do not have single email databases are working to integrate their lists over the next two years.
- Only 16% of respondents incorporate promotional marketing messages in all or most of transactional messages, including bills and service notices.
- Marketers send an average of 252,000 email messages each month, though that number may be skewed by large marketing organizations responding to BtoB's study. More than 85% of respondents said that their organizations send fewer than 250,000 messages monthly.
BtoB's study is 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. A quarter of respondents represented technology companies, with such other verticals as financial services (10%), consulting (10%), nontechnical manufacturing (6%) and agencies (5%) also represented.
A full copy of "2013 Email Marketing: An Established Channel Evolves" can be downloaded from BtoB's Intelligence Center.