Email, which can generate up to 50 times its cost in ROI, continues to be a productive and challenging channel for marketers. Recent studies based on billions of delivered emails, suggest that marketers must be vigilant about measuring, innovating and personalizing the email experience lest they get too fat, too happy and kill the Golden Goose.
Marketing email constitutes 93% of business-as-usual volume, according to Epsilon’s Q3 2017 Email Trends and Benchmarks report. The average marketing email campaign has an open rate of 19.4%, average clicks of 1.5% and an average click-to-open rate of 7.6%. These statistics vary by industry.
More characterizes the email arena. More volume. More mobile. More engagement and lack thereof. More sophisticated. More measured. More connected to other channels. More scrutinized. More SPAM. More filtering by ISPs and consumers. More creative testing and experimentation with SUBJ lines, buttons, images, copy and responsive design.
For the first time ever, mobile email volume and mobile email response has paced and exceeded laptops and desktops, accounting for 53% of opens and clicks, according to the Yes Lifecycle Marketing (YLM) Q4 2017 Benchmark Report. And while the relationship and synergy between in-motion access and static access is still not clear, the need to anticipate mobile opens, clicks and engagement, using some kind of responsive design, is mandatory. And yet only 24% of senders are consistently using responsive design in crafting email.
In this exuberant atmosphere, a continuing fascination with volume is a warning signal that email marketers need to address and overcome. This addiction to big numbers manifests itself in the constant drive to increase campaign volume and an unwillingness or inability to rest or delete the uninterested.
But volume isn’t engagement. The 18% year-over-year increase in email volume is not matched by comparable spikes in customer engagement. Yes Lifestyle Marketing reports “a continuing steep decline in email opens, clicks and clicks-to-open” among 39 billion emails sent and analyzed over the last 15 months. Engagement is becoming a critical filter criterion for ISPs directly impacting deliverability and inbox placement.
For example, the average read rate, according to Return Path is just 21.5%, down three-quarters of a point from the previous year. SPAM complaints are growing with averages from 3.5% to 20%, based on industry sector. And 11.9% of emails, on average, are deleted before they are opened. There is a lot of wasted volume, which is dismissed or ignored because the cost of email, relative to other channels, is so modest.
American consumers receive an average of 121 emails per day. They are ruthless in scanning and filtering FROM and SUBJ lines to decide which topics and which brands are worth their time and attention. They are not bashful in making direct complaints to marketers and ISPs or reporting unwanted messages as SPAM.
There’s no rest for weary email recipients. It is estimated that 1 in 5 email addresses have not responded in a year, roughly a 22.5% YoY increase in chronic non-responders. Roughly 20% of an average email file has email addresses who have been targeted and have ignored the message time and time again. While it’s reasonable to infer that these people aren’t interested, too many marketers keep on bombing them rather than resting or deleting them from the campaign files. Increasingly, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo/AOR are monitoring this, and automatically not delivering the mail or they vector the email to SPAM folders based on lack of engagement. Marketers need to embrace a “less is more” perspective in cleaning and managing marketing email lists.
Top email marketers are using these 5 tactics to overcome volume addiction, saturation, burnout and lack of relevance or resonance.
Use Trigger Messaging. Proactive messages based on distinct consumer interactions, sent within 48 hours of interaction, return 25-67.9% more incremental opens and clicks than standard email campaigns. The back-and-forth action and reaction resonates with large numbers of consumers producing an immediate response. Typical messaging is around welcome, activation or reactivation, thank you, birthdays, anniversaries or taking a specific action. Triggers offer the right message to the right person at the right time. And yet with this kind of relevance and instant lift, just 2.5% of total email volume came from triggered messages in 2017. There is an awful lot of headroom in deploying this relatively simple low-tech tactic.
Personalize. Everyone recognizes and responds to their own name and their own circumstances. Adding a consumers’ name to a SUBJ line increases opens by 50 percent.
Including information from a customer, referring to purchase or engagement history, or making a personalized offer further increases resonance and response. The former is easy to do, the latter requires a considerable investment in technology and analytics, which will pay off in longer, more productive relationships.
Create Omnichannel Links. Savvy marketers are connecting email to digital and social assets soliciting opt-ins using search, in apps, on Facebook or Pinterest, and via display retargeting. Understanding that the average consumer checks 12 sources in the course of making purchase decisions which includes 3 or more devices or channels daily, the impact of email can be enhanced by connecting the dots and presenting the email message in a broader, more realistic and more frequent context.
Test SUBJ Lines. Subject lines are the lure for interaction. They instantly signal what comes next. And they are constantly being tested. Campaign Monitor argues that 5 or less alliterative or rhyming action words, including a number and/or the customer’s name that urgently speaks to a consumer pain point, will do the trick. Words like announcement, invitation and thank you supposedly open the conversation faster and more cost effectively.
Data from YLM shows that consumers self-select, based on offers. SUBJ lines with offers get 4 times the conversion rate over SUBJ lines without offers, though the number of opens and clicks is much lower. In a similar vein, the offer of a percentage off beats dollars off in terms of opens and conversions. SUBJ lines with no offers get better opens but poor conversions. Seasonal themes play out the opposite, low opens with high conversions. Buy-one-get-one (BOGO) offers and loyalty points can also be counted on to lift engagement. These macro patterns suggest that each brand should test offers, cadences, language and wording to find the optimal balance between the factors that yield the strongest opens and interactions.
Deploy Deeper Downrange Metrics. Opens and clicks are just the beginning. The smart guys are embedding pixels to track what and how much is read, what is skipped or forwarded, which links and buttons prompt action and which don’t. Using inbox-oriented tools to measure the true impact and yield of email is the new normal. A number of tools and vendors are emerging to provide the technology and to analyze and interpret downrange results.
These five tactics hedge against an over reliance on volume. They are the next phase of email marketing sophistication and evolution and have the potential to save email marketing from its marketers.
Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.