Smartphone taken over by malware
Marketing ROI

As Malware Affects Email Marketing Trends, Brands Have a Chance to Re-Envision Their Email ROI

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Lately, it seems like the Internet is the least safe place you could spend your time. Security threats, data breaches, and other sophisticated phishing and malware attacks have been making headlines on a near-constant basis for much of the past calendar year.

Most recently, following the Equifax breach, the Department of Homeland Security is alerting consumers to a new phishing scam using emails that claim to be coming from Equifax agents.

The impact of these attacks, and the fear they create, has made a tangible imprint in recent email marketing trends. The more success malware has in using emails to gain access to computers and entire corporate systems, the more leery consumers become of anything that looks remotely suspicious. Anticipation of these phishing attacks is so high that it can cause consumers to lose trust in communications sent directly from companies whose content they have been subscribed to for months, maybe even years.

It’s easy to understand where consumers are coming from: When in doubt, better safe than sorry. How much do you really lose by choosing not to click on an email link every now and then?

No one’s here to tell consumers to get their courage back and get more aggressive in clicking the links presented in their emails. But this trend does represent a challenge to email marketers planning out their strategy. If consumers are less inclined to click on an email, what does that mean for the ROI of these campaigns? And what, if anything, can emails do to provide marketing value even as consumer engagement drops?

The Numbers Are Clear: Email Click-Through Rates Are in Decline

Even before this latest wave of phishing scams, email click-through rates were in decline. Research from DMA found that between 2015 and 2016, CTRs dipped slightly even while open rates increased. Consequently, the click-to-open margin grew much larger over that span of time: Even as marketing emails are more likely to be opened by their recipients, clicks are getting harder to come by.

DMA study

Overall, CTRs dropped by 1.8 percent in 2015 to 1.56 percent in 2016. DMA notes that this change has resulted in a 13.5 percent loss of unique clicks year-over-year.

Other factors have contributed to these trends, including the simple fact that consumers may be getting more selective about which emails they find interesting. And the negative impact of malware is far more pronounced when that malware impersonates your brand: According to Marketing Land, 91 percent of marketers believe that phishing schemes that use their brand’s name have a negative impact on the company’s success, which affects not only their email marketing performance but even the company’s overall bottom line.

As malware attacks become more prevalent, it’s inevitable that consumers will take more time to weigh the value of clicking on emails that purport to come from brands. Even if your company hasn’t been impersonated in a phishing scheme, the cumulative affect of these attacks is that consumers are less trusting of brand emails of any kind.

Brands and online scammers are both seeking the same thing: a click from their prospects. But brands could work around this challenge by exploring some innovative alternatives to their current email marketing strategy.

No Clicks? No Problem

Email needs some form of engagement to drive consumer actions and trackable revenues. But it doesn’t necessarily have to hinge on a click. While traditional email strategy aims to use emails to direct consumers to a desired landing page, a growing trend in email marketing revolves around the concept of bringing the landing page to the email.

According to experts from MailChimp, emails have many options for triggering an event without requiring a click. The hover function has become a popular tool for tracking customer engagement, and it can even trigger certain types of content to play, including moving graphics or photo galleries. Meanwhile, the email could be set up to offer purchasing solutions, product reviews, customer feedback, and other events within the email itself, instead of redirecting to a page where these actions can take place.

Rocket Launch

Image attribution: jurvetson

This not only steers consumers around the risks of phishing schemes but it can increase engagement of some of these experiences by eliminating a step in the process. MailChimp points out that a click isn’t just a liability for malware-fearing consumers: It’s also an extra step they have to take to trigger an event, and each additional step provides them an opportunity to reconsider whether this action is something they want to take.

Meanwhile, interactive email can actually offer a greater spread of analytics data for email marketers to use when A/B testing and optimizing their strategy. Ultimately, this could help boost ROI even beyond what present email campaigns are enjoying, malware notwithstanding.

Malware is a serious problem for brands, whether you’ve been impersonated or not. As email marketing trends indicate fewer clicks overall for branded email content, it’s a good time to consider new strategies that can solve two problems at once: offering a better email experience while saving your subscriber base from their anxiety over making that one fatal click.

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Featured image attribution: Jiri Wagner

Jonathan Crowl specializes in digital marketing and content creation for both B2B and B2C brands, with an emphasis on startups and technology. His past and current clients include B2B brands IBM, LinkedIn, Mad Mobile, Oktopost, BrightSpot, and Waze, as well as B2C brands Porsche, Epson, and PayPal. He lives in Minneapolis.

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