When I think about digital storytelling, there are a few images that come to mind. I picture crisp, vivid photography that draws my eye to a publication. I picture articles so compelling I can practically hear the clear voice of the writer who composed it. I think of catchy hashtags and emotional Instagram campaigns. And I think of videos, whose power to transport has rendered the medium invaluable for a solid content strategy.
But in all that, it’s easy to forget one key element of a comprehensive storytelling strategy that’s too important to leave behind: email marketing.
Even in 2016, where spur-of-the-moment, blink-and-it’s-gone content reigns ever supreme, you need email. And, more importantly, you need to storify your email strategy. It’s not enough to have a newsletter or a targeted approach to distribution. Today, your email approach has to demonstrate a deep understanding of (and respect for) your audience and their needs, with rich visuals and irresistible subject lines.
According to Salesforce’s 2016 State of Marketing Report, “80 percent of marketers agree that email is core to their business.” Are you among them? If not, take a closer look at the top stats of 2016 that highlight the importance of email, and a few tactics for effectively wielding it effectively in your content strategy.
If you can work your email strategy into your broader content strategy, the results will prove worth the work (especially where ROI is concerned): according to the Direct Marketing Association via OutboundEngine, “Email marketing yields an average 4,300 percent return on investment for businesses in the United States.” What’s more, as Hubspot pointed out, Forrester Research found that “companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50 percent more sales ready leads at 33 percent lower cost.”
Furthermore, Salesforce’s report noted that 49 percent of marketers (up from 20 percent in 2015) claim email is ” directly linked to their business’ primary revenue source.” And for businesses who are already using email as part of their strategies, they’ve likely seen a payoff even as recently as the close of Q2: as Experian’s Quarterly Email Benchmark Report (from Q2 2016) showed, while “quarter-to-quarter volume [for email] remained the same for Q2 compared to Q1 2016…revenue per email rose from $0.06 to $0.07 in Q2.”
One of the best things about email—and automated email marketing in particular—is that it enables marketers to create personal experiences that speak to their recipients. And those extra efforts to personalize pay off: Campaign Monitor discovered that “emails with personalized subject lines are 26 percent more likely to be opened, and marketers have found a 760 percent increase in email revenue from segmented campaigns.”
That’s not surprising. As with any good content strategy, email’s efficacy lies in its ability to prove a sender knows and respects their audience. And remember, you need both to ensure your campaign’s success. The majority of people claim they open all emails their favorite companies send; confirming this, according to Chadwick Martin Bailey, the organization sending an email and that email’s subject lines are the two most influential factors in open rates. Proving your company deserves a spot among those favorites necessitates care and consideration for readers—just as it does with your blog and on social.
According to McKinsey and Company, email far surpasses the social media giants where generating customers is concerned—in fact, it’s 40 times more effective than Facebook and Twitter. That might seem surprising, considering the number of people who actively engage on social on a daily basis, but it’s easy to understand how email facilitates a quieter, more intimate, and (most importantly) less distracting environment for a conversation or transaction. Beyond that, the company cites the fact that, (as of 2014,) “ninety-one percent of all US consumers still [used] email daily.” And that number’s expected to grow: The Radicati Group predicted that the number of email accounts worldwide would increase to 4.3 billion by the end of this year.
According to statistics from emailmonday (via Adestra’s 2016 Consumer Adoption and Usage Study), more email (55 percent) is read on mobile than on desktop clients. What’s more, Salesforce Blog reported that “sixty-four percent of decision-makers read email via mobile devices.”
With readers embracing mobile as a means of all communications, that means you’re able to send your personalized stories to readers and reach them wherever they are. While this does lead to the risk of catching someone in a moment when they’re not willing to consider your product or service, the likelihood is good that if your audience considers your brand a trusted name, they’ll engage.
According to emfluence’s Email Marketing Metrics Benchmarks 2016 report, “B2B marketing email averaged over a 47 percent higher click-through rate than Business-to-Consumer (B2C) email and boasted a 23 percent higher click-to-open ratio.”
Does this mean B2B companies are better email marketers than their B2C counterparts? Not necessarily, but it does indicate that they might be more well acquainted with their target audience’s needs and interests. For some B2B newsletter inspiration, check out the tips FreshMail offers.
OutboundEngine puts it best: “If an email does not display correctly, 71.2 percent will delete it immediately.” That makes optimization crucial. Responsive email templates are not always ideal, serving more as one-size-fits-most (but-certainly-not-all) solutions to the optimization problem. However, knowing that approximately 90 percent of all mobile email opens happen on an Apple device is a good start. Consider your user base and their devices when creating your next email template—it’ll pay off.
Think about your emails as one more way to reinforce your brand’s story—they’re almost a publishing destination. Case studies, firsthand accounts from customers, content written by employees and relevant stories about the ways in which your brand is contributing to the world are all great approaches you can take—provided you do so in an authentic way. According to Headstream’s Brand Storytelling Report 2015, 80 percent of surveyed adults want brands to tell stories. And as you already know, authenticity is crucial in developing a relationship with your audience. Find a way to create email content that’s true to your brand’s voice and tone and aligns with its goals, and segment your audience wherever possible. Readers will take notice.
Automation is a marketer’s best friend when it comes to crafting comprehensive campaigns and making sure your stories get where they belong—so it’s no surprise that an average of 49 percent of companies is currently automating in some way. It almost goes without saying that having a month to sculpt a story with gorgeous video or photography and an attractive headline about your brand’s latest product or service makes for an infinitely better experience than developing on the fly. To that end, scheduling goes a long way. But when you automate, you can track email success, monitor your leads, and refine your process for the long term. You can conduct A–B tests to determine the best ways to frame content—and the best content to frame. It’s like having your finger on your audience’s collective pulse.
With global unsubscribe rates averaging at a seemingly negligible .127 percent, it’s easy to write this problem off. But, as IBM Marketing Cloud pointed out, “improving your unsubscribe rate just 0.1 percent would save 1,000 subscribers every time you send to a database of 1 million people. That’s more than 200,000 contacts retained over a year if you send four emails per week.”
Don’t underestimate the importance of unsubscriptions—and if users unsubscribe, consider the cause. Are you sending emails too frequently, or not frequently enough? Is your content relevant, engaging, and segmented appropriately? Are you using a responsive template? Turn to your audience (and your automation software) for clues.
Just as you’d develop a regular publishing cadence for your digital publication and meter your social posts, it’s crucial that you deliver your emails with the right frequency. More often than not, your cadence is going to be unique to your audience’s behaviors, so there’s no one best answer to this question—although Vertical Response’s compilation of research provides some great references. Good rules to abide by when you’re just starting to test the waters with a new email newsletter include ensuring you can deliver fresh, relevant content consistently with each newsletter, while simultaneously ensuring you’re not bogging readers down with a content excess.
Remember, too, that you’re no longer restricted to the Monday-through-Friday, nine-to-five schedule of old. As Vertical Response noted, “With consumers becoming more and more active on their mobile devices, especially outside of standard nine to five working hours spent at an office desktop, testing sends outside the traditional morning hours is essential.” Take time to experiment and find out what works best for your readers.
The major tenets of email are clear: to be successful, your brand needs a keen awareness of its audience’s behaviors, a finger on the pulse of their devices, and an eye for optimal design. As future updates to email clients make it easier for your readers to ignore your messaging completely, it’s becoming increasingly crucial that your brand keeps up with fresh, relevant, engaging email content that goes the distance and brings readers back for more insight. Brands that take the time to get to know their readers will have the upper hand in the email sphere—and the value of that, as these stats have shown, cannot be overlooked.