For the typical online consumer, email is central to their digital experience. But if you’re going by branded email marketing strategy, consumers have fallen asleep at the wheel: Sure, they might be receiving tons of email content on a daily basis, but they aren’t reading much of it, especially when it comes from businesses.
That’s a problem for marketers, who lean on the channel to maintain consumer relationships and still see the value in direct communication and engagement at the individual level. And on a macro scale, email marketing strategy isn’t just maintaining its marketing value. It’s fast on the rise thanks to smartphones and tablets: Fifty-three percent of emails are opened on mobile devices, according to Campaign Monitor, and mobile email open rates grew by 30 percent between 2010 and 2015.
For brands, email is a direct line to their dedicated consumers. And in the vast majority of cases, consumers opted in to receive these emails. Theoretically, they should be organically interested in what those emails contain. So why don’t they open, much less engage, the branded emails in their inbox?
Theories abound. But in an era where user experience is the leading form of digital currency, one thing is clear about the state of email marketing: Based on where consumer attentions have migrated, email has lost its luster through a failure to keep pace. To realize email marketing’s potential, brands must figure out how to use the medium to create engaging experiences.
According to Q4 2015 research from Epsilon, the returns from a typical email marketing strategy are grim: For the average brand, only 16 percent of its email list will have either opened or clicked on a company email within the last three months.
Thirty-four percent of those list members are classified as “Nappers,” meaning they have opened an email in the past but not within the past three months. Thirty-nine percent of those lists have registered no activity at all within the past year.
Some industries fared better than others in terms of engagement. Retail tended to perform the best, with 27 percent of email list members opening an email within the past three months. Other companies struggled to an even greater degree: The pharmaceuticals industry, for example, only had seven percent of its list open an email within the most recent quarter.
Epsilon found that the companies seeing the greatest success were the ones creating engaging experiences in the inbox, such as animations and interactive content. That’s far from the standard text-and-image newsletter template for building email campaigns, and it shows marketers have to ramp up their efforts if they want to drive ROI from email.
Today’s most success email marketing doesn’t just employ one strategy for increasing engagement. Top performers embrace several guidelines for building better experiences, which can include personalization, targeting, content type, and mobile optimization. To compete with other engaging forms of online content, emails must employ several different engagement strategies simultaneously.
One of the best recent examples of building a compelling email experience is from Zumba, which used email to drive a video experience that saw unprecedented levels of engagement. As SendinBlue points out, the company replaced traditional text-and-image email marketing with a dynamic video paired with brilliant personalization—so brilliant, in fact, that the recipient’s name appeared in the video itself.
The company found that this personalized video strategy earned four times the click-through rate as an email control group, and its conversion rate doubled the performance of other emails. Zumba’s personalized video powered the most successful marketing email in the company’s history.
In other cases, email content is more dynamic and interactive, sometimes using real-time data and technology to create a more engaging experience. The Chicago Tribune achieved just that by installing a real-time ticker into its emails that displayed its website’s most popular stories. As users viewed the email, the stories featured in the ticker would rotate, providing exposure to more stories while increasing the value of the email.
Interactive features will be an even more crucial component of marketing emails as other non-email content gets more dynamic and engaging. You’ll see more campaigns that utilize agile email, which uses dynamic content solutions to build email experiences not prior to delivery, but right at the moment that a consumer opens the message.
“Contextual marketing has become a buzzword, but delivering experiences based on each individual consumer’s context needs to be a strategic way of thinking for all marketers,” says Vivek Sharma, CEO of Movable Ink. “For email, technology has enabled this transition from a tactical standpoint, and brands are increasingly exploring new territory when it comes to email marketing innovation.”
Sharma notes how one of Movable Ink’s clients, Palace Sports and Entertainment, developed an agile email strategy that delivered live sports updates to consumers whenever they opened their emails. By deploying this real-time campaign, the company “saw a significant lift in engagement compared to their previous static pregame emails, and is a great example of how innovative brands are breaking away from traditional email strategy.”
The principles of good email marketing haven’t changed. Consumers still want to receive relevant, valuable content, and they’re more likely to engage emails that have something to offer the individual.
But a rewarding experience must also be a part of that equation now. Consider this an extra layer as you design new email campaigns: The traditional vehicles for delivering value must evolve if email is going to remain relevant to marketers. With most emails now being viewed on smartphones and tablets, content must render beautifully on mobile devices: 75 percent of email subscribers threaten to delete emails that don’t display well on mobile, writes Target Marketing.
Good marketing emails will still be segmented and tailored at both the group level and individual level, incorporating filters like location, behavior, and other data points. Personalization is a critical ROI driver. But the form of content must evolve to include not just text and images, but also video, animations, real-time content, user quizzes, and other rich content that has proven its appeal to consumers.
Experiences draw engagement, regardless of the channel. If email marketing wants to take back control of the inbox, it has to adapt.
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