Email marketing, long favored by brands and marketers alike, is practical, personal and capable of bringing in between $45 and $51 for every dollar spent, according to the Direct Marketing Association. With individual emails often costing less than a cent, and open rates around 40%, it’s no wonder email is the preferred channel of communication.
But a new VB Insight report, “Buyer’s Guide: How to navigate the email marketing landscape,” shows there is a disconnect between vendors and customers, and email marketers are not getting their money's worth in terms of using these tools to their utmost potential.
“There's an education problem at play -- both vendors understanding what end users need, and end users lacking the data management skills,” the report's author and VentureBeat research analyst, Jon Cifuentes, told Marketing Dive.
Marketers place a lot of weight on email -- 84% saying it is critical for loyalty, 78% for sales – but just as vendors need to be more nimble, adapting to changing consumer demands and the evolving technological landscape, users need to start better utilizing the resources available to them.
The VB Insight study found that no large enterprise respondent from almost 1,300 email marketers (big and small) indicated they would be spending less on email in 2015 than in the prior year. In fact, 62.5% of larger enterprises, 45.5% of mid-size respondents and 48.3% of SMBs said they would spend “more” or “much more” on email tools this year.
"The single most-surprising insight was how bad end users are at capturing data and applying it to decision-making,” Cifuentes said. Some 32% of enterprises don’t know on which devices their customers are using emails; 29% aren’t event tracking revenue through emails.
“This is baffling to me, when email is regularly reported as the digital marketing channel for net positive ROI,” Cifuentes said. “I'd say it's inexcusable, but it's clear their vendors aren't showing them the way.”
And even with specialty marketing options, like responsive email messaging, only 50% of email marketers think their needs are effectively met by current providers.
The top unmet needs -- across the SMB, mid-market and enterprise customer spectrum -- include maintaining content relevancy, list growth/fatigue and data integration, he explained.
“There’s extreme feature parity across tools,” Cifuentes said. “Vendors check the box on one feature after another, but organizations who are buying these tools tend to be left underwhelmed in new and key areas like mobile device accessibility, analytics, and segmentation.”
Success begins with agility
Mailify is among those companies seeking to remedy the discrepancy, in their case using responsive email marketing software. The company has a decade’s worth of digital marketing savvy and boasts 30,000 clients worldwide.
Eric Krattenstein, Mailify’s marketing director for the U.S. and Canada, told Marketing Dive the company's goal is to “help users create really good-looking, effective marketing campaigns.”
Simply put, responsive email marketing is email with content adjusted for reception based on end-device. On desktop consumers will see one version, while on-the-go recipients will see a specially-tweaked version on their smartphones and tablets. This is the marketer’s answer to the cross-device trend, Krattenstein explains.
“[Customers] expect marketers to keep up with changing technologies and provide them with products consumers expect,” he said.
Some of the features the third-party server (and MailChimp competitor) offers beyond responsive email campaigns include designs, cloud syncing and split testing. Mailify's parent company, Sarbacane Software, has a separate SMS marketing application and division. Per Krattenstein, “there are plans in the future to build an SMS program” complimentary to Sarbacane’s and says there is a trend towards different forms of direct-to-consumer messaging that could potentially take the marketing medium lead.
“It's important to attack things from all angles and build on the beauty of each technology,” Krattenstein said. For methods like SMS marketing, however, deciding whether to test it out he says largely depends on your target audience. According to the VB Insight report, 89% marketers believe email is crucial for retaining customers and 80% for adding customers. In speaking with customers, Mailify has found some find text messages to be invasive, more so than email.
Where text messaging takes personalized content a step further, social media messaging provides a more subtle approach. According to the “Buyer’s Guide” report, 75% of enterprises will be investing in personalized messaging in 2015. Cifuentes’ said in a Venture Beat article detailing the study’s findings the subtlety in the language between email marketing and customer messaging is clear.
“Customer messaging can be push notifications or personalized chats, or messages through another application along with email,” Cifuentes told Venture Beat, adding, “those messages can be sent based on the activities of your application, whether that’s a website, mobile app, or landing page.”
Most of these technologies are relatively low-cost, but vary in terms of time and effort they require.
Tara Kelly, CEO of SPLICE Software, an interactive voice software and customer relationship management provider, told Marketing Dive that with text messaging, while “you have virtually unfettered access to customers during critical moments,” it’s better for brief updates. “But in terms of getting an important message in front of your customers ASAP, this is one of the best mechanisms available,” she said.
Krattenstein believes as a marketer, it’s beneficial to take advantage of different technologies, but admits a majority of Mailify’s users don’t use every feature the vendor has to offer. In fact, one conversation they have often with clients is that SMBs tend to think that some features are exclusive to larger companies, and vice versa. And despite Mailify’s free support team, he says the root of the problem lies in users not knowing how features can help them, or that they can help them.
The takeaway from VB Insight’s “Buyer’s Guide” report is that there is a big difference between managing an email channel, and doing so successfully.
Cifuentes says behaviorally we’re simply more inclined to open an email with information we might deem useful, such as a deal, than we are to click on a banner ad. So even if users aren’t operating it at optimal levels, email naturally lends itself to be more successful than other marketing channels.
“To be great at email, you need deep left brain/right brain, content and data talent -- or you need those organizational competencies along with fantastically nimble knowledge sharing,” Cifuentes said. “Both of those situations tend to be rare birds.”