Email Marketing: What's Working in 2017

One of the panels I had the chance to attend at last month’s Mid-Atlantic Marketing Summit was on email marketing. Leading marketers in the DC area talked about what they see happening in the world of email marketing, and I definitely walked away feeling that email is still king when it comes to reaching your audience.

Michael Smith, CEO, GreenSmith Public Affairs moderated; panelists for the session included:

Below are some of the highlights from the panel.

Overall thoughts and macro trends happening in email marketing.

  • Email is two-way communication, and you need to listen to what your customers are saying. You wouldn’t ask someone if they were interested in A or B and then proceed to talk to them about B when they chose A.
  • The great thing about email is that you can look at what your audience is doing in the email you sent – you don’t just need to look at how they interact with your website. With email, you can see where your audience is clicking within the email and then communicate with them about that.  
  • Predictive analytics plays a big part in email marketing. It’s important to use the data you have to determine what content your audience needs, at what time, and make it available according to their preferences.
  • Email marketing allows marketers to bridge the gap between all the marketing channels and talk to the customer where they are.

Thoughts on how to balance automation and customization.

  • Automation is great for streamlining and time management but don’t forget to personalize your emails. This can be done by leveraging dynamic content and relying on the data to help you make informed decisions.
  • Pay attention to lost opportunities — for instance, when people have searched on your website a number of times but have not downloaded anything. You have the chance to reach these people with a customized email offering them what they’ve been looking for.  

What about subject lines and pictures? What’s working?

  • All three panelists agree – keep it simple.
  • You want subject lines that tease people a little bit and get them to open your email. Some of the panelists mentioned having luck with leading subject lines like “Sorry…” and “It’s no joke…”
  • Think about email as part of the entire marketing system. Ultimately you want the recipient to click through to your website where you can collect even more information on them. One way to do this is to tease just enough compelling information in the email with links back to your website. Don’t think of email as having to do everything for you when email is just one part of your marketing program.
  • Don’t forget about the preheader space. You want to keep subject lines short and simple but the preheader (the first line of the HTML text) offers a great chance to extend your subject line and deliver your message.
  • As for images and videos – Monica found that instead of a full blown video, a cinemagraph, or a graphic with a small amount of movement, works well in email.

What kind of ROI, metrics, and numbers matter?

  • First and foremost, marketers are looking at standard KPIs, including the number of emails sent, open rates, click rates, etc.
  • What did people do with the email? The panelists want to see what the email was leading people to do and then what they did, i.e., did it drive traffic to the website or were there certain parts of the content in the email that generated more clicks and engagement?  
  • How many dollars did an email generate?
  • Look to see if they downloaded a resource from the website. Some of the panelists don’t consider it a success if they just come to the website.

How do you cut through the clutter?

  • The panelists had a few suggestions here, including send time optimization. People tend to open different kinds of email during different times of the day. In general, they tend to stick with work emails during the day while promotions from retail brands might get more clicks after work hours. It’s important to know when people are interested in your brand and content then send that content when they are open to receiving it.
  • Another suggestion was to respond to what people are engaging with and then follow up with an email that is similar/relevant to that. If you send someone an email about topic X and they never open or engage with that email you wouldn’t keep sending them emails on that topic, would you?
  • Lastly, your email should look personal and feel like the conversation you want it to be. This goes back to the idea of you can have all the best data in the world but emails that lack a personal touch — the human factor — tend to be overlooked.

Email continues to be a popular tool in any marketer’s toolkit — perhaps the most popular one — and when combined with the right data and creative talent it can lead to great results. However, the panelists definitely caution about relying solely on the data — and expecting it to do all the work for you. So much of email marketing is data-driven (making sure the right content goes at the right time), but the human element plays a part and it’s up to you, the marketing professional, to be creative when drafting emails. All the data in the world can’t stand in for the creativity of humans.

Let’s talk.