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Email is Dead, Long Live Email

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Jeremy Stanley, DMCM
Jeremy Stanley, DMCM

Rumours of email’s imminent demise are greatly exaggerated. In fact when deployed effectively, email is a powerful marketing tool, writes Jeremy Stanley. 

One of the highlights of my agency career to date was working with Google, for almost 3 years where I was involved in developing strategies and managing highly complex customer journeys and intricate triggered behavioural email paths.

Google hyper-segments its customers by collecting data from their online behavior in order to target highly relevant messages at customers, hitting them at the optimum time, for example, to successfully promote and cross sell the full suite of AdWords products to SMEs.

It’s an iterative process that is optimized on an ongoing basis, based on results. But Google’s genius comes from treating email as an extension of their product, not just as another marketing channel.

Automated email and data marketing is now cutting-edge, as many brands have come to realise the effectiveness a marketing campaign could have if it took the time to plan and get behavioural email marketing right.

Of course not all brands have the wealth of data at their fingertips that Google has instant access to. But nonetheless there are a lot of data rich brands out there that don’t seem to be tapping the true potential of email and automated behavioural triggered email campaigns to reap the rewards.

I still receive far too many (poorly thought-through) traditional email campaigns in my inbox. Often they feel like they’ve come from a marketer or brand that hasn’t taken the time to analyse their data and me as an individual, even though I’ve interacted with their brand many times. The traditional email campaign usually follows a bland recipe – an offer is created, then a broad segment of customers is identified, who may or may not find the offer interesting, and then the email is sent to a large group of people, at a point in time that has no particular relevance to them as an individual or where they might be in the customer lifecycle.

The true power of triggered behavioural email marketing is the ability to move away from wasteful broad segments of customers to individualisation – messaging individual customers with timely relevant, tailored communications based on the data collected from actions they’ve taken.

Other than Google the brands that have invested in taking the leap to behavioural email are the likes of Fitbit, who send me milestone emails based on my running activity. And Spotify, who send me emails with recommendations of new albums by artists I’ve been listening to. This is what’s at the core of behavioural email.

The stand out leading edge practitioner of behavioural email marketing has to be Airbnb. Like Google, it doesn’t just treat email as a marketing channel, it has realised the scope of email marketing by offering utility by helping their customers find an amazing place to stay, based on the individual behavior and preferences of each customer. The emails are an extension of the customer experience – the inbox is an extension of the product.

Having visited the Airbnb website for accommodation in Lisbon, within a matter of days the follow up emails I received where a shining example of world class marketing. They added value in the communications as they were reminding me not only of the accommodation I was interested in, but they gave me alternative suggestions, all within my budget range. By clicking on the alternative suggestions I was also giving Airbnb a little bit more information on my preferences which can be used in the future for further personalisation. The email was personalised to the individual behavior I had previously taken on the website. But the crucial point is that the email felt like an extension of the experience I had on the website only days earlier.

Another key advantage of behavioural email is that it can help to alleviate one of the biggest challenges brands face with email – overcrowded inboxes, bursting at the seams with multiple brands and offers all trying to get attention.  But also with the added challenge of inboxes now being broken down into primary, social and promotion categories – so the chances of customers missing branded emails is very high.

Behavioural email often comes into its own when emails are sent to the customer close to the time they’ve taken an action. It’s in this window of time that the customer will be most receptive to a brand message. As behavioural email is based on triggered signals that send emails automatically, the emails are more impactful as they are timely and completely relevant to the individual, as they’re triggered on the most recent action the person has taken. In addition to this software now exists that allows brands to send an email to a customer, at the exact moment they’re looking at their inbox.

Email marketing is the stalwart of the digital world, and continues to be an extremely cost effective and impactful direct channel, as new digital fads come and go. It’s still here and thriving because it’s direct and personal. It helps customers acquire the habit of regularly engaging with a brand and expecting that regular engagement in their inbox. It’s also ubiquitous and it’s easy for people to interact with it.

Finally it’s important to keep in mind that email is a mobile channel. The recent DMA UK 2016 email report tells us that in the past year the number of people opening emails on a smartphone has increased from 25% to 40%.  And for under 36 year olds, the smartphone is the default device for most tasks including email.

There has never been a more exciting and promising time to work in email marketing.  But to get the very best results it’s crucial that brands move with the times and seek leverage the power of strategies that the likes of behavioural email marketing facilitate.

Looking forward to 2017, I’d like to see more brands having the courage to take email marketing to the next level by creating campaigns that are extensions of the customer experience and the product. We should see more email campaigns that provide customers with a personalised timely experience that offers added value and individualisation. The data is there and the technology is available.  Brands just need to make it a priority, but once they do, there’s an opportunity to build a long lasting brand relationship with individual customers that will only deepen over time and generate measurable results on an ongoing basis.

Jeremy Stanley is an Account Director at DMCM.