Marketers Get Creative With Email In 2020 By Personalizing, Segmenting & Restructuring The Channel To Increase Engagement

Published: November 18, 2020

With the pandemic canceling in-person events, companies have turned to virtual engagement methods to reach their target audiences remotely. While email marketing has always been a top channel to reach buyers and customers, it has become even more important in 2020.

Email is still a top channel for driving early-stage engagement (49%), according to Demand Gen Report’s 2020 Demand Generation Benchmark Study, while 48% stating it has been most effective in driving conversions later in the funnel.

However, with the reemergence of email marketing as a viable strategy, buyers have been swamped with cold outreach, webinar invites and more. According to research from Hubspot, 35% of marketers are sending three to five cold emails a week, turning off many buyers to email marketing campaigns.

“Everything has gone full tilt, including email marketing,” said Justin Keller, VP of Terminus, in an interview with Demand Gen Report. “Email, cold outreach, marketing, emails, etc., have all gone through the roof during quarantine, which has diminished the value of all of it. The more it is, the less you can focus on it. Everything has gone into the inbox, which has made it a very noisy place on the internet.”

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To combat this, marketers have had to get creative with their email campaigns and outreach in order to stand out from the pack and convince their target buyers not to immediately send their emails to spam. Howard Sewell, President of B2B demand generation agency Spear Marketing Group, spoke to how B2B organizations can improve their click-through and response rates simply by being more creative in their email strategies and structuring.

“Creative is sorely undervalued in email marketing,” said Sewell. “Marketers these days tend to focus heavily on data or technology to drive email strategy, but good creative can be a real competitive advantage in an era when email copywriting in particular is often pawned off on the lowest-cost resource.”

Personalizing Email Messaging Increases Buyer Engagement

According to Hubspot’s research, a key focus of email marketing campaigns and strategies is to appeal to the specific persona behind the email address.

Sewell explained that modern email campaigns and strategies need to have key buying personas to define their messaging. He explained that personalizing the messaging to appeal directly to their buyer’s interests “was rare two to three years ago, but now it’s a common practice.”

Keller added that personalization is also about building relationships, and personalized emails allow companies such as Terminus to boost engagement in their ABM campaigns. Terminus uses research and video in their emails to appeal to accounts’ interests, personalizing the email for specific accounts to make them feel like they are interacting with an actual person.

“It’s got to be super thoughtful and personalized,” said Keller. “Using things like personalized video and doing research works, but you need to understand exactly who you’re trying to reach out to. That happens through personalization.”

Johan Abadie, VP of Digital Marketing at Mediafly, explained that the company writes their emails as personal notes to their target buyers, increasing their buyer engagement through intimate conversations instead of mass email blasts. This allows them to build better relationships with their buyers, increase response rates and boost conversions.

“I tell my team a lot that we’re not B2B or B2C, we’re humans and they are humans — show that you’re human,” said Abadie. “It reduces the amount of spamming that we’ll do because people will acknowledge that you are making an effort to reach out to them in a personalized way.”

Leveraging Intent Data & AI For Better Segmentation

One of the more creative methods of increasing engagement is to leverage intent data to reduce the number of cold calls and unread emails, allowing marketers to improve their buyer segmentation for more efficient email marketing strategies.

According to Abadie, leveraging intent data has allowed Mediafly to gauge their buyer’s interest in their solution, segmenting them based on their level of intent and their current stage of the buyer’s journey for more accurate email marketing. By segmenting their email marketing campaigns, marketers and salespeople are not only able to build their ICPs, but they can also gain valuable insight into what types of emails to send and to which audience.

“As soon as we have defined that there is intent and they’re interested in us, it becomes one-to-few outreach for our sales team,” Abadie stated. “When you have intent data, and you try to be disciplined enough to go after people who have shown intent, then the email outreach works.”

Terminus recently acquired AI psychographic data provider GrowFlare to help their marketers improve their account identification capabilities, allowing marketers to better segment their accounts and tailor their ABM outreach. For email marketing, GrowFlare uses AI to help companies segment their emails for specific stages of the buying journey, allowing marketers to provide relevant and engaging content for improved email campaign performance.

“I think marketers getting a lot cleverer about segmenting, and especially through the funnel,” said Keller. “At the top of the funnel, you’re probably getting blasted with everything under the sun. But smart marketers are turning down the notch on that kind of mass email, so the ones they are sending are prescriptive to their stage in the funnel.”

Overhauling Email Structure For Increased Response Rates

The byproduct of mass email campaigns is similar, long-form structures and subject lines that attempt to appeal to as many target buyers at once. However, marketers leveraging email in 2020 have decided to completely overhaul how they create their emails.

Abadie explained that Mediafly completely changed the structure of their emails, focusing on including relevant subject lines, shorter copy to avoid “walls of text” and visual prompts with call-to-action buttons, gifs and research graphics. With this more social media-like strategy, Mediafly has seen a 30+% increase in their webinar and event registration rates, and even higher response rates.

“By really homing in on better subject lines that are more focused on the benefits for all the customers, the thought leadership and benefit-oriented events are really something that everyone is looking at right now. By doing this, we have increased registration for our events by several hundred percent this year, expected since people can’t meet you face to face anymore.”

Sewell spoke to the importance of being creative when building out email campaigns, citing that the Spear Marketing Group has helped improve the response rates of their clients through selling their offer instead of the product. By developing hyper-focused emails on a current topic and removing outside links and ads, Spear Marketing Group has improved their clientele’s response rates and ROI.

“Focus the email on one offer, one message and one call to action,” Sewell stated. “A reader should immediately understand the ‘What, Why, and How’ — what the offer is, why it’s important and how to get it. If it’s a webinar invitation, it’s the event you’re selling, not why someone should buy your software. Avoid the temptation to offer alternatives, even if it’s only social share buttons.”

Despite the abundance of cold emails and marketing campaigns, email marketing still has the potential to be a successful strategy for B2B marketers.

Being more personal with buyers has allowed marketers to increase engagement, forming a relationship with buyers for better segmentation both in and outside email campaigns. This shows how email marketing is becoming more integrated into companies’ digital marketing strategies and prominent as a successful marketing strategy in 2020 and beyond.

“Email is much less likely to be a standalone channel,” said Sewell. “More often, we’re seeing email used as a key part of a more integrated approach, particularly in the context of ABM and sales enablement. Email isn’t dead by any means, but marketers are also realizing that there are real synergies possible by combining email with other channels, both online and offline.”

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