Three Factors To Successful Email Marketing: Relevant Content, Timing And Frequency

Published: May 5, 2014

Despite rumors of the death of email, it remains a significantly more effective way to acquire customers than social media — nearly 40 times that of Facebook and Twitter combined, according to research from McKinsey & Co.

Like all of the tools in the B2B marketer’s arsenal, email marketing is driven by data. Data helps ensure that email campaigns align with the pain points and interests of prospects and customers. If you touch a nerve, the email is more likely to get opened.

{loadposition SPIAA}Supporting this point, personalized emails produced transaction rates and revenue per email rates that were six times higher than non-personalized emails, according to the 2013 Email Marketing Study from Experian Marketing Services.

Once you get users to open an email, don’t just send them to your generic home page. Customized landing pages — which send the user directly to the item or offer featured in the e-mail — can increase conversion rates by more than 25%, McKinsey research noted.

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“The inbox is getting crowded these days,” said DJ Waldow, Digital Marketing Evangelist at Marketo. “You get updates from social media sites, personal emails, work emails and daily deal emails. All sorts of different content is coming into our inboxes. If your email is not relevant and if it’s not targeted, timely and valuable, people are opting out.”

Message timing and control are other factors that email marketers need to take into account. Timed emails, also known as trigger-based messages, are sent out based on previous buyer activity, behaviors and interactions. The purpose of these emails is to engage buyers at times when they are most comfortable receiving a message, making the collection of buyer data even more vital to the process.

“A customer’s or prospect’s behavior is a greater signal of intent than what they say,” said Loren McDonald, VP of Industry Relations at Silverpop, in an interview with Demand Gen Report.

According to the Q2 2013 Email Trends and Benchmarks report from ad agency Epsilon, triggered message open rates were 73% higher than non-triggered rates in the quarter, while triggered click-through rates were 152% higher than their non-triggered counterparts in the same period.

“Today’s B2B marketers should be moving toward a stage-based approach to marketing, which involves tailoring marketing messages to your buyer’s stage in the sales cycle,” said Adam Blitzer, VP and General Manager of Pardot. “Email is the perfect vehicle to distribute these stage-based messages, especially when lead nurturing is used to “drip” top-, middle-, and bottom-of-funnel resources to your buyers.”

Part of this staged approach means understanding the level of frequency required for an email campaign to build engagement and not drive potential consumers away. While the optimal frequency varies based on the intended audience or buyer expectations, a study from MailChimp indicated that frequency and engagement are negatively correlated. In short, as marketers send more emails, potential buyers lose interest in clicking on email links.

With 91% of consumers reporting that they check their email at least once a day, according to research by ExactTarget, sending daily messages is a good start for marketers looking to engage consumers. From there, marketers can test different subsections of customers to gather data regarding which factors are most effective in building engagement.

“Monday has a high open rate, but doesn’t have a high action rate,” said Ron Cates, Director of New Market Development at Constant Contact. “In the U.S., I really like [to send emails] Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, unless there’s a compelling reason for something different. I like 10:30 a.m., because buyers clean out their inbox at 9:00 a.m. and they have time later to spend checking their emails. I like 1:30 p.m., after lunch, when they’ve done the same thing,” he said, adding that it is important to test with your specific audience.

Although social media has gained popularity in the marketing world, email marketing is still appealing, especially when it comes to targeted offers and communication. There are nearly three times as many email accounts as Facebook and Twitter accounts combined.

“[Email marketing] has become the default way that B2B buyers put themselves through the research and purchase process,” said McDonald. “Today, buyers are doing so much of the research on their own as opposed to engaging with a sales rep. There’s this exchange that goes on that says ‘if I’m going to do that research and try to figure out if I want to purchase your product or service, then I want your great content. In exchange for that, I’m going to give you my email address knowing that you’re going to communicate to me and nurture my account.’”

Adapting To A Rapidly Changing Industry

Over the past two years, the email marketing space has been influenced by the mergers and acquisitions of major marketing automation providers. With more robust, sophisticated options than ever before, marketers in all types of businesses can now conduct their own email campaigns.

Jeannette Kocsis, EVP of Digital Marketing of The Agency Inside, and Robert Howells, Group Managing Director at Mason Zimbler — both subsidiaries of Harte Hanks — noted that marketing technology makes real-time, dynamic content distribution possible.

However, some companies are still short of content, Kocsis and Howells explained: “Dynamic content in real-time requires a library of content assets. Most companies are struggling with content availability, and this can impact how dynamic and relevant communications can be. Although triggered email drives results and revenue, trigger campaigns are extremely complex to set up, often with intense business rules and technical requirements. Marketers may need additional help to setup those campaigns to run effectively, and optimize them over time.”

Have A “Mobile-First” Mentality

A large portion of email marketing has to focus on the mobile user who might only be able to respond to emails via a smartphone or tablet. Research conducted by email marketing service provider Litmus indicated that 51% of all emails are now opened on a mobile device.

More than half (58%) of marketers said that the pervasiveness of smartphones and tablets would affect their email programs over the next 12 months, according to the 2013 Email Marketing Benchmark Report from MarketingSherpa. However, only 42% of marketers said they designed their emails to render differently on mobile devices.

“If you get an email and you’re reading on your mobile device and you have to pinch-and-zoom and scroll a lot, you’re more likely to not read it,” Waldow said. He specifically pointed to responsive design as an option for B2B companies, as it “recognizes which devices you’re on and optimizes emails for that particular device. The same email that I’m opening on my mobile device is going to look different on my desktop and on my tablet. Designing for mobile is really critical now, so you have to consider any design available for email.”

Kocsis and Howells advised marketers to have a “mobile-first” mentality, in that mobile email design should take priority over other devices.

“The thumb is the new mouse,” Cates added. A single-column format, larger type and sizeable, clickable images in place of text links are necessary for a successful mobile email.

Complement Your Email Marketing Practices

For all its successes as a standalone marketing touch point, email sometimes is deployed best in conjunction with other campaigns and tactics. Buyers go through about 57% of the purchasing process before even talking to a sales person, according to CEB, so it is likely that at certain touch points, the process will be coordinated beyond email.

“Too many marketing organizations have people who do email marketing in a silo, almost as if other aspects of marketing don’t exist, and that’s a problem,” said Alan Bunce, Sr. Director of Product Marketing at RedPoint Global, a marketing automation software provider. “Prospects certainly see their relationship with your company, or with you as a prospective vendor for them, as being more than just an email marketing relationship.”

Like many other solutions, the success that comes with installing email marketing and marketing automation programs hinges on understanding the human-to-human relationships they are trying to support. As revolutionary as these technologies may be, marketers would be best suited to learn as much as they can about the clients they are working with and the practices necessary to foster valuable interactions.

“B2B marketers also need to be careful not to abuse the marketing technologies that either already are, or soon will be, at their fingertips,” Blitzer said. “Email marketing and marketing automation tools are powerful, giving marketers the ability to use email to reach thousands of people at once. Successful B2B marketers should still comply with email deliverability best practices, limit email frequency to acceptable levels, and use an opt-in strategy.”

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