Technology

Email Marketing Trends: Are You Doing Enough With Your Data?

By / Feb 16, 2016 (iStock/Thinkstock)

While email marketing is the bread and butter of most association marketing offerings, it often isn’t pushed to the full extent of its capabilities. A handful of recent studies highlighting email marketing trends offer some food for thought on where audiences are reading and what could be done to best engage those audiences.

A few months ago, I took a good, hard look at the state of email marketing from a design perspective, and I used some tough language in the headline to get the point across.

It turned out to be one of my most shared blog posts of the past year. Clearly, I touched a pain point.

Now I’d like to take a little time to look at the flip side of the email marketing story. Yes, email design still stinks, and we can blame the email clients for that problem. But here’s what isn’t broken about email marketing: Our email distribution tools are amazing at giving us lots of data and lots of personalization options. The problem, of course, is figuring out exactly what the average person wants, how they’re reading, and how we can best respond to that data.

Here’s an example of this point in action. According to recent research from the email marketing firm Movable Ink, people are more likely to open your emails on mobile devices—a trend that picked up during 2015. In fact, just 32 percent of messages were opened on desktop devices, according to the firm’s latest U.S. Consumer Device Preference Report.

That’s a big deal, of course, and that requires email marketers to perhaps rethink their strategies a little bit. However, there’s a big but to this point: More users tend to open messages on smartphones, but they’re more likely to act on those messages if they’re using a tablet or a desktop device, with more than 50 percent of conversions coming from desktop users. It’s possible that a user might see something on their phones and then go back to it later, but it’s certainly a concern that people might see something on their phones and then quickly forget about it.

(Also of note is that reading habits change by sector. In the publishing space, 48 percent of users tend to open messages on smartphones, while that percentage jumps up to 63 percent for retailers. In the nonprofit space, however, the desktop remains champion, driving 47 percent of total opens and topping the smartphone and tablet categories.)

And the nature of how we interact with messages is kind of surprising. Keeping in mind the data about conversions, it’d make sense that desktop users might stick with an email longer than their handheld counterparts. But Movable Ink’s research shows that’s not actually the case. In fact, Amazon Kindle Fire users tend to read more than 60 percent of their emails for 15 seconds or longer, which is far longer than any other platform, including desktop. That’s a bit of a surprise, considering that that other tablets in the study, particularly the iPad, fared poorly on the stickiness factor.

But the biggest surprise of all came from the world of Android. It turns out that Android users stick with nearly half (48 percent) of their emails for longer than 15 seconds, topping the iPhone (37.1 percent) and even the desktop (41.1 percent) on that metric.

In other words, the amount of time one reads an email doesn’t have an effect on whether they’ll actually take action on that message. But there’s definitely room to play with the plan of attack.

Problem is, though, email marketers don’t play around as much as they should.

Moving Beyond Newsletters

Another recent study from the email marketing firm GetResponse highlights the fact that while most email marketers have gotten the memo that mobile-friendly emails are where it’s at these days—with 66 percent of respondents saying they use responsive email templates—too many email marketers are missing a clear opportunity to further customize their email offerings for individual consumers.

If your email marketing program, for example, tells you that a subset of readers are far more likely to open up an email on their smartphone than their desktop client, wouldn’t it make sense to fully optimize the content you’re sending to that user so the content is optimized in terms of length and scope? This seems like a clear question to ask, but many email marketers haven’t gotten to this point.

While GetResponse’s The State of Email Marketing by Industry finds that email generally has a higher return on investment than other marketing channels, the biggest problem is that 42 percent of marketers don’t segment, instead sending the same message to everyone and doing no customization to better meet their audience’s needs.

Quite often, standard newsletters aren’t the best way to reach certain audiences. GetResponse admits that such emails are the workhorse of the industry, but simply relying on email messages “is just the tip of the iceberg.”

“Triggered programs, such as customer win-back, browse and cart abandonment, welcome subscriber and first-purchase programs, welcome customer and second-purchase programs, and replenishment programs are where email really stands out for delivering value and revenue—to the customer and the brand,” the study emphasizes.

For example, the GetResponse study highlights how the hospitality industry—a sector where a lot of data is available about consumers and the decision-making process usually takes a long time—tends to miss opportunities to build business by failing to reach out to consumers who have browsed away from their websites. In contrast, the travel and transportation sector is really good at this sort of thing, often taking advantage of half-full carts to draw potential customers back into the website.

Now translate that thinking to the world of associations, and you can see the potential.

Complex, But Worth Discussing

Doing something similar with your association’s email list requires a level of personalization way beyond simply an A/B test, and a level of automation that is definitely possible with most email marketing software, but requires much planning to do correctly.

That complexity is likely the reason so many marketers have ignored this strategy, skipping personalization in favor of ease of completion. And, let’s be honest—there are certain types of emails for which advanced personalization doesn’t make a ton of sense.

But this is a conversation that, if your association isn’t already having, you should spark as soon as you can.

Let’s get smarter about the emails that hit your members’ inboxes.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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