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Why aren't email marketers sending relevant communications?


In February’s DMA Email Council meeting we debated at length why we thought email marketers aren’t sending relevant communications and utilising the possibilities of personalisation. This debate was stimulated as a result of the DMA’s recent email tracking report in which 63% of consumers agreed or strongly agreed with the following statement:

“Most of the marketing emails I receive include no content or offers that are of interest to me”.

I’m not going to lie, this debate was right up my street and something I could debate at length! I am incredibly passionate about making the most out of email marketing to drive optimal performance and I also think email marketers generally receive negative press about not implementing more sophisticated strategies, but this criticism is often levied by those who do not fully understand the challenges and sophistications of email as a marketing channel. In my career I too have been accountable for managing, creating and optimising marketing strategies for a range of digital channels including websites, SEO, PPC, Social media and email marketing. I’ve been in the challenging situation, one of which all email marketers dread, where the Director of the business informs you that data has just been purchased because ‘we need to get an email out to increase sales’. The brand has no relationship (yet) with that purchased data and even after highlighting at length the risks of sending to that data, you are required to send an email campaign to that data.

Now I can see why for the untrained eye it is easy to think that it’s really easy for email marketers to personalise their campaigns. And yes it is much easier than it was several years ago, as technology has evolved and become more sophisticated. But the pressure of ‘getting an email out’ still remains, and this is a pressure many email marketers face every day, a pressure that they continue to fight against, trying to educate about a more planned and sophisticated approach which will drive better results.

So how can email marketers start to push back against this pressure?  Well, devising a planned strategic approach is the first step to achieve this, as you’re able to counteract the ‘just send it’ argument by demonstrating the journeys the subscribers will go on with your brand, the LTV of an engaged customer and the risks associated with an un sophisticated blast approach…meaning there are other ways to achieve the businesses objectives rather than always looking at one email send to solve all revenue gaps.

But for this to succeed, a personalisation strategy won’t be successful operating in a vacuum. For the utopia of personalisation, systems need to talk to each other to tell each other if a recipient has transacted, has bounced from your website or called your contact centre. And here lies one of the biggest challenges facing email marketers, as highlighted in the results of the DMA’s email marketer report, and one I see every day in my current role as Lead Digital Marketing Strategist, where by 56% of challenges related to data, a ‘lack of data’, ‘data degradation’ and ‘data silos’.

Having worked with a variety of small and large organisations, the number one challenge remains the same, and that’s with the historical, inherited systems that were fit for purpose 5 years ago, but are now not able to cope with the sophisticated marketing strategies email marketers want to be delivering. 

So how does an email marketer overcome this?

A number of customers I’m working with currently are either starting this process, where you really need to take a step back and redefine what you now need to fulfil your email strategy. One key area here is education about what email marketing means to your business, to your IT departments, Management and Board to demonstrate why the investment of realigning systems is worthwhile to your business and how essential it is to maximising your email performance. Other customers and brands that have just completed this exercise, and are now reaping the rewards as they are able to map and tweak new and existing customer journeys, report on a monthly basis and regularly testing how much personalisation delivers the most optimal results by segment.

But even if the above seems impossible for your organisation, sending relevant emails is still more achievable than you might think. Every time you send an email campaign, behavioural data is gathered by the email platform you use. This behavioural data can be used to segment subscribers, uncover what they are interested in by looking at what they are clicking on, or not clicking on, in your emails to ensure you send them content that is of interest to them every time. These types of behavioural journeys can also be automated, creating a win-win situation!

Of course, if you’re lucky enough to have not inherited an ancient system and don’t have any data silos, then there really is little excuse to not send more relevant communications!

Why is sending relevant email campaigns important?

Let’s not forget that at the end of an email dispatch is a customer. In any strong relationship there needs to be trust and for consumers this is key, to trust the brand that is contacting them.

If you ask for preference information and the consumer has interacted with you on a number of occasions but you send generic, non-personalised email campaigns this recipient isn’t going to feel particularly valued and is going to start question their trust in that brand. And in the recent DMA Email Tracking report, consumers were found to lose trust in a brand by 32% if the content they receive is not relevant. It would be like meeting someone a couple of times and being asked the same questions over and over again.

Not sure about you but I’d start to think the other person wasn’t listening, had no interest in me or in building a relationship. Consider your email marketing activity in the same way. At the end of the day no-one wants to just be a number on a database.

Some quick wins that can be implemented today are to look at how your subscribers are interacting with your emails. For example analyse the content that drives the most clicks, is there a particular web page that receives the most traffic from email? Capitalise on this and start by testing the types of personalisation that drives the most engagement, such as name, location, device, weather, recent transactions, viewed content on your website etc. Also look at the number of long term non-openers you have to create separate journeys for those recipients to restart building a relationship with them. This will help to maintain and increase engagement which will ultimately create long term loyalty with your email subscribers. 

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