Email is on the rise. For good this time.
OK, increasingly popular means increasingly competitive. But if nobody else is doing it right, that means there’s an opportunity for you to reap massive rewards. And they’re not doing it right. Trust me.
The medium of email has been slugged from pillar to post over the last few decades; both in terms of popularity with recipients and generally perceived effectiveness among marketers. As a result, current perceptions are muddled. People hear opinions from 10 years ago, remember how they used to feel in the bad-old-days and combine them with current trends to formulate a hybrid opinion; and a Frankenstein’s marketing plan ensues.
I want to put this to rest. I want to tell you the story of email: when did perceptions change? And why? Finally, I want to get you up to speed with contemporary capabilities and the real opportunities that lie within.
Email Marketing vs Direct Mail
The term ‘Direct Mail’ pretty much covers any mass communication sent through the post to a large number of recipients, or ‘base’, with the intention of promoting a brand or proposition to them. In that sense, Direct Mail is about the closest you’ll find to an offline counterpart for email.
Way back in the early part of the noughties direct mail was a very popular marketing tool. It was cheap, it was easily personalised (thank you, ‘mail merge’ feature) and people seemed to respond well to receiving something tangible; something familiar that they could connect and interact with. It fell from grace many years before and so it had become an underused resource. Businesses caught on and pretty soon there was a veritable direct mail revival. Everyone was at it – And I mean E V E R Y O N E!
By the mid-to-late noughties things were getting a bit ridiculous. The volume of direct mail being sent out was, again, swamping consumers and understandably reactions began to take negative turn once again. Daily I would hear complaints from people about the amount of ‘spam’ or ‘junk mail’ they were sorting through each morning – often in between discussions about what their next direct mail would look like. (The irony wasn’t lost on me.)
Eventually two things happened. Firstly, the volume of direct mail rose so high – and consumer opinions fell so low – that it became a bit of a gamble; not unlike Russian roulette. Secondly, the dreaded recession set in; so marketing budgets were slashed, usually starting with TV and billboard advertisements, and then followed immediately by direct mail. With marketers watching the pennies and opting for safer tactics, direct mail died a death.
Alas, once again, as it happens, it’s currently making a bit of a comeback. It has become viable once again due to the lack of competition. This lifecycle of direct mail is in fact one of the constants of the marketing industry. In many ways, until recently, the same has also been true for email: Like direct mail, it has fallen from grace and risen from the ashes on many occasions.
But things have changed. The once young and clumsy email arena has now matured; and this time it’s going to secure it’s place in the toolbox for good. Digital is the new ‘tangible’. Email is the new ‘familiar’.
People have never been so familiar with the concept and usability of email. On average, just shy of 300 billion emails are sent every single day. More people than ever have email access, people are more computer-literate, more comfortable with common internet functionality and even have a fairly good grasp of roaming internet access.
But there’s more to it than that. People are just more comfortable with their virtual inbox than they are with their real-life letterbox. User-defined spam filters, automatically sorted in-trays, manageable subscription settings, a steady stream of emails as opposed to a bulk daily drop of mail: There is simply no offline equivalent short of a personal receptionist. All of these factors make email a much more engaging platform for the end-user. In fact, given all of this functionality and the amount of interactive content that can be linked to an email, as a communication vehicle it has now far surpassed the capabilities of direct mail formats; even in their prime.
With smartphones and mobile internet devices on the rise, email is increasingly being accessed ‘anywhere, any time’. People are comfortable with this because of their spam filters and the ease of organising incoming messages. They can avoid unwanted emails and, generally speaking, most marketers are ethical enough to only email subscribed recipients.
Unlike direct mail, senders can be ‘blocked’ very easily and/or recipients can unsubscribe from lists with just a few clicks. Furthermore, it’s now regulated in a sensible way, putting pressure on companies to do things the right way and also 3rd party email marketing suppliers to take some responsibility. This gives piece-of-mind to the consumer and allows them to actively choose what marketing messages they want to see. Even if they don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes, they notice the practical differences. In turn, that actually means that, to a certain extent, marketers can trust their target market to focus their campaigns for them!
Planning & Analysis
Designing your next direct mail? Well you’ll need to either force your new copy to fit into the same boxes as last time or your graphic designer is going to have to redesign the thing. Plus, you’d better hope your imagery and colours will work twice or there’s more work for the designer.
Either way, you’re going to be sifting through lots of quotes from printers (taking lead-time, cost, paper stock and a hundred other factors into account). Then, when you finally pick one, you’ll still be waiting for about a week before your DM has been printed, enveloped, Franked, sent and starts hitting letterboxes. Then… finally… you can sit with your fingers crossed and just pray that it’s actually working.
Oh, your next email campaign? You just type in your content, choose a list to send it to, hit a button and wait literally a few minutes if not seconds before seeing precisely which users have opened and interacted with the email… in real-time! A much more elegant solution, I’m sure you’ll agree.
In a nutshell… Email is very measurable: It’s digital so everything can be recorded in real-time using a wide range of metrics. Direct mail? Not so much. I don’t think I need to spell it out for you any more than that.
Databases & CRM
Data can be bought, but it’s expensive and unreliable. Data can be collected in the real world, but busy people who get bullied into it by a temp holding a clip-board are not likely to be your best customers. Contemporary email marketing platforms on the other hand have built-in automated tools to grow, segment and manage your database with virtually no manual input.
If you’re serious about marketing, you should already be building a presence online – running social media campaigns, looking after your web site and generally promoting your brand. You can integrate email sign-up forms at any of these points on the web to capture data from anyone who wants to give it to you. Furthermore, if any of those people unsubscribe in the future, they are automatically deleted from the list, meaning the customer feels more in control and you don’t risk pissing them off! The possibilities are pretty much endless when it comes to automation of your email marketing database.
Furthermore, some of the more advanced email marketing tools allow you to create dynamic lists where, for example, everyone who bought product A online will get an email with promotion X, whereas those who bought product B online receive promotion Y. As users buy more products online, your email marketing messages get more and more refined according to what your customers seem most interested in.
Unlike direct mail, consumers will never get swamped with email messages again, because they have spam filters and intelligent inboxes. Instead, only the strongest, most relevant messages and the most user-friendly, attractive designs will survive.
In time, email will become more and more like social media. Subscribed email recipients will essentially be akin to ‘followers’ on Twitter: They might not read every message you send, but they are on that list because they want to hear at least some messages from your brand/company. By putting links and extra functionality into your emails, perhaps related to your social media accounts, you are also opening up the opportunity for a two-way dialogue. In that sense, email can very easily become a social endeavor.
Fortunately for you, most people get all that completely wrong… Talk to us about getting it right and securing a place in your customer’s inbox!