Drayton Bird recently read a guide to email marketing. He wasn't impressed. In fact, he found it astonishingly bad. A dearth of examples, a torrent of vacuous claims and a scattering of irrelevant imagery. I'm sure you can do better!
Guy Hanson says that while email is undoubtedly the most widely used and trusted channel for businesses and people to communicate, information overload is a fact of life – and nowhere is this more evident than in the inbox.
Capturing – and holding – the interest of recipients is becoming an increasingly serious challenge. As inboxes grow and individuals find themselves with less time on their hands, many emails are left unopened or disregarded as spam, making it harder and harder to get noticed. Businesses need to find alternative ways to engage with their recipients, which is where contextual marketing comes in.
Contextual marketing means personalising content to the customer’s circumstances at the exact moment they engage with a brand via email. Context-based email has seen a significant uptake over the last few years, with brands using recipient location, device (smartphone or tablet), and local weather information. Last year, brands also utilised live-images, combined with context, to show the latest content at every open. This includes the latest products (swapping items if a product goes out of stock), live pricing, latest odds, and live currency.
Utilising external factors
It’s fair to say that external factors can significantly influence the impact of a company’s email campaign. The average consumer receives upwards of 500 marketing messages every month. However, our research shows that fewer than 7 per cent of recipients will open them. While there are a number of ways to optimise businesses’ chances of emails landing safely in a consumer’s inbox and catching their attention, there are a number of less controllable external factors that can affect the success of an email programme. Businesses must make sure they are being innovative by capitalising on these events and exploiting growing trends to boost email engagement.
Take the weather, for example. Research has shown that there is often an interesting correlation between the weather and spam rates. Indeed, when there are periods of warm weather, user-marked spam rates increase, while with cold weather, it has the opposite effect. When applied regionally, additional trends emerged. Rain in France corresponded with higher response rates to marketing emails from restaurants, whereas downpours in the UK had a negative impact. Businesses should be developing dynamic weather feeds that serve emails in context with a given location’s weather to improve email performance.
Another good example of the impact weather took place a few years back. Hurricanes and Pop-Tarts might not be two things you’d immediately associate with one another, but US retailer Walmart wanted to see if there were any trends in consumer behaviour in the aftermath of Hurricane Charley. They found that the two might not be such an unusual combination after all. Sales of Pop-Tarts, the strawberry-flavoured variety in particular, increased when a hurricane was due to hit. Responding to these findings, Walmart increased its promotion of Pop-Tarts in line with future hurricane warnings and saw a sales uplift of 15 per cent.
Factors such as landmark events and press coverage also need to be taken into account when implementing marketing campaigns. Brexit, the Presidential elections, the Olympics and London tube strikes are all recent events that affect consumers’ everyday life and can have a significant impact on their email habits. Those that utilise these trends, using the right keywords and timing emails effectively, will see their deliverability and read rates increase substantially. Uber’s recent email campaign is the perfect example of how this can be done successfully. While the email marketing team at TfL (Transport for London) have spent a large part of this summer updating customers about regular tube strikes, Uber conducted a tailored email campaign that ran alongside this, capitalising on public sentiment and subsequently seeing a 40 per cent spike in read rates.
Optimising seasonal email marketing campaigns
The lead-up to Christmas is a prime time to see the impact of contextualising and personalising email marketing campaigns. Indeed, it’s the time of year that unengaged subscribers open emails and one-time buyers triple their orders. It’s the chance, as the sender, to turn festive shoppers into regular customers.
The festive season poses a unique set of sender reputation challenges for email marketers. The imperative to drive sales is a massive one, and most programmes will be ramping up their activity during this period. The risk is that as broadcast volumes increase, unknown users become more prevalent as a result of seasonal subscriptions, and spam complaints go through the roof as subscribers are overwhelmed by the tidal wave of email marketing that is rolling into their inboxes.
To combat this, it’s a case of ‘if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it’. Especially during this period, marketers should be checking their sender reputation regularly, and taking remedial action if negative variances are identified. Checking your sender score, which is an evaluation of reputation as a sender, is a good start. There are many different elements that combine to determine a sender score, including list hygiene, complaints and spam traps, to name a few. Mailbox providers are constantly evolving the filtering systems and algorithms, making it crucial that they understand at what level their reputation stands in email deliverability.
Reducing unknown user rates by paying attention to list quality is also key. Particularly at this time of year, new subscribers are more likely to sign-up as part of their festive season shopping to get discounts and access to special deals. Ensuring that subscribers supply good email addresses when they do sign up, and then validating them by using a confirmed opt-in process can greatly improve engagement levels further down the road.
Furthermore, spam complaints can be reduced by recognising that subscribers receive many other marketing emails at this time of year and engagement is diluted as a consequence. It’s therefore even more important for businesses to drive positive subscriber engagement by segmenting their list based on previously observed behaviour. For example, recent email activity like opens and clicks, recent website activity or recent purchase activity. Taking this personalised approach ensures that subscribers are targeted with offers that are timely and relevant to them.
Ultimately, by adding context to marketing emails and taking into account external factors, businesses should be able to illustrate an ongoing commitment to basic email marketing best practice. Using context to personalise and automate emails with images and content – particularly in the lead-up to Christmas – increases engagement and eventually creates long-lasting relationships.
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