Even before MarketingSherpa’s fifth annual Email Marketing Summit wrapped up last Friday, it was on track to be one of the most memorable. Several of the more than 600 marketers, speakers and exhibitors in attendance said that returning to Miami in the winter to discuss email marketing felt like "coming home," and the networking that took place on the exhibit floor, during meals, and at one lively poolside party reflected that comfort level.
But there was also special programming to celebrate Sherpa's fifth annual event, such as a keynote address from Joseph Jaffe, Chief Interrupter, Powered Inc. Jaffe launched his new marketing book "Flip the Funnel," with a thought-provoking presentation on why the traditional focus on customer acquisition should be replaced with a focus on customer service and customer retention.
This year also featured a special focus on the integration of email and social media. After all, the fundamentals of securing subscriber permission, segmenting audiences and delivering relevant messages apply whether you’re sending to an inbox, Twitter feed, Facebook page or other site.
And as always, the Summit included case studies and how-to presentations from real-life marketers eager to share their email knowledge with their peers. Here are seven significant themes that stood out from the more than 20 sessions: Takeaway #1. So-called email killers aren’t that deadly
MarketingSherpa Research Director Stefan Tornquist kicked off the summit with his presentation, "What’s not Killing Email this Year."
It was his tongue-in-cheek way of demonstrating through research that many of the economic, behavioral and technological trends that are supposed to be making email obsolete are overblown. Here’s his take on the so-called email killers:
- Slashed Budgets
In fact, email marketers across all industry sectors and company sizes said they were increasing email budgets, rather than shrinking them.
- Young Consumers
Although younger consumers use email slightly less that older demographic groups, the notion that young adults simply don’t email isn’t reflected in the data. Sherpa research found that consumers aged 18-26 receive an average of 12.4 emails per day from companies, compared with 14.9 emails per day for those aged 27-38 and 15.9 for those aged 39-54.
That number is likely to increase as the cohort grows into "real" jobs, and develops more trappings of adult life, such as relationships with banks, insurance companies, etc.
- Social Media
One of the most significant themes of the event was the symbiotic -- not antagonistic -- relationship between email and social media (more on this below).
In fact, active social media users tend also to be more active email users:
o 75% of daily social media users said email is the best way for companies to communicate with them, compared to 65% of all email users
o 49% of Twitter users said they made an online purchase because of an email, compared to 33% of all email usersTakeaway #2. Think like an integrated marketer, not just an email marketer
That said, the trends that are not killing email still require email marketers to adapt. One of the most important shifts cited by speakers was the need to think strategically about email’s role within a company's broader operations.
"Too often, those responsible for email marketing think within that box," said Joel Book, Director, eMarketing Education, ExactTarget.
Instead, email marketers must integrate their strategies with those of other departments, and make sure the email channel is connected to others, such as social media. For example:
- Greg Cangialosi, CEO, Blue Sky Factory, was one of several email experts who described the importance of adding social sharing features to your email messages, and testing the kind of content that your subscribers are likely to share with their social networks.
When you hit it right, you vastly extend the reach of that message. "It’s like an email campaign on top of an email campaign that you don’t pay for," said Cangialosi.
- Stacey Nash, Director, Marketing Communications, BMC Software, and Joshua Siler, VP Technology, Babcock & Jenkins, explained how they worked with the BMC sales team to learn how they were being trained to target accounts. They then used that same structure to define the fields of their email registration form, such as job level, job role and job focus, to begin the lead qualification process from opt-in.Takeaway #3. Customer service is the new differentiator
Keynote speaker Joseph Jaffe challenged the audience to re-think the standard approach to marketing by starting the marketing funnel with a sale, not ending it there.
In his talk and his new book, "Flip the Funnel," he argued that customer retention should be the new focus of marketing, and that satisfying customers, rewarding them for their loyalty, and empowering them to share their positive brand experience will help companies grow. (Click here
to read our recent interview with Jaffe.)
But several other speakers demonstrated how email marketers are using a customer-centric and customer-service approach to improve their operations:
- Andrew Chang, Manager, Marketing Strategy, AirTran Airways, increased clickthroughs 7x and conversions 10x by designing five new, service-focused emails to supplement his team’s regular communications. These messages included:
o An enhanced welcome message with more special offers
o Customer satisfaction survey
o Status changes and other alerts for rewards program members
- Carolyn Nye, Marketing Manager, S&S Worldwide, included a customer satisfaction survey in her list of must-have triggered email programs for all businesses. S&S’s version is sent 21 days after a shipping confirmation, and offers a $10-off coupon as an incentive to submit a survey.
The program has generated tens of thousands of responses for the company, and helped them raise their satisfaction level five percentage points, to 93% -- a fact Nye’s team can then tout in other marketing efforts. Takeaway #4. Think value, not just relevance
As expected, there was plenty of talk about the importance of relevance in email communication. After all, the most effective email campaigns provide the right information to a specific subscriber at the right time.
But this year, more speakers highlighted the importance of value
in addition to relevance.
- Dela Quist, CEO, Alchemy Worx, made an impassioned case for focusing on value in email by reminding us that just because something is relevant, it’s not necessarily going to inspire us to act.
Instead of continually focusing on how to make email more relevant, marketers should look for ways to make their email programs more valuable -- such as through incentives or special offers -- that will make people want to stay subscribed.
"Relevance is the cart and value is the horse," said Quist. "When you put the cart before the horse, you're not going anywhere."
- Joy Cropper, Director, Internet Strategy, Williams Randall Marketing, shared the details of her team’s successful overhaul of the Indiana Office of Tourism Development’s email newsletter program. By surveying subscribers to find out what kinds of information they wanted, they were able to identify three new, focused newsletter topics: travel discounts, festivals and events, and trip ideas.
The greater value of those newsletters resulted in an 800%-1,200% increase in clickthrough rates.Takeaway #5. Test assumptions and best practices
This year, speakers challenged the audience more than ever to design tests that challenge their assumptions and force them to measure whether best practices are really effective.
- Dr. Flint McGlaughlin, Director, MarketingExperiments, opened his live email optimization session with a reminder about the danger of complacency. "Best practices are not enough," he said. "It's essential to work within some form of a rigorous methodology."
As a starting point, he recommended that marketers look at each of their email messages through the lenses of external and internal clarity:
o External clarity -- What am I asking the recipient to do? Why should they do it?
o Internal clarity -- What is my objective? What is the best way to achieve it?
- John Mast, VP Marketing, Expedia CruiseShipCenters, also shared an example of the impact of bad assumptions. His team was having trouble improving response to their promotional emails. When they finally asked focus groups about a photo of a happy couple they had been using in the email, they realized that subscribers saw themselves as being roughly 10 years younger than the folks pictured. Takeaway #6. Promote your opt-in offer like a product
With all the work that marketers put into their email programs, it’s a shame that opt-in promotions are often shortchanged, and links to subscription forms are lost on a website.
"Market your email newsletters and alerts as a product with value," said Adrian Olvera, Sr. Marketing Consultant, Dell.
- Olvera cited three tests he conducted to prominently place email offers on the Dell homepage:
o Placing a subscription link in the top navigation bar lifted opt-ins 16%
o Placing a graphical ad for the email alerts program in the top-right corner of the homepage lifted opt-ins 36%
o Offering a coupon to new subscribers in the ad lifted opt-ins 14x during the holiday season
- Email marketing consultant and new MarketingSherpa Email Trainer Jeanne Jennings offered a mini workshop on opt-in tactics. One of her lessons: Place your opt-in link on every page of your website.
When IntraWest Resorts placed its email signup link on every page, they saw a tenfold increase in signups.
- Finally, several speakers reminded email marketers to promote their email programs on all their social sites. Whether you tweet a subscription reminder to your Twitter followers or add a link to your Facebook fan page, the goal is to get your social media audience into your email database. Takeaway #7. Better engagement will help deliverability
Another benefit of designing better email programs that increase subscriber engagement: The improvements will help your deliverability.
Two panels of experts discussed new challenges in B2B and B2C deliverability, and the most significant change cited by both was the emerging importance of engagement. In essence, the industry is moving beyond reputation and authentication and toward the sum total of all positive and negative impressions of your company based on email practices.
So while a subscriber hitting the spam button will still work against you, the improvements in opens, clicks and other engagement metrics that you achieve through testing, optimization, social integration and the like will help outweigh the occasional disgruntled recipient. Useful links related to this article
First Look at "Flip the Funnel" -- Joseph Jaffe’s 5 Retention-Centric Strategies to Lift Sales
Babcock & Jenkins
Blue Sky Factory
Williams Randall Marketing