Adapt or be ignored: how digital trends are shifting the goalposts of email marketing

Matt Westerman, resident digital engagement specialist at Ubiquity, looks at some of the burgeoning digital trends overseas  and how they might impact on email marketing strategies in New Zealand. 

What are some of the challenges marketers are facing when trying to engage with their customers in this constantly connected age?

I think the underlying principles of good marketing remain timeless. It’s the evolving digital landscape that is changing consumer behaviour, and subsequently forcing marketers to re-think their traditional strategies. As we spend more and more time online doing a wider range of activities, it increases fragmentation across audiences and continues to blur the lines between channels. As marketers, trying to keep up with the ever changing, ‘constantly connected’ consumer is the biggest challenge.

Why is the cookie cutter email blast to your database now dead?

As more and more companies adopt email marketing strategies, it increases the overall noise in the channel, and makes it increasingly difficult to reach consumers through their inbox. Typically in New Zealand we see slightly higher average read rates across the board than overseas, and I think this is because there are just fewer marketing emails hitting our inbox than in overseas markets.

While it may have generated results in the past, a one size fits all approach to email simply doesn’t work anymore. Consumers expect more than that these days, and they are becoming increasingly diligent in screening emails that simply aren’t relevant or don’t interest them. In order to get any kind of cut through in the inbox you need to stand out from the crowd. Be different, be excellent.

How are marketers making intelligent use of their customer data to tailor their communications?

If you think about it, practically every customer interaction is captured or measurable in some shape or form, and that amounts to an incomprehensible amount of data fairly quickly. One of the key challenges facing marketers today I think is making sense of all of this data and applying it effectively in a way that is going to generate results. I think the true power of personalised experiences comes into play when marketers are able to overlay a number of different sources of information to create great communications e.g. Basic demographic information, past purchase history, consumer interaction with previous communications and other digital touchpoints. But the challenge here obviously is you need a central repository for all of this information, so that you have the all-important single view of a customer. I think smart use of data will drive the success stories of 2013, and this will lead to a shift towards more frequent, highly targeted communications to smaller segments.

Can you go too far? Are companies overstepping the mark in the chase to get greater wallet share?

Yes, I definitely think there is a line between “Wow, this email is really relevant and personalised” to “Oh my god, are they hiding in my back yard? How did they know that?!”

In saying that, I don’t think it’s hard to get it right, simply put yourself in your customers’ shoes. From their perspective would you find this a) useful, relevant, and helpful or b) creepy and intrusive. 

Always remember to tread carefully. Every email address you hold is a valuable commodity that has been loaned to you. If people perceive you to start invading their privacy, they can very easily take this commodity back.

How is mobile and smartphone usage changing customer behaviour across the board?

Smartphone and mobile device penetration across the globe is a total game changer. The amount of time spent on a mobile device is growing at 14 times the rate of desktop. Historically, the thinking has always been designing for the desktop experience first, but I don’t think we are far off from this shifting towards the mobile experience taking priority.

What do marketers need to do to take advantage of the trend?

It’s not just the time spent on mobile that is important, it’s the growing range of activities that consumers are undertaking on their mobile that are shaping how consumers interact with brands.

People aren’t just reading emails and checking Facebook on their smartphones. There is a growing trend in other activities like product research, purchasing online, and an increase in general searching and browsing. So I think it’s critical to consider the end-to-end experience from a mobile perspective, not just the first point of contact.

Take for example if you send an awesome mobile optimised email, but the main call to action in your email is to go onto your website to fill out a competition entry form, which isn’t optimised at all and is a nightmare to complete. We know mobile consumers are often even more time-poor than if they were sitting in-front of their desktop. What’s the point in frustrating the customer?

Consumers are becoming increasingly intolerant of experiences that are not optimised for mobile. Emails get deleted immediately, purchases get abandoned … Simply put, I think it’s adapt or be ignored.

Content marketing is commonplace in B2B markets. How can B2C companies utilise content marketing to engage with their customers?

I don’t think industry really matters when it comes to content marketing. The fact is that a lot of the big companies out there are embracing content marketing. This, coupled with the rising consumer expectation to be able to have a direct conversation with businesses, will eventually force companies to jump into this space.

A Google study suggests consumers require twice as much information in order to make a purchase decision than they did 12 months ago, and with the rise of content marketing, we are now seeing a change in companies directly promoting products and services, to promoting information and valuable and engaging content to consumers.

And why wouldn’t you? Social and other network channels provide the perfect vehicle to amplify both content reach and ROI for engaging content.

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