On 16 November, I headed off to the Advanced Email Conference in the heart of London. My expectations? Discovering new speakers, finding inspiration and checking what topics kept the UK e-mail landscape buzzing! Interested? Critical comments, self-reflection and new learning moments coming your way!
My first impressions of the audience? Positively-minded marketeers, determined to raise their communication to a higher level. While the hashtag #emailgeeks passed before our eyes on more than one occasion, I have rarely been part of an audience so passionate about our channel.
To all email marketing “experts”:
— Val Vesa | Social Media & Photography | #WCUS (@adspedia) 16 november 2017
That having been said, a little self-reflection wasn’t going to kill any of us: all too often we come across emails, hastily cobbled together, without a whole lot of strategy behind them. And more’s the pity. Perhaps, we, as email marketing platforms, should take some of the blame for that. After all, haven’t we, for years, been selling email as a cost-effective channel, one that allows you to contact people as the push of a button and measure the response in the process? But do we put enough thought into our strategy, into clear targeting? How closely do we really study our reports to improve our strategy and future communications?
At the event, email was labelled “The Cinderella channel”: like Cinderella, email dutifully and without moaning performs a host of marketing jobs – from lead scoring to nurturing and direct conversion or sale. At that, it also takes care of the less sexy tasks such as transactional notices, confirmations, notifications, reminders and warnings.
Email generates the greatest ROI of all direct marketing channels and comes in second (after organic search) in terms of customer acquisition. Yet, in spite of that, e-mail is often pushed aside and only resurrected when we need a miracle. Email barely gets the attention and investment it deserves from an economic point of view.
AI in email marketing
Back to the topic that ran like a common thread throughout the various presentations? Artificial Intelligence. A hot topic of course but, in the end, the concept was only used as a generic term for advanced automation, segmentation and extreme personalisation. Not the genuine article of course but each speaker had the same goal in mind: using technology as a means to continuously have a better understanding of your contacts’ characteristics and needs as this is what will ultimately allow you to enhance your communication.
That brings us to the crux of the matter: as technology is constantly changing and umpteen priorities are vying for your marketing team’s attention, how do you timely and appropriately integrate these technologies into your strategy? After all, that is where the potential lies!
— Elliot Ross (@iamelliot) 16 november 2017
MOST IMPORTANT LEARNINGS ABOUT AUTOMATION AND PERSONALISATION AT #EMAILCONF:
- Present your contact with all the essential content so that he makes a decision quickly, allowing you to take control of the customer journey.
- Dynamic Content may still be a complete waste of time if you forget about your content strategy.
- To prevent that, make sure that the platform you use also effectively helps you to achieve your objectives. Be realistic when making a choice: what are the advantages and how many of these advantages will actually be of benefit to you in the medium term? How big is your team, how is your team composed and does the cost justify the improved results?
- If you are new to automation, start with a basic flow, and work in stages.
- Hiring an automation specialist? As automation is a technical skill, there is no point in looking for a traditional marketeer.
- Remain critical, even if you feel that your target groups have been clearly defined. House of Fraser, for instance, discovered that it had an older target audience in one particular region. Tailoring content and deals to that region’s audience resulted in more conversions.
- Effective personalisation is not about making yourself more attractive to the “I’m bored” generation.
- A preference center is outdated and does not deliver miracles. In first instance, concentrate on profiling and analysing your contacts’ click behaviourbefore organising your preferences and only refer to your preference center if your contacts want to decide what type of communications they want to receive. Go for a clear life cycle, targeting, reactivation campaigns and keep your content relevant.
- Don’t lose yourself in content but focus on context too: regardless of the number of personalised elements you manage to stuff into an e-mail, if the context and time are irrelevant you are basically sending out impersonal mails. How to get the timing right?
- “Why do CRM administrators delegate their powers to marketeers, agencies and copywriters? We must aim for people-based marketing.” Sounds fancy but all it means is that you should start from your database – everything you know about your contact – and not from your content.
E-mail should not be the prerogative of sales and marketing alone
It goes without saying that the marketing and sales department can push e-mail as a channel, but if you implement your strategy properly, there is an awful lot to be gained from using e-mail as a customer experience tool. The better you can steer your customers, the better your service and the longer your customer lifetime value. The better your personalisation, the more targeted your offer, the more relevant your e-mails, the better your conversions and the lower your unsubscribe ratio!
Or to quote Steve Jobs:
“Get closer than ever to your customers. So close, in fact, that you tell them what they need well before they realise it themselves.”
GDPR panel discussion
Needless to say, the dreaded GDPR made it to the table too as, also in the UK, confusion reigns. This is partly due to the fact that the GDPR imposes a number of new rules but does not specify how these rules should be implemented in practice.
An added difficulty is that compliance with the GDPR all too often rests with the legal department. In other words, it is imposed at top level but should in fact be embraced by all the various echelons. In practice, it’ll be an extra responsibility for many and no one will be specifically tasked with that job.
However, the GDPR does bring its own opportunities. Ultimately, the GDPR will create a philosophical shift. While the current focus is on data mining and returns, the privacy of your contacts, as consumers, will soon have to take centre stage.
Many businesses will be sending out reactivation campaigns over the coming months. If you were thinking of doing the same, don’t leave it until the last minute, for you may end up losing out if your contact ends up with, to use the British term, a “shitload” of reactivation campaigns in his inbox one morning and yours happens to be stuck in the middle of them.
Of course there are various ways and means to deal with the opt-in requirement. With a soft opt-in, you assume that contacts who regularly show an interest in your campaigns still want to be contacted by you. Just a friendly word of warning, don’t make the mistake of sending your reactivation campaign to contacts who unsubscribed in the past (some retailers have already fallen into that trap it seems).
Look at the arrival of the GDPR as that new refurbishment project you have been dreaming of for years. You would start by clearing out the cupboards and getting rid of anything you haven’t used for years before you get the builders in to tackle the place, room by room (privacy by design), a major undertaking. Seize the opportunity: examine the tools you use and the strategies you implement with a critical mind. And yes, the job may not be done and dusted by May 2018. What matters is that you keep an accurate record of the progress and changes made at GDPR level. Check what triggered e-mails you are still sending out and ask yourself why and whether they are still relevant to your target group. No too sure? Then get legal advice. The bottom line is that your carefully weigh up your priorities and the potential risks.
No world-shocking new developments but a great desire among speakers and the audience to do things better. No mass-mailing, but timely, unique content for each target group. The only way to go if you are determined to boost sales and make the most of e-mail as a channel!