Panel: The future of email marketing is about contextual data

Panel of industry representatives debates the ongoing relevance and use of email as a marketing and communications vehicle and the data insights helping keep it relevant

Trigger-based emails that combine a brand’s first-party behavioural data on customers with third-party insights are just one of the ways marketers can strive to ensure their email marketing stays contextual and relevant.

Speaking during a panel session at today’s Adestra ‘Future of Email Marketing’ event in Sydney, the vendor’s president, Matt McGowan, cited a rapid increase of US marketers sending automated emails based on triggers that unite CRM and first-party data overlaid with third-party insights, such as weather, time of day and external audience data.

“That’s a trend that shows advertising and marketing are starting to come together for the first time,” he told attendees. “When ads get relevant people often start freaking, but in the marketing world, if you send that email at the right time and to the right audience, it’s valuable and personal because email is permission-based.”

McGowan also suggested marketers still sending indiscriminate emails should cut their ad budgets to zero.

“Until you have your CRM and your first-party data in order, and you’re sending smart messages to customers, what’s the point in going out and acquiring new ones?” he asked. “If you don’t have processes in place to engage those customers, understand who they are and send intelligent messages, you’re wasting a big portion of those acquisition dollars.”

Naked Wines has been using the Adestra platform for a number of years to run its email marketing and communications strategy. Its Australian marketing leader, Lachlan Murphy, said the group is tapping into the social aspects of its crowdfunded website, such as user reviews and comments, as a way of capturing more behavioural data on its customers.

The company is also tracking whether consumers came to the site organically, or as a result of remarketing, and then attempts to talk specifically to that.

“We can segment our database based on likes and dislikes, individual products and styles of products, which means we can go out with the same campaign to everyone, but split into groups into things like guys that love red wine, sort of like, and don’t like red wine,” he explained. “Customers feel like they’re being individually talked to, and you get massive engagement from people that really like a particular type of wine.”

This has allowed Naked Wines’ communications to become a utility to those who consume wine, McGowan said. “The secret sauce is in your CRM and database – it’s how you segment, inform every action and intent,” he said.

Other panellists agreed it’s not the size of your email marketing list that counts, it’s the people you’re talking to and how you tailor your message. Head of digital marketing agency Permission, Rick Merten, said a common challenge with clients is how to get them to look beyond volume to value.

“The tipping point is when they start saying they want to send to 100,000 people. It’s not about the size of the list, it’s about talking to people that count, rather than counting the people you talk to,” he said. “You’re better to get larger open rates with more engaged people, than sending as many emails as you can.”

Merten highlighted three areas of focus. The first is taking a strategic approach, looking at what business challenge is being overcome, the customer journey, and the data that adds value to that. The second is having a clear communication strategy.

“If someone subscribes to an email from a retailer for example, often the first thing we do is send a newsletter,” he commented. “In that model, there’s no on-boarding, what the business is about, and no education process is being built. You don’t get the value of building a relationship with the brand. Having a communications strategy is about how to get that second purchase, and the journey the customer goes through to get to that purchase.”

The third element is technology enabling marketers to send more tailored and contextual emails, such as automation, Merten said.

Another discussion point for the panel was email’s future role as mobile and wearable devices become the primary means of accessing information and geotargeting becomes the norm. McGowan noted 75 per cent of emails today are being opened via mobiles.

“Now you can use it to see where a person is, and use email differently,” he said. “Similarly to in-app messaging, for example, you could deliver an email when someone is walking by your store. You can look at their location, which may contradict the location you have for them in your CRM, and communicate about where they are, versus where they are from or where they’re offices they work in.

“This will help us send smarter emails moving forward and drive better engagement from the recipient.”

And despite fears the rise of new channels and younger, digital native audiences would kill off email, a new survey of 1200 Australian consumers by Adestra found 77 per cent of millennials still prefer brands to send them email communications over any other method of communication.

“Personal communication between friends is about messaging apps, but for business communication, it’s all about email,” McGowan said. “There’s a lot of development work going on with chatbots and brands trying to get involved in messaging apps to engage with consumers, but I’m not sure that’s the right move at this time.”

However, McGowan again stressed consumers are going to be less and less forgiving to brands doing email incorrectly. That same research showed 44 per cent of Australians have a dummy email account in order to field emails they don’t want to receive emails.

“The largest threat to email is overuse and abuse,” he said. “The intelligence engine behind delivery, why and when you send a message needs to continue to evolve. And if you’re not communicating via email in an intelligent manner, consumers will be quick to unsubscribe or in some way disengage with your brand.”

Upside Digital’s Lee Bush, added it’s high time brands got their contextual positioning in order. And that requires behavioural data.

“Many of our clients use demographic data and stop there. You need to move to behavioural data – what are they browsing, their clicking history, plus overlay the contextual stuff, such as when are they opening, time of when they open, getting down to engagement levels,”she advised.

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