If content is king, email is the ace up the marketer’s sleeve. Just look at the facts:
- For several years running, email marketing has been designated the most profitable content marketing channel.
- More than 86 percent of organizations use email in B2C content marketing, according to The Content Marketing Institute.
- Similarly, 74 percent of B2B content marketers say that email is the most successful marketing channel.
Email marketing clearly works, and businesses of all shapes and sizes have noticed.
The irony is that email predates social media and smartphones. In fact, it’s practically as old as the internet itself. The first email message was sent in 1971, just two years after the first data transmission was completed via ARPANET in 1969. The maiden message, the spark of a communication revolution, is believed to have said something to the effect of “QWERTYUIOP.”
Now, more than two decades later, email still matters. Not only that, somehow this dinosaur of the information age is the most powerful content marketing channel.
The key benefits of email
There are many reasons why email is so popular, and why it’s still the cornerstone of business communication. But we’re mainly concerned with why the messaging medium has garnered such tremendous utility as a marketing tool. Here’s what we’ve come up with so far:
(Almost) everyone uses it
The importance of email marketing stems at least in part from the sheer number of users. More than half the world’s population uses email, according to research from The Radicati Group. It’s estimated that more than 281 billion email messages were sent and received every day in 2018. By 2022, that figure will increase to 333 billion.
Chances are, you have an email account if you’re reading this blog. And if you don’t, we’d certainly be curious how you do anything at all on the internet. Email is universal across computing platforms, which is why so many service providers use it as the baseline for customer identity and communication.
It’s as simple as this: If you’re going to go fishing, pick a pond with a lot fish in it.
It’s cost effective
Cost effectiveness and email go hand in hand in several ways. Firstly, email is cheap. Sure, businesses need to pay email service providers, and they need to cover the monthly cost of their marketing automation platform.
But these costs are meager compared to expenses tied to other marketing channels. Direct mail, for instance, costs $600 per thousand pieces of mail, according to Harvard Business Review, which is about 100 times more than it would cost for email marketing. In other words, you could send out 600,000 marketing emails for roughly the same price as 1,000 flyers.
Furthermore, email campaigns are highly profitable. The average return per dollar spent on email marketing is $44, according to research by Campaign Monitor. On paper at least, email appears to be among the most effective marketing channels. A 4,400 percent ROI sure is quite a bit of bang for the buck.
TL;DR: Email marketing works.
The average internet user checks his or her smartphone 80 times a day as of 2017. It could be a lot more in 2019 given our increasing dependence on mobile devices. Either way, we know this for sure: Email goes everywhere a smartphone goes.
We also know that more computing is taking place on mobile devices as opposed to laptops and desktops, and email is no exception to this rule. In fact, as of 2017, research by Return Path found that more than half of all emails are checked on a mobile device.
And this makes perfect sense when you think about it. Smartphones let you check your email with a few swipes. Regardless of what you’re doing – waiting in the elevator, standing in line at the lunch counter – it’s just so easy to pull out your phone and see if you’ve gotten any new mail.
What does this mean for marketers? All they need is their audience’s emails to join them in the elevator, the line at the lunch counter or wherever else they may be. Email gives businesses a direct, reliable line to leads regardless of their location.
It’s personalized and precise
Email is the most direct way to reach a digital audience, which inherently boosts its personalization potential. For instance, you can discern from the tag of an email address whether it’s associated with a business user or a personal user (@gmail.com versus @brafton.com).
Email addresses collected from opt-in forms are another great way to create segmented lists. You can use simple demographic information such as job title, location and age to get a general sense of who your audience is. If you follow a trail back to the specific blog post or gated asset that captured the email address, you can also get an idea of what that person is interested in.
Everything from previous customer engagements to prior purchases can help personalize your email marketing campaigns. And the thing about personalization is that it works:
- Email recipients are 75 percent more likely to open emails from segmented campaigns than non-segmented campaigns.
- Personalized email subject lines are 26 percent more likely to be opened.
As you send more emails, you also gather more data, such as open rates (number of emails opened) and click-through rates (percent of recipients who clicked on a URL or action item in the message) that can guide future efforts. For instance, research from Experian has identified Tuesday as the best day to send promotional emails. Your results may differ, but the point is that you can track metrics with precision, and pivot accordingly.
Few if any marketing channels are as precise as email.
It works at any stage of the sales funnel
Speaking of precision, email marketing campaigns can target recipients at different stages of the sales funnel. Did someone say, “email drip campaigns”?
In a drip campaign, email copy is written for specific recipients based on prior action or inaction. For instance, a contact might receive a welcome email after signing up for a newsletter. The next email will be based on the recipient’s action (opened the email, didn’t open the email, opened the email and clicked on the call to action, etc.). Here’s an example of very basic drip campaign fueled by open rates:
The goal is to lead the email recipient deeper into the sales funnel. After your welcome email, you might share high-level blog content or a link to the “about” page on your website. If they click through, your next step might be to share white papers, testimonials and case studies. The effort is leading up to direct marketing, such as inquiring about a product demo.
The beauty of drips and other email campaigns is that they put your existing content to work in a very deliberate, context-rich and precise manner. They can help you raise brand awareness at the top of the sales funnel by promoting blog content and how-to videos. They can be used to build trust in your brand through social proof such as case studies and video testimonials deeper into the consideration phase.
Think of email as a content distribution channel on steroids that’s also a direct marketing platform and a form of content marketing unto itself. No wonder marketers love email. It’s the linchpin of many a marketing strategy.
It’s an inroad to customer loyalty
An often overlooked benefit of email is its ability to build customer loyalty. On a very basic level, the channel is a way for brands to send transactional emails to consumers (for instance, a purchase confirmation), and it’s also a customer support touch point.
More importantly though, many of the same marketing tactics that precede a sale apply to post-sale marketing efforts. The cheapest customer to acquire is the one you already have, after all. If existing customers continue to receive emails that are relevant to them, they might take further action.
For instance, if you sold X customer Y item, they might also be interested in Z add-on item. We see this all the time in B2C marketing. Amazon notices you visited a page for duvet covers, and figures that you might also be interested in sheets and pillow cases, so they send an email to your inbox saying as much.
In B2B markets, the effort may need to be a little more involved, but the bedrock of the idea is the same. You can put existing customers in their own email segments. When they show interest in a product or service that complements the one they have, you pounce by sending relevant content. If they bite, then you’ve set a precedent to have the discussion about a possible upsell.
What the future holds for email marketing in 2019 and beyond
Email marketing is clearly at the center of digital marketing. It’s effective for brand awareness, content distribution, content promotion, enticing leads deeper into the sales funnel, direct marketing, building customer loyalty and much more.
On top of that, it’s incredibly popular, it’s mobile (there’s no shortage of responsive email templates out there) and perhaps most importantly, it generates ROI.
For all of these reasons, we firmly believe that email is here to stay, but with some changes:
- More mobility: The world is trending toward mobile, and so is email. We’re slowly but surely moving from “mobile first” to “mobile only,” and this will inevitably affect how and when brands send out marketing emails.
- Greater personalization and performance through AI: This should come as no surprise. Email’s powers of personalization will be vastly improved as analytics become more powerful, more predictive and ultimately more prescriptive. Artificial intelligence can help determine nuances in terms of the perfect time to send emails based on the audience. It can more accurately validate existing email lists, pruning away inactive or out-of-date contacts with uncanny precision. It can improve A/B testing to help generate more effective campaigns. It can make for more intelligent segmentation. It can even help influence the language that will drive the best results. The possibilities are endless with AI.
- More text-based emails: Somehow, users have come to associate overly graphic-rich email content with spam. Why? Because the messages they receive from friends, family, direct business contacts and colleagues don’t usually have super lively, polished graphic design. That’s the type of thing you expect from spam, or at best, a Dominos Pizza deal. In 2019 and beyond, design elements will be more understated, and there will be a push toward authentic-looking plain text. Does this mean the content of that plain text will be extremely important? You betcha. It’ll need to be attention-grabbing, concise, personalized and actionable.
- Increased interactivity: Email marketing is all about driving recipients toward a certain action. While shiny graphics sort of talk at users, simple quizzes, surveys, links to games and other interactive prompts can help get users to do something other than download an asset or click on a link.
There was certainly a time when you could be forgiven for thinking social media marketing would supplant email marketing. But today, email is still the “first online check of the day” for nearly 60 percent of people, and it’s leveraged at least once daily by 91 percent web users, which is well above Facebook’s 57 percent.
More importantly, the number of email account holders is expected to grow through 2022, when it will achieve a staggering 4.2 billion users. Whether you’re a small business or the world’s biggest enterprise, those numbers are impossible to ignore.
And to think, it all started with “something like QWERTYUIOP.”