Yes, you’re about to read an article about email as an exciting, effective marketing communications tool, and no, it’s not 1999 (but we can still party like it anyway).
As the cassette tape and rotary phone know, it’s rare that advances in technology breathe new life into something old instead of just replacing it with something newer and shinier. That fact really helps show the true power of email, though. While the process for users to check their inbox has gone from logging into AOL on desktop to tapping open the email app on their smartphones, they have never stopped using email to stay connected to people and brands.
Every year, the number of email users in the U.S. grows. By 2017, it is projected that there will be 236.8 million email users. As the audience increases, more brands are turning to email marketing to reach these users in a fairly cheap, easy and trackable way. In fact, 60 percent of email marketers feel email is producing a return on investment (ROI).
However, we know more companies could leverage this potential ROI by embracing what’s new in email instead of just sticking with what is familiar. The problem with marketing tools that have been around as long as email has is that brands sometimes forget to adapt their usage for their changing audience and functionality. Emails that looked great five years ago and performed well may not speak to a new generation of smartphone skimmers and shorter attention spans.
With the rise of email usage, brands should be investing more in their overarching email marketing strategy and the individual components, like templates, in order to stay relevant. The inbox can be a forgiving place because users have been checking emails for so many years and are used to seeing a mix of emails: simple, plain, beautiful, striking, outdated, ugly. Though individual performance metrics may vary for these emails, users have opted in to receive brand emails and are generally accepting of the content they receive, regardless of how it looks. We predict this is going to change in 2016.
Think about the Internet for a moment. How has it changed over the past five years? The rise of mobile has begun to redefine what is standard in website design best practices. Brands are gradually coming around to the notion that they are behind the curve if their sites are not responsive and force users to zoom in and out on their smartphone browsers in order to navigate. With 48 percent of emails being opened in a mobile application, the time has come for brands to think the same way about emails as they do about websites. The mobile-friendly mentality should no longer only apply to web design, but to email design and any other mediums that are increasingly viewed on smartphones and tablets.
So what doesn’t fly anymore in the world of mobile emails and 2016 audiences? For starters, your three-column-across newsletter layout has to go. Single-column emails adapt much better to a mobile-viewing experience without crowding users’ screens.
You may have heard the term “responsive email template” before. This topic can get a little dicey because unlike the web, which is generally the same experience from browser to browser and user to user, email clients (Outlook, Gmail, iOS, etc.) all display email code differently. This means the development it takes to make an email template responsive in some clients is not supported by others. In the world of email development, it’s good to have a backup plan in place.
While we’re on the subject of how emails display in different email clients, we should touch on the importance of cross-client testing, especially as users continue to check their email across multiple devices. Because emails are rendered differently based on what client and device they’re opened on, an email that looks perfect in your inbox may look broken on your CEO’s phone. To avoid this, especially because the problem may only get worse as email clients continue to make updates and act independently of each other, we recommend cross-client testing all emails.
Email marketing in 2016 and beyond isn’t as simple as just clicking “send,” but we promise it’s not that daunting with the right resources and plans in place.
There are two parallel components of email marketing: tactics and strategy. The tactical includes the actual emails and template development, while the strategy ensures each target audience is receiving the best-possible messaging at the right time. Both of these elements need to be worked on at the same time to achieve the most impact. Even if your email is beautiful, works flawlessly across all clients and has the perfect subject line, all of that work you put in won’t matter if you send it to the wrong audience at the wrong time. You also won’t get as much out of your email strategy if you’re firing out broken or mobile-unfriendly emails. In fact, 71.2 percent of users say they delete emails that don’t look good on mobile. So, what should be your focus on the strategy side? Knowing your audience.
Integrate as much data as you have in order to best target your existing audience and build onto it. Enter our friends CRM integration and marketing automation. These buzzwords may sound super technical, but they really do take email marketing from what marketers of yore referred to as “email blasts,” where we pushed out content to an unknown abyss and hoped it landed, and elevates it to a targeted approach.
By integrating CRM data with your email program and throwing in automation software, you can send extremely targeted emails based on customer data (think: a campaign launched only to people in Texas who purchased one of your products in the past three years). You can also use these tools to learn more about your customers by emailing them premium content (like a white paper or tip sheet) that they have to fill out a form in order to access. You’re in control for this entire process, which means if you need to know your customers’ job titles, you can make that one of the required form fields. Boom. Emails + data collection = better‑targeted marketing happiness.
Of all the benefits of marketing automation, marketers say that generating more and better-quality leads is most important. With these tools and technologies at our disposal, the future is going to be full of even more opportunities to connect with audiences and grow them with the help of strategic email.
On the other hand, if your organization isn’t quite ready to integrate email with a CRM or automation isn’t the right fit, you can still leverage data you do have to make decisions about your audience. Fancy tools or no fancy tools, the more changes you make to your emails based on subscriber behavior metrics, the greater advantage you’ll have over your competition. So don’t remain stagnant. Let your emails party like it’s 2016.
Lizzie Thornton is a Content Marketing Specialist at thunder::tech. When she's not writing strategic content she spends her time watching true crime documentaries and saying "hi" to every dog she meets.
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