3 March 2016

Should Your Business Be Using Email Marketing?

Julie Brook
Written by Julie Brook

Julie Brook is Regional Director for The Marketing Centre and specialises in working with small and mid-size businesses. She has over 30 years’ senior marketing experience in food, drink, hospitality and jewellery sectors with brands including San Miguel, Greenall’s Pubs and Restaurants, and HPJ Jewellers.

Email marketing in 2019 is often perceived as being a little antiquated and uninspiring, but it is still a central component to the communications strategies of many brands.

With social media making all of the major marketing headlines as the (relatively) new kid on the block, is email marketing still relevant in 2019? DMA’s Marketer Email Tracker 2018 and 2019 Consumer Email Tracker reports would both appear to suggest that it is most certainly still alive and kicking.

The 2018 marketer report found that 86% of marketers still feel that email marketing is important (or very important) to their multichannel marketing strategies. It’s no small wonder they feel that way, given that ROI for email increased from £30.03 for every £1 spent in 2016 to £32.28 the following year. A separate study by Econsultancy even found that 73% claim it is still the number one digital channel when it comes to ROI, and that email marketing generates around £29 billion in retail sales annually in the UK alone.

On the consumer end, meanwhile, the 2019 report found that 59% prefer to hear from brands via email, whatever the context and that 56% of them open and read at least half of their emails.

46% of consumers rate brand recognition as the key factor in their decision to open an email, for deals from companies they know, whilst only 4% of those users check those same deals on Facebook, which proves that email can be at least 10 times more effective. So if the question is; “Should my business be using email marketing?”, then the answer is a resounding yes. But, it’s a yes with a caveat.

In order for email marketing to be effective in 2019, you need to make sure you are targeting the right people, providing content that is actually worth something to them and are doing so consistently. You also, of course, need to make sure that your emails are GDPR compliant.

Reaching the right people

Any email campaign begins with a decent list of customers, prospects and referred partners. It might prove tempting to simply buy a mailing list, which is certainly possible. However, the viability of these bought and paid for lists can be suspicious, and in a post-GDPR world they are even more suspect. Not only might many of the addresses be unusable, but some might be fake addresses made up on the spot to fill out a subscription box, while others might be generic info@ addresses that are rarely active.

Of course, there are paid lists that can be effective for targeting niche groups - as long as the source is verifiable and GDPR compliant. Organically built mailing lists gathered through opt-in marketing methods will always be more effective, though. First, however, you can only be sure you’ll be reaching the right people if you know who you want to reach, what you want to achieve, what will get them to respond and which members of your audience will be interested in your message.

Valuable content

For content to be effective it needs to be of some tangible value to your target audience; bombarding them with empty transactional sales messages will soon have them reaching for the unsubscribe button. So before sending out any email message to your members, make sure the content is engaging, valuable and useful, with the ability to grab the attention of your audience and with a strong call to action that will ensure a good click-through rate.

Consistency is also important, and a regular newsletter should go a long way towards developing that consistency. An automated email series exploring a specific topic can also be an engaging tool, as can interesting company news and even special offers. Treat your subscribers to exclusive content too as it intrinsically has more value - subscribers enjoy receiving something that isn’t available to others. And don’t think of it as a one-way channel: email can be a great way to ask for feedback from your most engaged customers. Remember, this is marketing - you’re playing the long game.

The content itself, meanwhile, should be media-rich and easy to read. Dense blocks of text are likely to be skipped over or skimmed (although each audience is different - meaning you should test different styles) and if your messages are not visually appealing they are also likely to be ignored. Think images, videos, and interactive elements, and also don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. Consider your audience, what drives them and what kind of content creates a deeper connection with them. Market research is your friend here, and advances in technology have made it that much easier to tailor your emails to individual members.

Virgin Holidays, for example, recently worked with AI firm Phasee and tech firm Moveable Ink to create targeted subject lines and “turbocharged content” that used real-time data - live weather feeds, pricing and the numbers of people looking at certain offers. The contextual email campaign, which aimed to be “visually appealing but also timely, relevant and valuable to each unique email recipient” in order to convert site visits into bookings led to a 31% increase in site traffic.

Maintaining consistency

Consistency can be a difficult thing to master, particularly when you’re juggling so many different plates. However, at the bare minimum you should be making sure your email marketing campaigns are frequent and scheduled to fall monthly, weekly or fortnightly. This gives your subscribers something to expect and prevents them from treating your content as an unwelcome surprise.

Regular updates are equally important for new business email marketing. While most businesses will send just one email to a new business list, this generally won’t be enough. Sending between three and five emails to this list is best practice, allowing a brand to nurture new contacts and increase the likelihood of a sale.

Regular updates are important for new business email marketing

This consistency also applies to measuring a campaign’s success. By checking and comparing your analytics on a regular basis, you’ll be able to decipher how many messages are being opened, clicked and acted upon. You can also change certain elements - subject lines, types of content, layouts - and test how the analytics differ, establishing what works for your campaign and for your business. Remember though - checking at the beginning and end of a campaign won’t reward you with the same depth of data; the analysis has to be frequent and consistent throughout a campaign’s run.

Are you GDPR compliant?

There’s no getting around the fact that GDPR will have done a serious number on many mailing lists for B2C companies. However, for B2B businesses, due to the fact they can use ‘legitimate interests’ as a legal basis for marketing to customers, there was not so much of a significant impact and it has been very much ‘email marketing as usual’. Indeed, much of the noise made in the lead up to GDPR implementation turns out to have been little more than scaremongering, at least from a B2B perspective.

For B2C businesses, meanwhile, GDPR might have had a more serious impact, but it could also be seen as an opportunity for the brands willing to push the boat out a little further. GDPR will cause brands to be more considerate of their customers, and putting their customers at the heart of their business DNA means they will be more likely to create timely and relevant content that their customers actually desire.

The 2018 marketer email tracker report found that 36% of marketers feel positive about GDPR, whilst 43% feel negative about it. However, in 2019’s DMA consumer email tracker, 41% of consumers surveyed said the new rules have made them more confident about how brands treat their personal data and that they find themselves wondering where brands got their email address much less often.

Opinion is certainly divided, then. The fact is, GDPR doesn’t just limit who can legally receive emails or what can be included in those emails, but how data and permissions are managed. Many brands spent the first 6 months of 2018 setting IT transformation strategies in order to prepare for the legislation, and it was certainly a major disruption.

However, when the dust settles, GDPR might actually have proven to be beneficial to email marketing strategies, as it has introduced a new, better and cleaner way of working. According to Saul Lopes, customer lifecycle lead at Virgin Holidays, GDPR means “more engaged customer bases because people who are on the database will want to hear from you.” He admits it also means lower overall volumes, but the flip side of that is significantly improved engagement rates.

Crucially, GDPR also hasn’t had an overall significant impact on consumer attitude towards email marketing. Rachel Aldighieri, Managing Director of the DMA, said: “It is encouraging to see that GDPR hasn’t had a negative impact on consumer perceptions of email marketing. Evidently, it remains a key way to engage customers when it is used to promote the right opportunities at the right times. Marketers should take note and ensure all their communications use simple, tailored messages”.

Is email marketing right for my business?

As long as you are reaching the right people with valuable content that is consistent and GDPR compliant then yes, you should definitely be considering email marketing. Not only is it still one of the most personal and direct marketing strategies, but recent advances have made it easier than ever before to create relevant and engaging email content that leads to solid conversions. Email marketing, if played right, can still be an incredibly powerful weapon in your armoury.

Email is just one part of your overall marketing effort—to see how your whole strategy is working and find a space for new tactics, use our freeMarketing 360 Health check.


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