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Why calling email marketing ‘spam’ is like calling your chemist a drug dealer

7th Oct 2014
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Marketers have a love-hate relationship with email but it isn’t going away any time soon. Figures from the DMA show an increase in email use of more than 30% in the last 10 years, with email still rated the number one digital channel by marketers, contributing to 30% of all digital revenues.

If anything, the proliferation of smartphones has simply raised the importance of email, especially with it being the number one most-used mobile application and global smartphone sales set to pass the one billion mark in 2014.   

However, a worrying trend is occurring in the face of the increase in email use: a recent benchmarking report from Return Path found that one in six emails now go ‘missing’ across the globe, with a further 6% never reaching recipient inboxes for being marked as spam. As email inboxes increase their filtering functionality, more and more email marketing campaigns are getting lost in the ether.

The pressure is on for marketers – especially when current click-through rates for campaigns tend to sit somewhere around the 3% mark. Success has often been seen through the lens of quantity, rather than quality - the more emails you send, the more chance you have of seeing some kind of ROI from them. The problem with this strategy is, the more emails you send, the more danger you’ll be accused of spamming. It’s no surprise marketers have such a profound love-hate relationship with email.

Breaking Bad

It’s a scenario that Tink Taylor has witnessed for a number of years, having founded email marketing platform, dotmailer 15 years ago. With company offices in both the US and the UK, Taylor, dotmailer’s chief operational officer, believes he has seen enough from both sides of the Atlantic to suggest email marketing campaigns being labelled as spam is nonsensical; that there’s many more people in US companies with the job title 'director of email' because the spam concept is more of a British stigma.

“Calling email marketing ‘spam’ is a little bit like calling a chemist a drug dealer,” he says.   

With the exception of Walter White it’s a fair assessment, and with the recent resurgence of marketing automation tools, the quantity over quality strategy is slowly being extinguished, and perhaps the stigma attached to email marketing and spam, also.

In the near future, Taylor suggests marketers struggling with their email campaigns are better placed focusing on what new opportunities in the email marketing space might bring to the table, and how the plethora of new tech solutions might improve current strategy:

“Email works – the bottom line is, the more emails you send, the more money you make. Ultimately though, you can’t send everything to everyone, every day. It’s clear that just doesn’t work.

“So what we know is – we should send more email – but to do that we have to think intelligently about sending the right message to the right person at the right time, with the right relevancy of content. Relevancy equals results. So we have to select the right users and the right times for engaging them; but it gets really difficult to do that manually. Near-on impossible.”

Segment, segment, segment

39% of email revenue now comes from targeted emails sent to specific segments. Clearly segmentation is no industry secret, but as marketers grapple with increasingly large sets of data, how they do this, as well as when and why are becoming integral components of the marketing role and consuming more and more of peoples’ time. As Taylor explains, “historically you’d make one email for everyone and send it once a week, but actually you should be sending emails every day or several a day with different types of email for different people who have reached certain points in the sales cycle.”

Many marketing automation tools offer a unique proposition in terms of data segmentation but more often than not, the complexity of using them leaves email marketers clouded in confusion. Coupled with the wider issue of how they fit into the larger vendors’ Marketing Cloud platforms, it can be tricky to gauge what benefits some tools bring to the table and how they fit into their wider technology suites.

“There are certainly a lot of players coming to the Marketing Cloud / marketing automation space and it will be interesting to see how this pans out,” Taylor adds.

“Practitioners need to try and look through the marketing hype with automation tools – it’s a competitive market with a number of tech solutions out there. There’s not many marketers who want to throw all of their legacy technology and strategy away and start with something new, so a lot of the time, these huge one-size-fits-all marketing solutions may be an amazing opportunity but they’re just not feasible and it’s often about adding new tools rather than buying into a whole platform, which would be a huge risk.”

Time to automate

Within many of the major Marketing Clouds a new breed of email tool is gaining popularity, with the majority offering marketers the opportunity to not only segment data but to completely automate campaigns and bring a whole new level of sophistication to email marketing.

“Email automation tools are looking for trigger points in a recipient – have they met a set of criteria whereby they should get their next message?” Taylor explains. “The best tools will automatically monitor databases, monitor changes to customer records and their behaviour – ask questions such as, have they clicked something, have they bought something, etc. is it their birthday, is it three months since their last purchase? By scanning the databases and setting templates to customise emails to provide relevancy – i.e. birthday messages – you can set your rules about demographics or behavioural data such as when they were last visitors of a site – and then have those emails delivered without having to do an awful lot.

“If you do automation in conjunction with your regular mailers – newsletters, events, sales campaigns, it means that in total you can send a greater amount of email and they are all interesting and relevant to the receiver.”

Making good

Relevance is all well and good, but Taylor recommends marketers take a number of steps before committing themselves to an email automation solution. Only then can they truly reap the rewards of the intelligence and increased revenue this type of tool could potentially offer. 

"Write down a list of tasks that you either want to do or currently do often; i.e. I want to segment data, I want to automate emails. Then try and look at how those tasks could be spread across different channels, i.e. social, mobile, email and how you’d like them to interact. The key is then to trial a solution out; the one thing people do tend to overlook is that some of these automation solutions say they can do this stuff for you but then you find out it essentially requires a rocket scientist to actually understand how to use them.

"The hours it takes to actually use these tools are critical – because you need to dot up how often you’re going to be performing those tasks and across how many different channels – if the time spent is high then you’ll come to realise those solutions aren’t for you, as this stuff should fit into your daily routines."

As the DMA cites, marketers are now spending 80% or more of their marketing time on email marketing in an average month. Clearly, this is a tough arena to garner results and any element of automation that fits the bill has to be considered. Either that or return to the old tried-and-tested Breaking Bad technique, but be warned; it may not help shake off the spammer tag any time soon. 
Tink Taylor is COO and co-founder of dotmailer 

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