Is Email Marketing Dead? Here’s What the Stats Show…
…Look familiar? I feel like I see a clickbait headline almost identical to this at least once a week. We as marketers are typically obsessed with the next big thing, but news flash, people–there’s always going to be a next big thing. That doesn’t mean the old stuff goes away! Email is still an incredibly valuable channel for us. And someone who knows this better than anyone is Chad White. Not only is he the Head of Research for the Oracle Marketing Cloud, he also wrote the book Email Marketing Rules. Chad and I sat down to talk about email do’s and don’t’s for mobile readers, why email is most definitely not dead, and how measuring email effectiveness might be a little more of a challenge than we thought.
Lumavate’s VP of Marketing, Stephanie Cox: In the last decade, what trends have you seen that have really impacted how brands think about email marketing?
Oracle Marketing Cloud’s Head of Research, Chad White: Engagement based filtering. That’s a real biggie. It used to be that if you were a sender, all you had to do was keep your complaints rate low. And what that incentivized senders to do was to bloat their e-mail lists with a lot of inactive people who didn’t do anything–they didn’t unsubscribe, or report spam. And the inbox providers eventually caught on to this game and now they are requiring brands to send e-mails that their subscribers not only tolerate, but engage with. And that has set off a trend where we’re becoming more subscriber centric–are they engaged? What kinds of offers are they engaging with? What kind of content are they engaging with? Ultimately, it’s been a super positive change.
SC: So I think it’s fair to say that email providers–specifically Google with GDPR–have put restrictions on marketers because we’ve made bad choices.
CW: Absolutely yes. For every brand that laments about something that an inbox or provider is doing, they should know that we have driven them to it. The reason that GDPR got passed is because of us, because self-regulation has failed. I feel like GDPR is in line with what consumers want, and when we give people what they want–when we interact with them in ways that they expect us to–that makes a strong relationship. And that’s the whole point of email–to craft relationships. So I don’t know how if we can craft a good relationship when we’re not aligned with consumer expectations.
SC: That’s a great transition to my next question–How should you measure effectiveness of your email marketing programs? How do you know what consumers want?
CW: So this is a little bit of a messy question because I’m sure a lot of people think of email marketing as being a highly measurable channel. And I think to a certain degree, it’s true. But the more multi-channel you are, the messier this equation gets. So much of what e-mail does gets measured in an A-to-B-to-C fashion, where people are measuring opens and click throughs, but consumers are weird and they don’t follow the golden path that we lay out for them! They’re constantly wandering off the trail into the woods and then reemerging in some unpredictable place. So they’ll get an e-mail and they’ll see a subject line with something that interests them and they won’t open the e-mail–instead they’ll tell their spouse about that brand the spouse will go onto their computer and fire up their browser. Email is a bucket that is full of holes, and so you definitely have to see where all the holes are and have a little bit of faith when sometimes the metrics don’t match up with what you thought was probably going to happen.
SC: Thinking about how you message, what are the best practices marketers need to think about when they are sending out emails that are primarily consumed on a mobile device?
CW: Let’s ignore some of the cool interactive stuff you can do on mobile platforms for a minute and let’s just kind of go back to basics. I can’t tell you how many emails I see in my own inbox where the email is responsive but the e-mail isn’t mobile friendly. There is a big difference. I still see in my inbox text that is too small. I still see in my inbox links and buttons that are too close together to be accurately tapped without frustration. I still see in my inbox contrast ratios that are not good enough especially if I’m reading it outside on a sunny day. These are all fundamental issues the there’s too much copy and a lot of e-mail still. Link densities and font sizes and contrast ratios are all really simple things before you get to again more advanced functionality and stuff that you could do on mobile. It seems really basic, but I think that’s where we’re just not putting ourselves in our subscribers and our users’ shoes.