- Email marketing has the highest ROI of all marketing channels, but that can lead brands to undervalue its power for helping a company achieve its goals beyond driving quick sales.
- Email is the backbone of digital marketing because it gives us direct access to the intimacy of our customers’ inboxes.
- Besides the obvious connection to sales and other business-building objectives, email generates the first-party data brands need to fuel greater customer knowledge and personalized communications
- As a marketing channel, email marketing has evolved beyond simple promotional campaigns and transactional messages into “customer first” messages that reach customers at all points in their relationships with a brand.
- The first in a four-part email marketing series delivered by expert Kath Pay.
It might be cheeky for me to introduce myself to the ClickZ audience by violating a contributor guideline. But I’m a bit of an industry rule-breaker, and breaking this rule has helped me claim my share of the email-marketing industry.
Since 2009, I have believed in, and promoted, a holistic approach to email marketing, which views email as more than just a cheap channel for generating quick bucks. At the same time, however, “holistic” has become a buzzword to avoid for some (including ClickZ, which advises against using it).
What ‘holistic’ email marketing means to me
I’ll be the first to agree that many people use the term “holistic” to freshen up conventional wisdom thinking and look for legitimacy in a world that keeps looking for the silver bullet that will solve all their email problems.
For me, however, “holistic” is not a buzzword, and it’s not just the title of my company, Holistic Email Marketing. A holistic approach to marketing means you view it as an interconnected entity that encompasses not just email but all your channels working together, not just your marketing team but where your marketing efforts fit within your entire company.
You understand that success is not measured in opens or clicks, that testing means going beyond tweaking a word or two or one button color over another, and that what you learn in email can inform business decisions and enhance customer knowledge far beyond the marketing department.
This holistic approach isn’t just a philosophical viewpoint. It’s a major reason why email marketing deserves investment and delivers results. An effective email marketing program delivers results far beyond the latest campaign.
These four reasons explain why investing in email will pay off.
Email is the backbone of digital marketing
It’s all too easy to think of email marketing as just a series of campaigns.
Let’s raise our sights and look at what email marketing – good email marketing – can do.
Email is a valuable push channel that enables us to send our messages directly to our customers. We don’t have to wait for them to find us through search. We don’t have to hope that some third-party social platform’s algorithm will treat us kindly enough to display our posts to our followers.
Yes, we are somewhat at the mercy of the ISPs that determine whether our email will go to the inbox or the spam folder or get rejected outright. But we do control some of our destiny if we follow good email practices that begin with permission, continue with value and relevance, honor unsubscribes, and stay on top of subscriber activity.
But email has another benefit as well. It works well with every other marketing channel you use. Here’s just one example:
What you learn about your customers from their activity on your email campaigns can inform your keyword search strategy. Likewise, you can fold your best keywords into your email copy to make it more resonant and relevant to your email audience.
Hence, when you invest in email marketing and then use what you learn in other channels, your other channels also benefit.
Its ROI is still enviable
Email is the most cost-effective marketing channel. Various studies over the years have tried to pin down the exact monetary return that email can drive compared to the expense of running the program, although this somewhat squishy number is something of a double-edged sword.
Estimates range from $32 (or £32) to $44 returned in income for every $1 (or £1) spent on email. Those numbers haven’t been reliably updated in the last 10 years or so, so I hesitate to quote them definitively. But you need only look at your budgets to compare cost versus return. If you have a channel that outperforms email in the long run, I’d love to know about it.
ROI doesn’t tell the whole story, however. For many brands, those big returns happen because the brand isn’t spending much on email, such as investing in a sophisticated email platform, marketing automation, or skilled marketing team members to run the program.
It’s said that you can make money from email even when you do it badly or invest next to nothing in it. While that’s true, I will add that you can make much more money and retain more customers instead of spending a budget to acquire new ones when you do invest in email.
Email marketing generates a trove of first-party data
By now we all know (or we should) that third-party cookies as audience identifiers are going away.
Purchased third-party data will be even more heavily regulated. But the data you gather from your email subscribers and customers is yours.
That’s true whether the data comes from what your customers tell you directly, what you infer from their email activity, their behavior on your websites, and their other interactions you’re your brand or company.
Even data that appears to range far from the inbox or website can matter, such as their contacts with your customer service department, their reviews of your brand or products on independent sites such as BazaarVoice, or what they say and do on social channels or SMS.
Yes, you must protect that data and honor customer requests to reveal or delete it. But you don’t have to buy it and no one, except perhaps the customer as the data owner, can withhold it.
Putting that first-party data to work in your messaging is equally important.
An effective email marketer uses the data to select audiences, determine message content and frequency and create a stream of messages that are as close as we can get to one-to-one communications.
You can remain in contact more often because you are less likely to burn out your subscribers through irrelevant messages.
That extreme personalization begins in the inbox, continues in the message, and follows through on the website and other touchpoints throughout the customer journey. This is another reason why email deserves investment.
Combined with intelligent automated messaging, you can show your customers you know who they are, that you understand their needs, and you are better positioned to help them achieve their goals.
This “helpful marketing” focus drives yet another benefit that you don’t have to pay for directly, which I explain in the next section.
Email marketing helps you serve your customers’ needs
Email marketing has evolved from basic, brand-centric messages into a trusted bridge between customers and brands based on three key developments:
1. A holistic approach to email marketing
By now I hope you can understand the background of my holistic view of email and why it can be more rewarding – for your marketing team and ultimately the company’s bottom line – to discard the old-fashioned notion of siloed marketing programs.
Considering all the factors that can inform every aspect of your email marketing and viewing email as the hub of your marketing efforts can lead to greater value for customers and greater returns for your company
2. Advanced testing programs
One of email’s great benefits is that you can test just about everything – the subject line, the offer, the audience, and much more. But advanced marketers test not just to find the immediate lift but also to learn more about their customers now and how they might respond in the future.
A single word tweak in a subject line or a blue call-to-action button instead of a red one won’t be enough by itself to drive long-term understandings about what motivates your customers to convert. The holistic approach that regularly tests broader concepts such as emotions or psychological approaches will be more revealing and more useful.
Investing in this phase of email marketing will pay off because this advanced testing will help you create messaging that’s more finely tuned to all the variations in your audience and avoid wasting time and budget on ineffective campaigns or expensive tactics that don’t pan out.
3. Helpful marketing
A focus on helpful marketing emphasizes customer needs, not just brand initiatives. Helpful marketing presumes that when we marketers help customers achieve their goals, they in turn will help us achieve ours.
Helpful marketing doesn’t ask, “What can I sell you today?” It asks, “What do you need today and how can I help you solve that?”
This approach brings together everything I’ve been talking about here: using data to drive personalized messages, using advanced testing to understand what motives your customers, and acting on all that knowledge in your email marketing efforts.
This complex approach to email marketing assumes that when customers discover your brand is most likely to help them with whatever they need, they’ll come back to your brand more often than others.
- You retain more customers, thus spending less to acquire new ones.
- Your customers are more likely to see your emails in the inbox and open and click on them, thus improving your sender reputation with the ISPs, which leads to better deliverability.
- Your customers spend more with you and less with your competitors.
A look ahead
As you can see, I remain bullish on email and have been that way for more than 20 years, as an email marketer, as an email service provider, and as a consultant helping brands achieve their email potential.
In my future columns here on ClickZ, I’ll look more in-depth at the issues that today’s email marketers must face to keep driving their programs forward: why email can do more than send promotional campaigns, a deeper dive into helpful marketing and how it pays off, and more.
I’d love to see your comments and questions on my introduction here and I look forward to sharing my experiences to help you achieve all the greatness that email can bring to your marketing program!
Kath Pay is CEO at Holistic Email Marketing, winner of the ANA/EEC’s Thought Leader of the Year 2021 Award, and the author of the award-winning Amazon #1 best-seller “Holistic Email Marketing: A practical philosophy to revolutionize your business and delight your customers.
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