The debate over whether email is thriving or in decline continues to be an intense one, both in and outside of the marketing industry. Sadly, this trend shows no sign of abating, at least in the short-term. For some reason it seems that regardless of whatever changes or innovations are introduced, despite being the channel consumers trust and value the most – according to the DMA – email is destined to be constantly evaluated and scrutinised.
Fuelling this debate, there are a number of myths surrounding the most direct form of communication available to marketers today, which need to be dispelled.
Myth 1: Email lacks Innovation
For me, it’s hard to pinpoint where this belief has come from. Google for instance, over the past few years especially, has shown an immense commitment to improving the experience it provides to Gmail users, from the introduction of segmented inboxes to the recently announced Smart Reply function.
Whilst these tools not only empower the email recipient to have far greater control over how they consume the content in their inbox, it has also forced many brands to up their game in terms of the email marketing and promotional materials they send to their customers and subscribers.
As a result, the level of sophistication being shown by the UK’s biggest brands, from responsive design and eyetracking to trigger emails and real-time updates, is increasing. These innovative techniques are crucial to equipping brands with a better understanding of consumers and how they interact with brands.
Email is therefore not only adapting to customer demands and the platforms through which it is consumed, it is firmly rooted at the heart of the marketing ecosystem. This makes it a fundamental component for any business looking to establish an effective customer-centric strategy.
Myth 2: Isn’t social media more powerful?
Since social media transformed from the Hungry Caterpillar it was in the mid noughties into one of the most influential brand engagement tools in any marketers’ armoury, the merits of both email and social media have been evaluated.
Whilst social media has opened up new, direct channels for brands to interact with customers, these are very much seen as broadcasters and amplifiers of content, which when added to email content can enrich the experience for the individual. Let’s not forget customers are not channel-loyal; they interact with brands through the channel that is most relevant to their current situation.
No single channel has the power to solely shape the experience of an individual unless they are combined within a cohesive environment. Social media is therefore certainly not the driving force of customer engagement many would believe. In fact, according to the DMA, social media is the least trusted form of communication by consumers.
Myth 3: Content in emails is bland and irrelevant
With competition for attention now higher than ever, brands have to work harder to not only capture attention, but also sustain it. When you consider that email open rates in the UK reached their highest volumes yet in Q3 of this year, according to figures released last month, the belief that email content is bland and irrelevant is easily dispelled.
With over two-thirds of emails now reportedly read on smartphones or tablets, the content of emails has naturally become more dynamic. That, in part has largely been driven by the fact that we are now in an age where customers expect not only personalised messages but highly individualised to respond to their actual needs.
In the past, email activity from brands was largely restricted to the weekly newsletter and based on details inputted into a preference centre on their respective websites. Whilst these still have a place within a brands wider marketing output, marketers are now increasingly looking to respond to their customers’ behaviours in real-time. Prices and offers within the email can now be updated and modified based on current availability and change depending on when you open them. This means that the user experience is seamless and ensures customers are not disappointed.
Myth 4: Isn’t all email just automated?
There are without question a vast number of automated emails sent every day, from newsletters to password reset requests. In these cases they are directly fulfilling a purpose and fulfilling an instant need or request.
When it comes to emails outside this, it is a very different picture. The ability for brands to now send emails to customers instantly in response to specific behaviour signals is a very different form of communication, which could be misjudged as being automated.
For instance, if you are browsing for a new bike online, add it to your basket and then abandon your purchase, there is a good chance that retailer will email you. The likelihood is that the email they send will include three similar alternatives specific to what you searched for, and that you might not have considered. This is an example of an ‘automated’ trigger email which is adding real value. The same can be said for emails that send you offers. As customers provide retailers with more information, their ability to respond and use that to be heavily targeted in response. That’s not automation of old, it’s highly precise targeting with substance.