Rapid digital evolution over the last ten years has fundamentally changed the way brands communicate with consumers and has fostered an ‘always-on’ culture wherein brands and consumers remain constantly digitally-connected. 

As a flexible and direct means of reaching consumers on-the-move, email marketing is king of the always-on culture. Mapp’s Digital Customer Engagement Index (DCEI), a forensic analysis of the UK’s top 50 e-commerce brands, reveals that 96% of brands engage in email marketing. What’s more, 64% of brands rate email as their most effective marketing channel, despite the rise of social media and mobile apps. Based on overwhelming popularity, it would seem an email-first approach forms the backbone of most successful communication strategies.

Different brands conduct their email marketing in different ways, starting from initial interactions and welcome emails, through to thank you emails and re-engagement campaigns. While it’s true that marketers do not need to follow a regimented formula in order to create an effective email, there are certain dos and don’ts of email marketing that can directly influence customer engagement.

First impressions count

First impressions still count, and this is as relevant to email marketing as it is to initial communications through any other channel. A best practice approach could include, for example, sending an email to a prospect immediately after subscription. This demonstrates the understanding that engagement is likely to be highest shortly after a prospect has made the choice to sign up. 

In order to maximise customer engagement from these initial interactions, brands should also include a dedicated welcome message. This demonstrates a willingness to engage the prospect beyond the formalities of a generic confirmation. However, only 51% of the UK’s top e-commerce brands include a dedicated welcome in their interactions, revealing significant room for improvement, and an opportunity for brands to stand out in the early stages of interaction.

The personal touch

One of the most surprising findings was a large-scale shortcoming in personalising email content. The majority of brands ask for customer information such as names, genders, and geographic locations. However, only 26% actually address their emails using customer names, and just 11% personalise their interactions further.

As brands seek to increase their level of engagement, they should use the data they have already to increase their personalisation. Providing basic email personalisation, such as addressing the recipient by their name, helps increase the relevance of a brand’s message. This seems to be an opportunity that the majority of brands are missing out on, despite having the data at their disposal. In order to maximise engagement, brands should also give customers the opportunity to define their preferences. These can be cross-referenced with demographic and behavioural details in order to provide individualised content.

The goldilocks effect: email frequency

Engagement is not permanent, however. Although providing a dedicated welcome, and ensuring emails are personalised is a good start, brands should aim to create relevant emails in a consistent but not overbearing manner if they are to ensure long-term customer engagement. Defining the right email frequency is a delicate balancing act, and entirely dependent on the nature of the brand and its customer relationships. Too many emails may yield complaints of bombardment; too few and customers may begin to forget your brand. In order to get the best out of your email campaigns, the frequency of your interactions must be just right.

As a general rule, email frequency should be guided by the regularity and size of customer purchases. For example, the frequency of customer visits to a supermarket may necessitate weekly emails containing relevant offers. Conversely, a consumer technology company may be better sending monthly emails, as customers are more likely to make high-value purchases at an infrequent rate. 

Emails should adapt to their surroundings

In our always-on society, consumers receive and view emails across a variety of devices. As such, they expect email content and layouts to adapt seamlessly in accordance with their device preferences. This means it is essential for brands to design emails with optimisation and responsiveness in mind. While the overwhelming majority of brands (98%) ensure their emails are optimised for mobiles, just 22% ensure their emails are also responsive. 

Clarity of proposition is essential in an age when consumers receive dozens of brand messages every day. To cut through the noise, brands should pull out all the stops to ensure their presentation is as good as it can possibly be. This includes investing in the capacity to design responsive emails. Failing to develop a clear presentation leaves brands with the risk of falling at the first hurdle, and negating all the hard work that went into designing engaging content.

Email marketing is the most flexible channel for providing relevant content and engaging customers. If used effectively, email can cut through the noise and ultimately improve ROI. However, the UK’s top e-commerce brands are still failing to use email marketing to its full potential, despite rating it as their most effective channel. Considering this, we must ask ourselves just how much potential email has, particularly when it’s done right.