Stop Thinking Opens; Start Thinking Relationships and Purchases

As marketers look to evolve the role of email marketing, they must also reconsider how they use it to drive sales.

Nearly 40% of marketers polled cited number of opens as the top measure of email marketing success, according to a marketing trends survey recently released by Campaigner, the email marketing brand of j2 Global. Only 27% of respondents listed amount of revenue created as a top success measure.

“Too many email marketers look at email open rates as success. But the most important thing is generating [sales],” says Seamas Egan, associate director of j2 Global and manager of operations of the Campaigner brand. “A large segment of Internet retailers is still looking primarily at open rates. That is shocking to me.”

Although increased open rates may be atop marketers' performance wish list, a growing number of email marketers are relying on social media buy buttons to spur sales conversions. A little over a one fifth (22%) of those surveyed used buy buttons in social media in 2015, a figure that is expected to grow to 35% in 2016, according to Campaigner.

“Many of the social media platforms—such as Facebook and Pinterest—have added [buy buttons], but many marketers are unsure how [using them] would affect their strategy,” Egan says. He adds that, although brands' social media sites are gaining new subscribers all the time, the end goal isn't to gain subscribers, but to make sales. “The buy button is a great way to do that. It's another part of the email marketing funnel.”

In fact, more than two thirds of marketers polled reported seeing higher referral traffic from social media in 2015, with almost half of them attributing it to a higher social spend.

Another missed opportunity in terms of the email-social connection is the inconsistency of the customer experience. Many social media sites are highly visual—or are moving in that direction—but too many email marketers today target prospects with text-heavy newsletter content, rather than responding with visual content, Egan says.

If a prospect or customer comes to a brand from Pinterest or a similar visually intense site, marketers should respond in kind if they truly want to engage the consumer, Egan recommends. Considering that nearly 71% of marketers polled use newsletters in their content marketing strategies, creating a consistent experience between email and social has the potential to deliver a one-two punch that delivers knockout results.

Future shock

Another way marketers can improve the email customer experience is to make better use of predictive analytics, Egan says. This will help marketers deliver more precise, relevant messaging when it's most likely to drive customer action. Unfortunately, however, 80% of email marketers polled don't use predictive analytics today and 70% have no immediate plans to do so.

According to the survey, however, marketers are looking for segmented data on their target audiences (34%), industry verticals (19%), and existing customers (13%). In fact, two thirds of marketers believe that smaller, segmented data provides better insight for marketing strategy and execution than big data.

Deeper analytics also deliver essential insight; for example, analytics will show which email campaigns and which specific emails, sent to whom at what time and at what frequency lead to sales conversions—much more telling statistics than open rates, Egan says.

Marketers can also leverage analytic strategies to gain deeper insights into customers and establish more effective relationships to accomplish what they rank as their top two goals for 2016: attracting new customers (74%) and retaining current customers (40%), Egan adds.

Many respondents (44%) also think earning new subscribers will be their biggest challenge in 2016—though increasing open rates proved most challenging in 2015 for about half of marketers polled, according to the study. Creating compelling content (42%), increasing open rates (26%), and retaining current subscribers (24%) are other top challenges respondents expect to encounter in 2016.  

Another issue email marketers are facing? Significant changes to their role as the marketing landscape changes. The data shows that 70% of marketers see their role evolving this year to focus more on optimizing their website for individualized, personalized user experiences. Nearly half (46%) expect to see an increase in marketers' ownership of the customer experience, and almost a third (31%) foresee their role evolving into more of a marketing technologist.