Budgets for email marketing are rising, but a new survey points out the need for some updates, particularly in the areas of mobility and testing.
With Mark Twain's birthday just passed, it seems an appropriate time to point out that, once again, the rumors of the death of email have been greatly exaggerated. Despite the growing focus on social media and related collaborative communications platforms, marketers still are finding great value in email, according to MarketingSherpa's recently released 2012 Email Marketing Benchmark Report.
Based on its survey of more than 2,700 email marketers, MarketingSherpa concluded that two-thirds of companies plan to increase their email marketing budgets for 2012. And many of those budgets are rising sharply, with half of companies expecting to beef up spending by at least 10 percent, and one out of five companies pumping 30 percent more into their email marketing.
But just because companies are spending more doesn't necessarily mean they're spending wisely. In fact, MarketingSherpa's findings indicate that many companies aren't evolving their email strategies to keep up with consumers' changing relationship with technology. Despite the increasingly real-time, personalized nature of digital communication (and the resulting influence on purchasing decisions), 20 percent of marketers still send out mass messages to their entire subscriber lists after their target dates, and with unclear target goals.
In other words, they're a dollar short and a day late, wasting their time and effort on emails that miss their windows of opportunity and fail to achieve desired results. Not exactly a recipe for success.
Another disturbing trend was evident in respondents' feedback on testing and optimization practices. Email marketers appear to flock around conventional wisdom even if it isn't so wise. Case in point: More than three out of five companies test message content despite the fact that only 25 percent report this to be effective; conversely, only three in ten companies experiment with target audiences even though 42 percent of companies get good results from that approach.
So what should email marketers learn from MarketingSherpa's findings? To start with, they clearly have to recognize changing consumption habits. With email giving way to social media as the preferred communication platform, consumers are not only making more spontaneous, real-time purchasing decisions, thus raising the importance of influencing them at the right moments, they're also spending less time looking at email, ratcheting up the need to grab their attention quickly and decisively.
This is obviously a concept that's taking time for email marketers to get their arms around, as shown by the fact that nearly half of all respondents said they could not segment their email lists based on recipients' device habits. This is clearly an area where serious improvement is in order if email marketers are to capitalize fully on the smartphone phenomenon.
Equally important, however, is the need for email marketers to think more creatively about how to maximize the effectiveness of their emails. Following the same tried-and-true testing methodologies simply isn't cutting it; rather, marketers who are more creative in the way they test and measure their campaigns are much more likely to discover strategies that can inject new life into their email marketing efforts.
Still, let's not ignore the positives. For instance, the MarketingSherpa report found that nearly two-thirds of CMOs looked to financial return on investment to determine the business value of their email marketing programs in 2011, whereas in previous years the emphasis was on post-click metrics such as lead generation and sales conversion, or performance metrics such as opens, click-throughs, and bounce rates.
Ideally, the increased focus on hard bottom-line numbers for guidance should steer CMOs toward addressing some of the mobility and testing shortcomings their email marketing initiatives have been demonstrating.
— Tony Kontzer is a freelance journalist who’s been writing about business and technology for nearly 20 years.
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