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State of Email Marketing Strategy in the UK

A recent Plan to Engage & Pure360 survey (The current state of email strategy) of over 500 UK marketers revealed a lack of strategy and an over reliance on open rates as a metric in email marketing programmes:

  • 39% of marketers do not currently have an email strategy in place
  • 64% of marketers don’t currently offer any alternatives to the traditional unsubscribe process
  • 32% of marketers do not currently report on their email marketing
  • Almost half (44%) of marketers don’t segment their email list
  • 54% of marketers reporting that they do not currently use automated campaigns

I thought today I’d address three of these findings:

Strategy: objective setting seen as a luxury not a necessity
I teach hundreds of email marketers every year and in every class I am amazed at the percentage of email marketers who do not have a solid strategy in place. 

Email is a channel where setting objectives seems to be a luxury rather than a necessity. There are very few other channels where setting objectives and KPIs are not mandatory – in fact I’m struggling to think of any – other than email.

Setting objectives is where we must start – as it affects everything we subsequently do – from creating the strategy and identifying the tactics, to designing, copywriting and creating the landing pages to testing and optimising. Everything, maps back to our objectives – business objectives, email programme objectives and of course campaign objectives.

Personally I believe the lack of objective setting and strategy creation is down to the channel historically being seen as ‘cheap’. Happily this is changing year by year but we still are suffering the effects of this way of thinking. I believe a simple mindset change can be very effective in remedying this situation. 

If we were all to swap the phrase ‘cheap channel’ with ‘cost-effective channel’ then suddenly we’re taking into consideration the ROI, the traffic, the branding exposure, the customer retention and strengthening of customer relationships we gain from this channel – all for a small amount of investment. Words are very powerful and the word ‘cheap’ has a lot of negative connotations associated with it. The word ‘cheap’ indicates something we probably won’t value, invest into it or treat it well. ‘Cost-effective’ however brings it to light as being the valuable, essential channel that should be prioritised and invested into. A good start to the investment is by implementing a holistic strategy for your email marketing programme.

Reporting: an over reliance on open rates
This ties in with the lack of objective setting. Basically, if you don’t know what you want to achieve and have a strategy in place – how do you determine what to measure? Email Marketing is one of the most accountable and trackable channels – let’s take advantage of this! 

Even if reporting is undertaken, too many email marketers seem to be too much value on the open rate and use it as their main measure of success. But in reality, does the open rate map back to your objective and actually signify success? I truly doubt it.

Personally I think that the days of viewing the open rate as a valuable metric are dated. To me it has always been a messy metric, not at all reliable and generally not a good indication of success. It does not report how many people have read your email, rather it reports how many people have downloaded images on your email. So, because of this, many email marketers have been using it to gauge reader engagement, assuming that a reader is engaged with your email because they have downloaded images. To this extent, this was a fairly safe assumption – until recently.

In 2013, became and with that change, came also the automated downloading of images; recently Gmail has followed suit and is no longer blocking images but downloading them by default. Now, while this is wonderful news for our beautifully designed emails, it has made the open rate even more of a messy metric. No longer can we rely on it as being a measurement of engagement.

I would recommend that the reporting be structured to involve the metrics that truly indicate success according to your objective. That’s not to say that we ignore metrics such as opens or clicks, as there are insights that we can gain – not just on a campaign by campaign basis but on a subscriber reporting basis as well as in comparing year-on-year reports.

Unsubscribe: part of the customer journey
I believe we need to view everything to do related to our email programme as a journey, a journey that the customer takes. And yes, this journey may include them unsubscribing from our email programme. When I perform my email heath checks for my clients. I’ve discovered that many brands forget about optimising this step and just accept the basic process provided to them by their ESP. What they provide to you is just the start – not the end of optimising this process.

Not only is the unsubscribe process an opportunity to gather information about why they’re leaving (and hint – it isn’t always about your email programme! Sometimes it’s about a bad customer experience) or offer them the ability to opt down and stay subscribed.

But most importantly, if they decide that they really do want to leave, then this is your opportunity to let them leave you with a smile on their face, it doesn’t have to be a negative experience. So, our main aim here is to give them a positive experience so that if they want to subscribe at a later stage or follow us on social media, they’re more likely to want to.

Hubspot do a great job at conveying this message with their video – just watch and enjoy.


(article originally published on DMA  UK Email Marketing Councils, Infobox)

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