Written by Emilija Jurgulyte
Email marketing is one of the most powerful tools in marketing communication that emerged a couple of decades ago. It has deep roots in the traditional marketing environment as the email marketer is the one who shapes the brand message in a way he or she wants and sends it out to the desired customers in the form of an email, or so called newsletter. Email marketing is highly associated with customer loyalty, as only the customer who is truly interested in the brand mostly makes the decision to subscribe to the newsletter. However, the digital world does not look the same now as it did a decade or even 5 years ago. The technologies are continuously advancing, which signals to the email marketers that the old email marketing strategies should also get modified for today’s customer.
The Nature of Email Marketing
Email marketing can simply be defined as the promotion of products and services through the use of email (Marketing Terms, n.d.). It emerged in the late 90s and early 2000s as an inexpensive and user-friendly digital marketing channel (Eichner, 2015). Newsletters are used for a number of different purposes, such as sharing information about products, services and promotions, building brands awareness and directing customers to websites (Merisavo & Raulas, 2004).
One of the main email marketing benefits is its positive effect on customer loyalty, which consequently has a positive relation to the company’s performance (Merisavo & Raulas, 2004). Merisavo and Raulas (2004) also hint that a regular contact with customers helps to build such loyalty. Therefore, the more frequent and recent a customer purchases a product or responds to a newsletter message, the more loyal such a customer becomes (Merisavo & Raulas, 2004). Moreover, as studies show, a customer who voluntarily subscribes to the email is more willing to purchase the brand and change his or her opinion towards that brand. Thus the subscription to the newsletter reflects the customer’s interest in the brand and its history (Flores, Muller, Agrebi & Chandon, 2008). Therefore, a highly loyal customer would be the one to sign up for a newsletter and bring a positive performance to the brand.
Email Marketing Position Today
Due to the maturity of Web users and technology in the newly emerging Web 2.0 era, the traditional use of email marketing has been in need of adaptation in order to be used as a communication strategy any further. The email marketers who do not incorporate the new media features into their email marketing strategies would risk having negative effects to their companies.
A conceptual framework of Hennig-Thurau, Malthouse, Friege, Gensler, Lobschat, Rangaswamy and Skiera (2010) could be used to describe the media changes in today’s marketing environment. As per this framework, companies continue serving messages using the traditional marketing, but also through the new media. Marketers should learn how new media affects the consumption of the traditional one, its demand of the new media content and what modifications for the traditional media are needed (Hennig-Thurau, Malthouse, Friege, Gensler, Lobschat, Rangaswamy & Skiera, 2010). Considering this framework and the fact that the technologies are much more advanced today, email marketers should think of modifications in the traditional email marketing and adjustments to the new media environments.
New Email Marketing Tools to Adapt
One can say that the conceptual framework mentioned above has practical implications. Since the old email marketing strategies need to be modified for today’s trending customers, the tools that each email marketer should apply to their old strategies are suggested and outlined below.
One of the biggest benefits that today’s technology has brought is the possibility for the marketers to narrow the segments down into the target specific audiences (Pophal, 2015). The Web makes all sorts of customization possible; each newsletter can be customized according to the customer’s preferences, age, profession, behavior and so on. Thus the marketers have capabilities to provide unique messages that are relevant to each customer. In addition, such customization of information can be done quickly and inexpensively (Ansari & Mela, 2003).
Customization undoubtedly draws customer attention and fosters the customer loyalty. Moreover, targeted communication helps customers with decisions and reduces an unnecessary overload of information (Ansari & Mela, 2003). Given this, one can state that it is important for the email marketers to take the advantage of today’s Web technologies and explore the capabilities of the targeting tools.
2. Marketing Automation
The second tool for the marketers to consider is marketing automation, which, in fact, is becoming more and more popular nowadays. Marketing automation is described as technology, which helps to generate leads through automated email marketing campaigns (Marketo, 2013). With the help of this tool, the marketers can make in depth analyses on the open rates, click through rates and the overall leads through the entire buying cycle. This undoubtedly helps to boost the performance (Marketo, 2013).
In addition, after the analyses on various data about the customer’s shopping journey are made, a newsletter with perfect content can be sent to each individual customer. The content contains promotional offers for similar products that the customer purchased before (Pophal, 2015). Steve Susina, marketing director at LYONSCG, suggests that every email marketer is to take advantage of the advanced technologies and prioritize the implementation of marketing automation into the markets’ strategies (Pophal, 2015).
3. Social Media
One of the most important concerns regarding the usage of traditional email marketing strategies is related to the increasing popularity of User Generated Content (UGC) on social media. Studies show that Firms Generated Content (FGC) works synergistically with email based marketing communication and that customers who are more tech-savvy and prone to social media have a greater affect on FCG (Kumar, Bezawada, Rishika, Janakiraman & Kannan, 2016). Even though the effect of FCG on customers is positive, one can predict that the email marketers are missing out on a big number of potential email subscribers, as social media is more and more popular nowadays. There is a risk that the UGC users simply dislike the newsletters as there is no room for them to express and share their opinions to what they are mostly used to today.
With the continuous increase of UGC on social media, email markets should consider social media “implication” into the email marketing strategies. One of the ways to make email marketing more UGC friendly is to implement the “share buttons” to the newsletters. In this way any email could be shared on different social networks, which would consequently foster communication amongst the customers. Another way would be making the use of the increasingly popular hashtags. It would be recommended to add the hashtags into the content of the email, which could easily be afterwards shared in the social networks. Such strategies would encourage customers to share the newsletters and talk about the promotions, events and other news provided in the content with their peers.
4. Mobile Optimization
The usage of mobile devices has become increasingly popular nowadays and one could even claim that mobiles are taking over desktops today. For this reason, Kaila Garrison, head of product marketing at Oracle Responsys, recommends a marketer to start firstly thinking of mobile and desktop secondly, otherwise, he or she would be left behind (Rowe, 2016). Studies even show that about 53% of emails are open on mobile devices today (Campaign Monitor, n.d.). Thus as Eichner (2015) suggests, marketer should “think small to win big in the new email marketing game” (Eichner, 2015, p. 19).
Given today’s analytical tools, markets can easily track the devices that their customers use the most. One of the suggestions to the marketers would be to optimize emails by implementing the responsive design. Such implementation ensures that the newsletters appropriately fit all kinds of devices, including mobile. In this way, the marketer could feel safe about his or her email being opened on any device.
The last but not the least important feature for the marketers to adapt to is the tracking tools. In fact, this advice is highly relevant to all the above as they all require some degree of analytics and tracking. Various platforms open up the oceans of different data that can be collected and analyzed from many angles. A marketer can pull out various results, starting with the customer’s age and finishing with his or her daily behavior. Tracking is a highly efficient tool, which requires relatively low investment and resources; therefore, one could conclude that there is no reason why marketers should not make use of them.
Email Marketing Risks Today
There are risks that any email marketer should consider in today’s clash of traditional and modern email marketing. First of all, as most newsletter subscribers are prone to social media, one could guess that the email marketing managers who have products and services targeted to the younger audience have less chance of getting the customers to sign up for the newsletters.
Secondly, next to search, email is one of the most popular online activities (Hennig-Thurau, Malthouse, Friege, Gensler, Lobschat, Rangaswamy & Skiera, 2010), which signals that customers are overwhelmed daily with the amount of emails that they receive. Therefore and unfortunately, a number of newsletters that arrive to their inboxes often end up as unread and in the trash boxes. This leads to the emails un-subscription, which, in fact, is just as easy to do as the subscription.
Finally, there are technological constraints such as spam, broken links and broken images in newsletters. Such obstacles are still the reality in today’s email marketing and could lead to the newsletters un-subscription and negative image for the company.
Email marketing is not the same as it used to be when it got introduced, in the late 90s, and it is not the same as it used to be even 5 years ago. Due to the technology maturity, the old email marketing strategies have to be modified in order to be effective for today’s customer. The conceptual framework drawn by Hennig-Thurau, Malthouse, Friege, Gensler, Lobschat, Rangaswamy and Skiera (2010), comes in handy as it proves that the traditional marketing has to be adapted to the new media environment.
Considering the practical implications of this framework, one can say that the marketer should review the old marketing tools and align them with the modern ones. To do so, there are 5 email-marketing tools trending today, outlined and strongly advised for implementation. First of all, it is suggested to start doing email personalization through narrowing down the segments into the target specific audiences. Secondly, marketers should go deeper with personalization and implement marketing automation. Thirdly, as UGC on social media is extremely popular today, it is suggested to make the newsletters social media friendly. Fourthly, marketers should consider using the responsive design to their email templates in order to make them optimized for all devices; especially mobile. Finally, it is important that managers use the full potential of all kinds of tracking and analytical tools. The implementation of these email-marketing tools would potentially not only have a positive affect on the company’s performance, but also increase the customer loyalty.
From the discussion above, one can see that email marketing is continuously evolving due to the advancing technology and changes in Web users; it is not the same as it used to be once it emerged. Giving this observation, one could guess that email marketing will not look the same in the next 5 years. This raises questions which could lead to future discussions: How and what technologies will change in the near future? How will the further technological changes affect email marketing? What further actions should marketers bear in mind?
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