Fake news, ad blockers and less robust reporting metrics from social media sites are just a few of the reasons why marketers are putting more resources into email marketing to reach their customers. In this landscape, businesses may find that they need to do more to inspire customers to open and respond to their messages.
Yet before I dig into how to help you effectively reach customers through email marketing, let's take a closer look at six reasons why the inbox may rule small business in 2017.
6 Drivers Behind the Resurgence of Email
1. Fake news. The proliferation of fake news sites—those that intentionally publish propaganda and disinformation to boost social sharing and drive website traffic—has made some consumers think twice about the source of the content they're consuming. Since email marketing is permission-based, the customer usually already knows and trusts the source of the message. This can be an upside for smaller businesses because they can engage customers on a more personal level.
2. Ad blockers. The use of ad blockers is steadily rising, especially on mobile devices. The November 2016 Page Fair report "Adblocking Goes Mobile" reported mobile ad-blocking grew by 102% during 2015. Anecdotally, I've found that the increased use of ad blockers is leading marketers to carefully evaluate the return on investment (ROI) from each channel—email continues to come out on top.
3. More inboxes. The eMarketer report “Email Marketing Benchmarks 2016: Relevancy, Frequency, Deliverability and Mobility" discusses the current state of email. Email's performance metrics and trends serve to make email more relevant to customers, according to the report. The report estimates that the number of email users will go from about 240 million in the U.S. in 2016 to over 259 million by 2020.
4. The lack of transparency in reporting engagement on social media. With email, marketers can typically see the direct correlation in their outreach to customers and the customer's response because they can see who opened, shared and clicked through the content. This transparency isn't always clear with other channels if there are multiple touch points when it comes to reaching the customer online.
5. Better email marketing platforms. Email marketing platforms continue to evolve, making it easier to segment lists for personalized messages, automate campaigns to save time and send messages when customers are actively online to boost response rates.
6. The growing trend toward monetizing website traffic through niche newsletters. The New York Times and Washington Post are two examples of publishers that are monetizing their web traffic through e-newsletters. Specifically, they're sending newsletters that appeal to segments of their audience such as readers of their cooking, media or travel sections. There's no reason why smaller publishers or small businesses couldn't adopt the same idea and boost engagement through even more personalized content and offers.
Effectively Reaching Customers Through Email Marketing
Given these factors, marketers will see opportunities and challenges in 2017 as they compete for mindshare in the inbox. Here are four ways for businesses to help break through the noise.
1. Follow the opt-in rules of engagement. By now, most people understand that email is a permission-based marketing channel. Still, names may sometimes get automatically added to lists when marketers mistakenly assume they have the customer's permission based on a visit to their website or a recent purchase.
Instead, ask for permission first. Think of it from the customer's point of view: They already get enough email. If they're not expecting to hear from you, they may overlook your message. Another reason is that you could be reported for spam. When this happens, there's the potential for all your marketing emails to be flagged and sent directly into a spam filter or the trash.
2. Anticipate more activity on mobile. In a November 2016 report, email testing and marketing analytics company Litmus looked at more than 1 billion opens "collected worldwide with Litmus Email Analytics" during October 2016. Of those emails, more than half were opened on a mobile devices.
So when it comes to creating email marketing campaigns, you may want to make them mobile friendly—your audience is likely to be reading your message on a smartphone. This includes using short copy and enabling fast downloads so customers can easily grasp the meaning of your message and act on it.
Another factor to plan for is the steadily increasing click rates on mobile devices. For example, an internal report from Constant Contact found there were 57 percent more email opens on mobile devices in the U.S. than on desktops on Black Friday 2016. As consumers take more action on smartphones, consider building mobile campaigns with a single call to action, big buttons to accommodate fingers and secure one-click transactions that make it easy to pay or register for an event.
3. Mix content using a variety of tools across different platforms. It's getting even easier for marketers to create turn-key campaigns without compromising the quality or personalization of their content.
New email functionality can make it easy to use “content blocks" that instantly populate a newsletter with specific actions for readers to take. Also, automated emails that recognize a customer's birthday or anniversary are simple ways to stay top of mind without adding more to your to-do list. Along with these tips, consider mixing things up with different types of content such as video or links to podcasts.
4. Tailor your email lists. Just because there will be more email addresses, it doesn't necessarily equate to more opportunity. A key to successful email marketing is engaging customers on a personal level with content and offers that appeal to their particular interests and needs.
To help achieve high levels of engagement, email marketers may want to consider diligently managing and cleaning their lists. This, too, is an area where smaller businesses can set themselves apart from large chains. It may be easier for smaller businesses to segment their lists and continuously refine them based on personal engagement with customers.
Email remains among the fastest and most direct paths to engaging customers. As we enter 2017, competition may heat up for your business. Businesses that understand the needs of their customers and can deliver personalized experiences to the inbox may see gains for their efforts.
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