Email marketing, Social Media, Trends

The Secret Side of Email

The Secret Side of Email

Hardly a week goes by when someone isn’t proclaiming that email is dead. “E-mail a thing of past for business, young” [sic] declared a headline in the Boston Globe. Young people, the article goes on to claim, no longer use email, preferring to communicate via text messages and social networks. It brings to mind the Wall Street Journal article from four years ago stating that email is a thing of the past. “Email has had a good run as king of communications,” the article states, “but its reign is over.” If a person went by the news articles, it would seem as if we should have all stopped using email ages ago. Recent events prove otherwise, and suggest that some of these predictions could well have ulterior motives.

In January, 2013, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff was invited to appear on stage at the International CES, one of the largest consumer electronics shows in the world. “How are you connected with your customers, your partners, your employees,” he asked. “Email? Those days are over.” In the aforementioned Boston Globe article a couple months later, Anna Rosenman, the senior product marketing manager at Salesforce concurred with her boss: “Email is one-to-one communication, and that’s not how we need to be communicating.”

On second thought…

Then in May of 2013, Salesforce announced they were buying the email marketing provider, ExactTarget. Acquiring a company is no small task, and any responsible company is going to research their proposed acquisition thoroughly before following through with a purchase of this magnitude. These things take several months; sometimes years. While it’s possible that Mr. Benioff woke up the morning after the CES show and said, “Gee, I think I’ll acquire an email company,” and didn’t bother to tell his senior marketing manager, it seems unlikely. It’s far more probable that his and Ms. Rosenman’s talk about the death of email was a smokescreen to keep the competition off the trail. In that light, all the talk about email no longer being viable starts looking downright Machiavellian.

But Salesforce is, by no means, the only company to incorporate email marketing into their offerings. Oracle did it last December and Deutsche Post (DHL) joined the bandwagon a month after Salesforce. Suddenly it’s looking like a trend. So why all the sudden interest from these major players in email marketing systems?

It probably has something to do with the flood of recent surveys showing that email is not only alive and kicking, but thriving. According to Forrester, 25% of the adults online in the United States value email as a way to learn about products and promotions—up from 17% in 2010. Contrary to the reports that email use is waning, the Pew Research Center found that email is tied with search as the most popular online activity. A lot of press has been given to the idea of marketing via Facebook and Twitter, but according to Merkle’s 2011 View from the Inbox research study, 74% of adults still prefer email when it comes to communicating with brands.

The World Goes Mobile

Another factor in the rise of email’s effectiveness comes in the forms of tablets and smart phones. 72% of the respondents in Adobe’s 2013 Digital Publishing Report on Retail Apps & Buying Habits use their tablets to shop, and 71% of those say their decisions are influenced by company email, second only to recommendations by friends. Among smart phone users, a whopping 78% use their phones to check email, ahead of all other uses including making phones calls!

It should be no surprise, then, that Wired Online this month includes a story headlined, “Email Is Crushing Twitter, Facebook for Selling Stuff Online.” Based on data gathered by Custora, a marketing analytics company in New York, the article says that email far outpaces any of the social media when it comes to sales results. This is no small segment either. Custora’s data came from 72 million customers shopping on 86 different retailer sites—a mighty convincing sample.

The Obama Factor

It’s also probably no coincidence that this sudden rebirth of interest in email marketing software came after the 2012 presidential election. As we discussed in a previous blog post, Team Obama’s use of email was an important factor in Obama’s successful bid to retain the presidency. Obama was on Facebook and Twitter as well, but it was the email that received the most attention. More importantly, it also pulled in the most donations by a long shot—approximately $500 million.

So the next time you read somewhere that some big mucky-muck says that email is dead, give that person six months and ask again. The odds are good they’ll have a change of heart.

CRM, Deliverability, Email marketing, Social Media

I Want You, Not Facebook!

This is the second in series of articles about the use and abuse of social media in digital marketing. Today we will look at the practice of Facebook bait-and-switch, and why you should avoid it.

Facebook complaints

A trend we’ve seen recently is to use email to push for social site interactions. An email goes out offering customers a discount coupon, but when the recipients click on the link, they are taken to a Facebook page where they have to login or click “Like” to receive the coupon. Many people use social channels every day and are big fans, but a small percentage resist sharing their lives on social channels and do not want to be associated with a social site. Still others don’t mind using the social channels for personal communications, but refuse to connect to businesses. Sending these people to Facebook, Google+, or other sites will cause many to just ignore your offer and be frustrated that everything must be social.

Recipients expect active links in their email; it comes with the territory. What they don’t expect—and don’t like—is to be forced, without warning, to log into Facebook from a link for more information on your products or services. We’ve seen examples where a customer sent out invitations to a party event via email, but made the links go to a Facebook page. In some ways this is great marketing – as people confirmed they would be attending other people could see the growing list of attendees, and those that wanted to could comment. The problem was that not everyone wants to be sharing everything on Facebook, so many of the comments were angry customers asking why they had to use Facebook. Who knows how many non-Facebook users never even got that far. The company quickly backpedaled and provided a web page on their company site for people to go to (the link destination was changed on the fly, so recipients who were slower to click never saw the Facebook page).

A Facebook “Like” button in your email is still the best way to draw people to your Facebook page (ditto for Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+). If customers like what they read in the email, they can prove it by adding you to their Facebook list. From there it’s fine to reiterate the offer in the email and give them the opportunity to share it across their networks. Just remember that you’re still going to want them to get back to your website at some point. This eliminates the privacy concerns (both founded and unfounded), and, more importantly, it puts the analytic information back in your bailiwick instead of sharing it with Mark Zuckerberg. This also holds true for any ads that you’ve placed on Facebook. Link them back your site. Never forget that, regardless of Facebook’s marketing potential, people first and foremost consider it a place to contact friends, and not a place to listen to sales pitches.

Part One: Successful Social Media Tactics

Deliverability, Email marketing, Social Media

Successful Social Media Tactics

This is the first of a two-part series on social media and digital marketing. In this series, we’ll look at the advantages and disadvantages of using social media, and how to ensure your social media efforts don’t interfere with your email marketing efforts.

Facebook and email

Every day, it seems, a new channel pops up for marketers to use to get their messages out to the public. Many now use Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube (when video is applicable) to promote their products and services. Other sites such as Pinterest, Google+, and Foursquare are also gaining traction. Too often, though, marketers treat these various channels like baseball cards, trying convince the public to “collect ’em all.” To achieve this, marketers will use a teaser process to get people to connect to them on every channel. An email with a link to a coupon takes the recipient to the company’s Facebook page, where the person has to click the “Like” button to receive the coupon, and on the Facebook page, there is an announcement that you’ll have to follow them on Twitter to get special daily discounts.

There are, no doubt, a few people who enjoy this sort of scavenger hunt, but most people find it annoying. “Why can’t you just give me the coupon?” They wonder. The end result is frustration for the recipient and the potential to lose a customer you have worked hard to get. If they get a communication that says they should now sign up for a different channel to get what was offered in the first email, many people will feel frustrated, wondering why their chosen channel isn’t good enough. In our experience, emails sent to customers telling them to sign up on Facebook can lead to poor deliverability. They have higher complaint and unsubscribe rates, which leads the ISPs to direct more of your email to the junk folder. We’ve seen such a significant hit on deliverability that it can take several more engaging emails before the deliverability rates recover.

The customer that does sign up for all your social channels can also turn out to be more of a burden than a boon. If you are sending the same message in several channels, recipients may read the message in one channel, and not bother to look at it in the other channels. In the case of email, this means an email may get deleted without being opened, which the ISPs take as a sign that the recipient is not interested in receiving that email. If this continues long enough, the ISPs will take notice and start sending any new email from you directly to the junk folder. Additionally, many people will feel exhausted if the same message is delivered multiple times. Research indicates that most recipients don’t want frequent emails with the same basic content, but what if that message is magnified multiple times when the persons gets the email, but also one or more social sites, plus Twitter or other direct SMS? Clearly this will lead people to start tuning out on your message.

Different users like to be communicated with in different ways. Some people love social sites and don’t use email as much anymore. Others resist social sites and prefer the one-to-one communications of email. Whenever possible it is better to let the customers decide which channels works best for them. Communicate with people in the way they request, and don’t coerce them into changing channels or signing up for multiple channels.

Part Two: I Want You, Not Facebook!