In email marketing, trends and buzzwords come and go. Topping the chart today is “engagement.” This trend is so big, says Marketo, it should replace the term email marketing. “It’s time to move beyond the term email marketing,” says Marketo. “The future lies in engagement marketing.”
The idea that engagement is the key to email marketing is being touted by experts of all stripes. Mike Veilleux of Dyn, for example, puts user engagement atop his list of the five hottest trends in email marketing, while Penny Baldwin-French of Whitespace says the pursuit of engagement is “the key to marketing.” Lyris, Experian and Silverpop all cite engagement as the key to deliverability and overall success.
The importance being placed on engagement is being driven by a number of factors: the collapse of the marketing funnel, the diminishing effectiveness of batch email blasts, the growing sophistication and expectations of prospects and the emergence of intelligent email inboxes.
These factors are behind two separate but related goals that engagement is being called on to accomplish: 1) to aid email deliverability and 2) to captivate consumers and win their business. Most experts tend to lump these two goals together when arguing the need for engagement.
Engagement Drives Deliverability
For email marketers, getting to the inbox is the first concern. As Tim Roe of Redeye International points out, ISPs are helping recipients to prioritize their inboxes, while enabling them to de-prioritize and block emails they find unappealing. Because of this, engagement has become critical-so much so, says Roe, the degree of engagement with your contacts should determine how your entire e-marketing communications strategy is structured.
Experian agrees, asserting “email engagement is now more important than ever.” Not only does email engagement prove your subscribers are interested in your brand and the content you are delivering, says Experian, it also plays a significant role in email deliverability. No longer can marketers blast their lists with irrelevant messaging without experiencing negative consequences, both from customers and ISPs, says Experian.
Similarly, Lyris asserts that “subscriber engagement with your email messages has never been a more critical factor.” As Lyris explains, ISPs are using engagement as a key metric to measure how well your email is performing in terms of opens, clicks, replies, stars and moves to other folders. A poor engagement rate could cause your email to end up in the spam folder rather than the inbox.
How to Engage
To engage successfully, marketers must provide content that is useful and informative, which is another way of saying the information must be relevant. To achieve this goal, email marketers must become adept at content marketing. As the Content Marketing Institute explains:
Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience-with the objective of driving profitable customer action.
Key to this practice is the oblique manner in which consumers are engaged. Basically, says the Content Marketing Institute, content marketing is the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without directly selling. Or as Lyris explains it, “Email content that the recipient finds useful and desirable enough will do well, while marketing-only material may fail.”
Content that prospects find relevant and engaging can take many forms. Heike Baird suggests engaging by featuring how-to’s, FAQs and thought leadership in your emails. Studies have shown free offers, discounts, non-cash rewards and other incentives have high success rates. Lyris suggests sending special offers, discounts and free content to recipients just for receiving your email.
Penny Baldwin-French of Whitespace touts storytelling as the key to engagement. “If you tell your story with your own voice and remember to integrate your values,” she says, “you will have a strong recipe for customer engagement.”
Content expert Brendan Dell agrees, citing a survey of more than 740 technology marketers by Holger Schulze that showed storytelling is the single most important element of effective content marketing. “Give buyers engaging, compelling, thoughtful stories, and they will gladly give you their attention, respect and business,” says Dell.
Segment and Personalize
Many experts see list segmentation as the key to engagement. Among them is Silverpop, which advises marketers to “drill down through your database to identify and tag as many specific data points as you can and segment your list by industry, geography, interests, assets, gender, age, income, current products, goals, needs and more.” The more data points you classify, says Silverpop, the more targeted your messaging will be and the higher your reader engagement quotient will rise.
Brennan Carlson, SVP of products and strategy at Lyris, agrees. Those marketers who figure out how to use the trove of available data to deliver more relevant and personalized content will reap the rewards, he says, explaining that the ability to capitalize on data to develop “smart messages” will separate the winners from the losers.
Whichever formula or approach you use, putting relevant content in front of the appropriate audience is the tactic that works best for email marketers, according eMarketer’s findings. eMarketer cites a survey by Ascend2 that showed B2C and B2B marketers worldwide considered creating relevant and compelling content the most effective tactic, as well as the greatest challenge. “If marketers can create strong content,” says eMarketer, “they believe it really does work at converting consumers.”
Net Atlantic agrees, touting relevance as the key to subscriber retention and engagement. You increase engagement, says Net Atlantic, through segmenting your list and sending relevant targeted marketing communications based on user behavior, profiles or demographics-in real-time.
Don’t Lose Sight of Hygiene
A constant amidst all this change is the importance of maintaining quality data and practicing list hygiene. As ISPs continually improve their ability to determine what email people want and what they don’t, says email expert Ken Magill, list hygiene will be increasingly critical. In fact, by neglecting list hygiene, he says, marketers will be leaving money on the table.
Removing inactive recipients is a way to improve engagement. However, in pruning your list, Magill advises, be careful not to eliminate dormant customers who remain potential buyers; the trick is to check their history and remove only those who have never been active.
Do you know how many inactives are on your list? Submit up to 1,000 email addresses using our free Email Validation report!
Photo Credit: Tim Parkinson