Contrary to your first impression, that this is simply an article that waxes lyrical about how email is dying or how social media has killed email, I wanted to talk about the very distinct possibility that in the near future, we’ll see the complete removal of the one-size fits all monthly newsletter from the marketing schedule.
Alarmist comment you might say, but just think about it for a second. Email marketing technology has evolved over the last 10 years to provide us with an ever increasing capability to deliver highly personalised and timely messages. Whilst brands have adopted its usage to varying degrees of success, the monthly newsletter is still regarded a staple part of any email marketing campaign. But does it still have any influence? Is it still considered a key part of customer/brand communications? Is our appetite for general news updates a thing of the past?
With investment in enterprise data warehousing, algorithmic real-time data access technologies and marketing automation platforms like Aprimo’s increasing, marketers are now empowered with the capability to harness big data to produce powerful, relevant, truly one-to-one communications. If you combine those technologies, with more a demanding customer set – you have to question whether the monthly newsletter is at risk of becoming redundant.
Here are five recent developments in the email marketing space which will make marketers question its relevancy and purpose in 2013.
1. Huge growth in trigger messaging
More and more user interactions are guided by event based email messages. Irrespective of whether you are a browser who has abandoned your shopping basket, registered for a free trial or completed a customer service survey after making an online purchase, marketers are seeing huge benefits in using trigger messages to deliver more timely one-to-one messages which address a specific user requirement.
2. XML or feed based content / news alerts
Enabling customers to build their own news alerts based on the topics and products which they are looking for has changed the perceived value of the traditional monthly/weekly newsletter. Whether it is news alerts created automatically via XML feeds or product updates based on information supplied by stock control systems, much of the traditional task of content selection and summary for many publishers has been removed. This has consequently empowered users to demand the information they want, when they want it.
3. Nurture and lifecycle management
Many brands now regularly deploy and manage nurture programmes and customer lifecycle communication strategies, which are designed to send a sequence of highly personalised messages, to engage users at various stages of the customer lifecycle. Brands have seen huge improvements in performance by being able to broadcast far more relevant and timely emails to specific customer segments according to their position in the buying cycle, their purchase history and product affinities. These are often triggered by a user’s particular behaviour (when browsers become active show signs of being in a position to purchase) or their customer status (i.e. when buying customers turn into lapsed customers).
4. Integrated multi-channel engagement
Email campaigns are very rarely planned in isolation of other marketing activities, since marketers understand that synchronising marketing campaigns across multiple channels can help to re-enforce the impact of their message and drive conversion. In the acquisition space, nearly all our email campaigns are integrated with other channels, most notably display, call centres and social media amongst others. In such circumstances, email plays a clearly defined role as part of the overall marketing effort.
5. Predictive offer selection
More and more companies are turning to technology to help them decide on the best offer to show to their users. In other digital channels such as display, we have seen the adoption of algorithm-based machine decision making, which selects the most appropriate offer to show to a particular user in real-time. The same functionality is being applied more and more across the email channel with templates being dynamically created and predictively modelled on a user’s previous purchase or browsing history.
So what does this mean for the newsletter?
With the email channel now fulfilling such a diverse and complex range of roles, the purpose of the humble monthly/weekly newsletter begins to look questionable. Marketers may even be asking the question ‘Why Bother?’ Greater contextual use of email means that the single ‘shot in the air’ approach is only likely to achieve sporadic performance and at worst user disengagement.
That’s not to say the newsletter is dead as such. Newsletters still have a role to play, from summarising the highlights of the week to collating the most popular product offers, but their role in the marketing mix is changing. Marketers need to ask themselves what exactly that role is and how valuable it is to their users’ requirements, particular in regards to rich, personalised, targeted email content, which is increasingly becoming a vital tool in influencing consumer behaviour.
Personalisation and segmentation may be becoming imperative features to a successful email programme, but marketers need to invest in the right tools to equip them with the ability to do so. With marketing departments under constant pressure to evaluate the value of their time investment in email marketing, the age old adage of relevance and timeliness has never been so important.