While many pundits over the years have declared email “dead,” the channel maintains its stronghold as the workhorse of modern marketing, delivering $39 per $1 spent on customer acquisition, according to the Direct Marketing Association.

And in a recent marketing technology report that focused on cost of ownership and return on investment (ROI), the data shows that low-funnel channels targeted for conversions produce the highest return, with good old-fashioned email sitting right at the top of the ROI tree.

While email is one of the most effective marketing channels, it hasn’t changed much in the past decade.

The proliferation of connected devices and associated deluge of data is creating tremendous opportunities for marketers to get to know their customers better and reach them in more engaging and relevant ways.

Using email as a data source

Through online preference centers, point-of-sale, loyalty programs, and other information sources, email marketers have a wealth of valuable data at their fingertips that provides information about a customer’s affinity for a brand. This year we will see email play a larger role as a data source to help marketers inform where their consumers are, how they’re feeling toward a brand, what they’re doing, and from what device they are interacting with the brand across all channels. To meet or exceed customer expectations, email marketers must reimagine how they use the channel to directly engage as well as inform communications in conjunction with all channels — including in-car, in-game, in-house, and beyond.

So, how can you reimagine email as part of your cross-channel marketing strategy to maximize the ROI of your campaigns? Below are three key areas of focus.


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Craft authentically engaging contextual emails

One way to accomplish this is to prioritize contextual analytics, the visual and invisible cues that make a message relevant to that person on a specific device at that particular time.

Imagine, for example, an unread offer for a discount on a new putter sitting in a customer’s inbox that has expired. Using contextual analytics, you can update the unopened offer in the inbox to provide a new, more enticing offer based on recent purchases or web behavior. Additionally, with the use of iBeacons, app data, and the customer’s permission, marketers can build a rich customer profile that offers insights into purchase history, shopping habits, and patterns.

For example, if a customer is on vacation, it does no good to activate an email campaign when they may be not be regularly checking their email. App data can retrieve a customer’s flight itinerary and location at a given time, so a marketer can make an informed decision to send a personalized offer at the right time for that customer.

Carry the conversation across multiple channels

Forrester recently reviewed 98 email campaigns across industries and found the majority of email campaigns were still one-directional — marketers pitching promotions rather than enabling conversations*.

As consumers begin to embrace a digital ecosystem of connected devices, they expect more intuitive actions from brands. For example, if a consumer is shopping online and recently purchased a sweater he or she has been eyeing for several weeks, he or she will expect ads for related items as they browse the Web, instead of ads for the sweater they’ve already purchased.

Having a dialogue with a consumer doesn’t mean you have to send more messages — you can carry a conversation simply by demonstrating an awareness of the consumers’ interests informed by data.

Engage in real time — on their time

email-time-zonesProviding real-time personalization in email is the best way to keep customers actively engaged with the brand.

Ideally, having the ability to leverage real-time data can help marketers ensure their customers are reading their emails in a customized and personalized format that is timely to customer behaviors. Unfortunately, not all marketers have the luxury of accessing multiple streams of contextual data, such as location, time, interests, demographics, previous purchases, etc. As the adage goes, timing is everything. If you’re an email marketer and face limitations or challenges with your traditional email service provider in customizing on these more granular levels, prioritize the time at which you deliver your email and ensure you’re hitting your consumers at a time that makes sense for them.

Marketers have more data than ever at their fingertips to help create individualized recommendations on the best time to send an email to a person based on time zones, previous engagement patterns, and open rates. The great thing about email is that it’s asynchronous — you don’t have to be online at the same time someone sends you an email in order to receive it in the way that you need to be on the phone simultaneously with another person in order to have a phone conversation. Yet if you deploy a global email campaign at once, consumers across the globe receiving your email at 2 a.m. local time will think you’re out of sync — or worse, never see or open your email because it has been buried by the morning emails.

 

Email is undergoing a renaissance as a direct result of the availability of data, and it remains one of the most personal, dynamic, and engaging touch points a customer has with a brand. However, these touch points rely on a marketer’s ability to identify where their customers are, what they are doing and how they are behaving over time. The marketers who revamp their strategy now to best leverage data within email but also to use email as a data source across the channels will win.

* Forrester applied its Email Marketing Review methodology to 98 email campaigns from the consumer goods, retail, travel, financial services, automotive, B2B, and media industries. Of the 98 campaigns, 94 failed the review. The biggest pain points across the board were the subscription process, sharing capabilities, mobile format support, and preference management. Though retail and consumer goods bested other industries, all industries have room to grow. See the June 20, 2014, “The Best And Worst Of Email Marketing, 2014” report.


Kristin-NaragonAs Director of Email Solutions globally, Kristin Naragon is responsible for driving business growth for Adobe in the email market. Naragon is a graduate of Harvard Business School and holds a Bachelor of Science in Marketing and Business Administration from Pennsylvania State University.