In the 1990s people saw email as a somewhat novel way to communicate. Then the email blast was born, and public outcry led lawmakers to push back against waves of unsolicited commercial email with the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. Marketers have worked hard since then to earn the trust and attention of target audiences through their inboxes.
Today email is a pillar of B2B and B2C marketing. That's what studies confirm, particularly studies designed to explore questions such as: Do people still use email? Does email reach younger consumers? Even if it worked well in the past, will it work today and tomorrow?
Recent studies show that email's effectiveness continues to outperform other media in engagement and revenue generation.
Email Has Proven ROI, Remains the Most Preferred Channel
Email returned a median ROI of 122% according to a June 2016 survey of US marketers by Direct Marketing Association and Demand Metric. This is four times more effective than social media, direct mail, and paid search, the survey found.
Businesses are getting better at using email to drive revenue. In a December 2015 survey, 25% of marketers said email accounted for over a quarter of their revenue, up from 13% of marketers who said email drove the same amount of revenue in 2013.
Email remains a trusted channel of communication for consumers. People report that the most preferred channel for communication from a business is overwhelmingly email, regardless of recipient age. 72% of 1,251 US consumers surveyed by Adestra in 2016 said they prefer email communication from a business. Even 67.6% of teens aged 14 to 18 said email was their preferred choice for communication from a business.
Few people choose to do without email. Among all those aged 14 to 18, only 5% said they rarely use email. In fact, 73% of teens and 77% of those 19 to 24 said they need it for daily life.
Another important observation of the Adestra survey: The majority of teens and young people up to age 34 filter and sort email on their devices, deciding on their phones what to read now, later, or delete.
Most consumers say they sign up for email to get discounts -- 85% say this is their top reason. However, the next largest set, 41%, say they sign up to get updates about products or services. This indicates a good opportunity for brands to generate content to support interest in updated information.
Marketers Can Measure Effectiveness in New Ways
Marketers have learned to improve email results largely by measuring and tracking interactions with subscribers. Among the most popular metrics that email marketers analyze are click through rate, conversion rate, ROI and open rate.
Metrics such as open rates, click through rates and unsubscribe rates are usually easy to see in automated reports. But experts say these are not really the most valuable ones to follow when assessing email campaign effectiveness.
According to Hubspot, data about open rates may not be as helpful as they seem, because numbers may not be accurate. The open rate is intended to measure the percentage of recipients who open a given message.
Data accuracy is a challenge because the technology only counts a message as opened if the receiving device displays images. If the images are not delivered -- which happens on plain-text devices, and for users who prefer to block images on mobile devices -- an un-knowable number of opens won't count.
Unsubscribe rates may also be less meaningful than marketers think. Many subscribers who don't click or open emails simply choose to ignore them, rather than unsubscribe. While the unsubscribe metric is useful for determining list growth, it may not serve as well as other metrics to help companies measure and improve engagement.
What else to measure depends on the marketing goals, and who you ask. For example, Steven Macdonald of Superoffice, a CRM service provider, recommends two more types of metrics to help measure effectiveness.
Macdonald suggests looking at data that measure the interactions between the email message and website, specifically:
1) Bounce rate on email landing pages. Google Analytics can report bounce rates on the landing pages for your email campaigns. A high bounce rate may signal the campaign and the landing page messages need better alignment.
2) Revenue per email and conversion rate. Google Analytics can help businesses track how much revenue and web traffic comes from email. SmartInsights and CampaignMonitor are among companies offering articles to help set up dashboards and advanced segments to measure these factors.
The Next Wave of Email Marketing Innovation
Email service providers are developing technologies that collect new metrics. For example, senders can measure the amount of time a subscriber has an email message open, depending on the email service used.
Given that so many subscribers check email on mobile devices, whether emails get read at all is often a factor of whether they display properly.
Looks matter: 79% of readers aged 56-67, and 68% of those under 34 delete or unsubscribe from mobile email that doesn't look good on their devices, the Adestra survey found.
Evolving email technology is helping marketers meet the challenge of displaying as desired across many different devices.
Matthew Smith, founder of the email design hub Really Good Emails, confirms that flexible design is among the next wave of innovations for email. Providers will move away from code-based systems to provide "modular templates with meaningful content components. Fewer decisions and less time will be needed in the design of emails as the focus will shift to creating more meaningful content," says Smith.
Data Driven Email Marketing is the Way of the Future
Among several predictions experts make for 2017, data will play a greater role in email content and customization. Real-time email will deliver relevant content using contextual data, drawn from sources including location information, weather, type of device, or news conditions such as stock market changes or twitter trends, predicts emailmonday.
Marketers know that targeting emails to the most relevant recipients, and personalizing the email for each subscriber improves engagement. "With so much data and content, marketers will look to machines" to match subscribers with content, according to emailmonday's 2017 trendbook summary.
Despite many changes in technology and decades of use, email marketing continues to evolve and remain effective. Marketers seek to continue adapting it, rather than leave it behind. They will look to automating ways to personalize and make designs responsive to their customers' devices. As long as senders direct innovations to improve the user experience, email is likely to remain a marketing success story for the foreseeable future.
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