The email deliverability landscape has changed along with the rise of digital channels, and engagement with email messages has been less than outstanding recently. Return Path, the email certification and reputation monitoring company, recently released its Global Email Deliverability Benchmark report, which found that worldwide inbox placement rates declined sharply in the second half of 2011. For the past three years, email deliverability has stayed at around 80 percent, with one in five emails being delivered to the spam folder or blocked. But now, commercial email senders are seeing that number decline, with only 76.5 percent of email being delivered to inboxes globally.
It's clear that as mobile and social channels have gained in popularity, email delivery and open rates have declined. Last year, the Direct Marketing Association economic impact study found that email marketing returned $40.56 for every dollar spent on it. That's significantly less than the estimated $52.23 returned for every dollar spent on email marketing in 2006. And that number is expected to fall each year, reaching new lows of $39.40 returned for every dollar spent in 2012 and $35.02 returned for every dollar spent in 2016. The rapid adoption of mobile devices is having a negative effect on customer engagement and email marketing ROI, although marketers who invest more time into monitoring engagement will likely achieve a higher ROI for each email sent.
Because companies are engaging with customers in multiple ways, the old measures of engagement—clicks, conversion, etc.—are no longer adequate. Many marketers currently look at Web site click-track data in combination with email disposition, click-through, and conversion rates. But in order to accurately measure customer engagement, marketers need to go further than those two sources and look at multiple data sets across a variety of channels.
The same kind of log file or recipient/response data needs to collected, measured, and acted on from mobile and social channels as with email channels. Visibility into what mobile devices and platforms customers are using is important for reasons that go beyond the user experience. For instance, email marketers can send individual offers that are targeted and customized for specific devices or platforms to increase engagement (exclusive offer for iPad users!). Therefore, marketers need visibility into operating systems (Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, etc.) and the Web mail platform through which recipients are accessing email whenever possible. Similarly, if incorporating mobile SMS text into a marketing mix, tracking delivery reports is every bit as important as tracking email clicks, opens, bounces, etc. In a world where email engagement rates are no longer stable, and conversion does not always occur with customers clicking through to a Web site, having an integrated email and SMS data viewing capability is necessary.
In addition to monitoring engagement through new data sources, marketers need to focus on supporting customer conversations—having a two-way dialogue rather than one-way monologue—in order to improve engagement. Increasingly, successful engagement will depend heavily on a company's ability to respond to message-based intelligence in real time. This includes having the ability to generate transactional notifications or messages based on online actions that provide recipients with choices for follow-up actions. At the same time, consumers are becoming accustomed to using email and text messaging to prompt actions or source information from the companies they do business with (for example, texting short codes to enter contests or "BAL" to the bank to get an account balance). This kind of two-way messaging enables customers to carry on conversations with companies, yet it's highly dependent on a number of technical factors, including sophisticated messaging capabilities and tight integration between messaging platform and back-end data sources.
Overall, as mobile devices change the way customers communicate, companies will face increasing difficulties reaching out to and engaging customers through conventional methods like email marketing. The fact is that customers now communicate through a variety of message channels (text, IM, Twitter, social channels, etc.) based on preferences that change all the time. To accommodate this new kind of communication style, companies need to be able to successfully engage customers through these channels on their terms and based on their preferences. Today, a reinvigorated email marketing campaign is actually a part of a larger multichannel/multidevice campaign, and the result is a higher level of engagement with customers.
Carrie Scott is the director of product marketing at Message Systems, where she is responsible for devising strategic marketing plans in support of product launches, new content, and event participation. Previously she drove the direct marketing initiatives at companies including Adobe and Roxio.