• March 13, 2015
  • By Loren McDonald, vice president of industry relations, Silverpop

Content (and Data) Is King of Email Marketing

In 2015, marketers will leverage the power of data to revolutionize email marketing—enabling them to deliver more tailored content to customers than ever. An increase in touch points across the Web, as well as mobile and social channels, means that marketers have more knowledge at their fingertips, and with that knowledge behind their content, can build stronger relationships with customers. Utilizing data helps marketers create targeted, personalized content that cuts through inbox clutter, as more traditional promotional emails continue to pile up in unread folders.

According to Return Path's "Inbox Placement Benchmark Report," promotional messages account for nearly 54 percent of the average consumer's emails, so marketers need to evolve content beyond the generic offers that clog inboxes. To engage with today's customers, email marketing leaders should implement a content marketing strategy—not just an email marketing strategy.

Engaging, relevant, and nonpromotional content gives marketers the opportunity to represent their brand in a new way and provide additional value to the relationship. In 2015, triggered and "white space" emails, or nonpromotional messages that provide some breathing room between marketing emails, will be part of a successful email marketing strategy, and while they seem strategic opposites, when combined, they create a rich, personalized experience for contacts.

Triggered emails—automated messages that deploy based on a customer taking a particular action or nonaction—are just the beginning of how data can transform email marketing. Driven by simple data on behavior or demographics, triggered emails can be sent with everything from browse abandonment reminders to "happy birthday" messages to product recommendation emails. And because these triggers are based on attributes or behaviors specific to the recipient, they have a greater chance of being opened. In fact, the 2014 Silverpop "Email Marketing Metrics Benchmark Study" found that transactional messages, which are triggered automatically by behaviors such as purchases or account activity, had a unique open rate of 37.7 percent, compared to their nontransactional counterparts, which had a unique open rate of just 20 percent.

In addition, white space emails with fun, nonsales content can help marketers truly engage with customers and help create loyalty. The most successful email marketers focus on what their brand means to the customer, rather than the product they are trying to sell. For example, a clothing company can send messages on the hottest accessory trends for the season, providing valuable information to the contact and making it a resource in the customer's eyes.

In addition, the post-purchase experience will become even more important in 2015, and marketers will have the tools to deliver tailored messages that can extend the customer experience beyond the store or online shopping experience. Greater access to behavioral data means retailers can react to customers in near-real time based on purchase behaviors. Automated, post-purchase support emails and targeted messages based on purchase, survey, and behavioral data enhance customer relationships, and make the buyer feel supported after the purchase.

Of course, there are a lot of other post-purchase email options to choose from—cross-sell, upsell, product review request, bounce back, replenishment reminder messages, and more. By enhancing an email strategy with these types of personalized content, marketers will be able to increase contact and improve customer experience, without causing email overload.

Thanks to the explosion in analytics, marketing itself is becoming more of a science than an art, and email marketing strategy and content is no exception. Today's consumer demands to be treated as an individual and receive relevant, customized communication and offers all year round, and data gives marketers the power to provide this.

There has been a shift in consumers' response to data and personalization, as they begin to trust and see the value of sharing their data. In fact, by 2017, 80 percent of consumers will collect, track, and barter their personal data for cost savings, convenience, and customization, according to Gartner. Shifting to data-driven email allows marketers to send more relevant messages, and react to customer behavior and outside trends seamlessly across channels.

To drive this level of personalization, capturing insights from interactions across all touch points has become a priority. It's important to gather data on how customers like to interact with email—whether on a desktop or mobile device—and to customize everything from formatting to send times. Mobile communication will become increasingly important as it emerges as one of the most popular ways to view emails and shop. In fact, during the 2014 holiday season, mobile traffic accounted for 45 percent of all online traffic, according to the "IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark." If retailers aren't personalizing their email communications based on their customers' device usage, they're missing opportunities to engage and convert sales.

Data-driven email content will leave customers feeling connected and satisfied and allow marketers to collect even more valuable data for future content development. Marketers that utilize a data-driven email strategy in 2015 can expect to see greater customer engagement, loyalty, and, ultimately, sales.

Loren McDonald is the vice president of industry relations at Silverpop, an IBM company.

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