Komal Helyer
Komal Helyer 11 March 2020

Marketing 2020: The State of Play in Email

As the technological world we live and work in continues to evolve, there seems to be new ways to engage customers at every turn. But for marketers, the hype around these new platforms available shouldn’t distract them from the central digital channels that still resonate with their target audience. Whether consumers are considering making a purchase, have just made one or are simply in need of some help along the way, the latest figures from the DMA highlight email’s ability to help brands engage at every point along the customer journey.

Email remains a powerful marketing communications channel. But it is still important to understand some of the key challenges marketers face in an increasingly connected world; such connectivity is leading to new behaviours and preferences when it comes to email, and levels of consumer reassurance in regulations like GDPR to protect their data remains static since last year. As such, marketers must address these key areas to retain email’s position as the central threat around which a successful multi-channel experience can be built.

The current landscape

According to the findings within the latest DMA report, email remains the preferred channel for consumers across the full customer journey. This is despite findings from the DMA’s Customer Engagement: Acquisition and the Consumer Mindset report, which found that social media has overtaken email for the first time among customers aged 18-24.

In fact, the latest report discovered that email is chosen almost twice as much by consumers as being the best channel across a range of contexts including offering discounts, providing advice and information and appointment reminders - with 46% preferring it compared to 26% for post and 24% for text or face to face.

The only areas where another channel is clearly preferred to email is for advice and information or tutorials, where face to face is preferred by 39% of those surveyed (compared to 32% for email). This mirrors a broader trend in recent years for human contact when it comes to customer engagement and there being an issue or need for a more nuanced conversation.

These nuances for channel preference along the customer journey are important; it’s clear to see that preferences can change depending on where in the purchase journey the customer is.

While email is one of the most preferred methods of communication with brands, it’s notable to see within the findings that 1 in 5 of all email users (23%) appear to use an additional email address to receive some or all marketing messages. 11% have an address they tend to use for all marketing emails they receive, while 12% only allow brands they trust into their primary personal email address and use another account for other marketing messages.

Interestingly, the number of emails consumers believe that they receive is continuing to reduce year on year since GDPR came into force, and the proportion of consumers who believe that over half of the emails they receive are marketing messages stands at 56% (up from 55% from last year). The key to consumers opening one of these marketing messages was found to be ‘recognising the brand’ (55%) and ‘the subject line’ (48%) first and foremost. Factors such as timeliness and a preview of the email being seen were ranked as less important by most people.

Similarly, when asked about the usefulness of the marketing emails they receive, only 13% say over half are useful, which remains broadly similar year on year. The majority (85%) say that less than half aren’t useful to them. This isn’t great news for marketers; creating a clear strategy and conducting regular tests could be useful starting points in looking to improve this situation.

As such, with the ‘usefulness’ of an email being more difficult to define, the report asked consumers about the content they prefer to receive within an email from a brand. Within the results, there was a clear focus on the transactional, with the likes of ‘discounts and offers (65%), ‘email receipts’ (59%) and ‘advanced notice of new products/services and sales (43%) leading the way. All of these have a clear purpose and action to take, as well as a benefit to the consumer. Across almost all content types, it was notable that consumers aged between 25 and 34 are significantly more likely to enjoy receiving emails.

The most likely action in response to receiving any email that they find interesting is to ‘click on a link from within the email’ (29%) or ‘save the email to refer to later’ (25%). When receiving discounts and offers or sales, almost 1 in 4 (23%) opt to go to the company’s website via another route, and getting advice, information, new products/services or tutorials via email can also drive people to a brand’s website via other means too (19%).

These insights create some important considerations for email attribution, with many brands used to attributing revenue to email based on click generation. Actions such as visiting a website by another route or going to the ‘physical’ store and so on, are all good outcomes. Added together, these have at least as much influence on purchase decisions as direct clicks.

For brands looking to grow their subscriber base, looking into why consumers sign up to an email programme is important. According to the report, the main reasons to sign up to a brand’s email programme are in order to receive discounts and offers (48%) or simply being a regular customer already (43%). These are closely followed by being sent email receipts (40%) or joining a loyalty programme (40%).

When it comes to unsubscribing behaviour, one of the main factors for unsubscribing is the feeling that they are receiving too many emails (57%), followed by the information no longer being relevant or not recognising the brand (both 39%).

If given the option to manage the communications they receive from the brand, a third say they would ‘reduce the frequency of emails’ (33%), with a quarter (25%) wanting to ‘only receive emails about specific products/services’ and 20% the ‘ability to personalise the emails they receive’. This could point to an opportunity to offer these controls to more than 1 in 10 who currently prefer this option.

These insights are a powerful reminder of the importance of email as a communications channel, however, they are also a reminder of the challenges that remain. In response, marketers should pay heed to the trend for people wanting to utilise additional accounts to receive some, or all the messages they sign up to from brand.

This coupled with sharing useful content that will not only be beneficial to the consumer but engage them beyond just the transaction will be key to cutting through and encouraging more sign ups. It’s also important for brands to consider a more holistic approach to attribution, given that there is a steady flow of consumers taking more indirect actions as opposed to just clicking on links they have been offered.

Email is one of the most important touchpoints in the customer journey, and with new technological innovations along with increased knowledge, brands can benefit from impressive return on investment in the channel.

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