Email Marketing’s Past, Present & Future: Moving Toward the Lifecycle Approach


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With rapid advancements in email technology and increased sophistication among email consumers, there’s no question that email marketing has evolved to become more customer-oriented. Marketers have advanced beyond the “batch-and-blast” of years past to more dynamically-generated, trigger-based approaches to email. How have we gotten there? Let’s review the email strategies of past and present, and see where the future is taking us.

Early in the channel’s evolution email emerged as an effective way to reach large numbers of customers more efficiently and cost-effectively relative to other channels. In the early 2000s, email engines were set up to send simple content to large lists, focusing on high-volume throughput as the channel rapidly expanded. Reporting consisted of simplistic campaign-oriented metrics such as open rates, click rates, and conversions. Today, marketers demand far more customer-oriented metrics around program engagement and interactivity. Key performance indicators for the email department used to be how many eyeballs a weekly “blast” could reach; and now the focus is on what percentage of their online base has the program managed to convert.

Analysis of the past focused tactical measures of email deliverability, file size, and permissions, with the primary goal to deliver as much content to as many people as quickly as possible. Today, the trend has evolved to incorporate more lifecycle-oriented triggers such as click recency, web site activity, and time-to-engage metrics. Shopping cart abandonment “remarketing” emails have been a highly-effective favorite among ecommerce retailers. What better data exists to infer a desired product at the exact time of purchase consideration? Clearly, integrating web data with email triggers can help find the right customer at the right time for your message.

The shift from campaigns to customers
Next, the segments that marketers use to target content have evolved as well. Gone are the days when simple “opt in” status around products or campaigns ruled contact strategies and frequency. Now, profiles (both stated and inferred) have taken a front seat, and along with preference centers and observed behavior can dictate campaign treatments. In turn, the data tied back to email programs has moved beyond open/click activity to include measures of customer value and demographics. Marketers are now using more advanced techniques like data overlays, link/URL classification, timing and recency of engagement metrics to target campaigns. In turn, the data tied back to email programs has moved beyond open/click activity to include measures of customer value and demographics. These are the tried-and-true fundamentals of direct marketing that truly enable a lifecycle approach.

The Lifecycle Approach to Email
Looking further up the curve to email program development, marketers must consider the purchase lifecycle and how it maps to email engagement. For example, an auto manufacturer should evaluate activities taken along the path to purchase (visit a website, download a brochure, visit a dealership, take a test drive) as longstanding predictors of email engagement. Similarly, a financial institution could look to account activity and deposit triggers to understand what services (banking, investment, insurance, mortgage, etc.) to offer as the relationship evolves.

Remember Content is King
Let’s not forget the content itself. Sure it’s easy to recommend thousands of dynamically-generated, custom-targeted, highly-personal campaigns, but developing all that original content is no easy feat. Fortunately, there are a few tricks that can help:

1. Think targeting rather than content. Informed targeting takes you a long way toward content development and can drive more than 50% of the lift in campaign response.

2. Take advantage of the dynamic content options that an email channel offers. Match the content most likely to be clicked with the subscribers most likely to respond by rearranging the right message “above the fold.”

3. Recycle “evergreen” content. All too often highly successful content on websites is overlooked by the email campaign managers. Take advantage of strong content in lights-out contact streams like welcome campaigns and win-back strategies.

Test, Test, Test
Testing can yield dramatic, positive results for your program. For years simple A/B split testing has worked well to identify winning subject lines or campaign copy. The concept is to select a random set of, say, 10,000 subscribers on your file and send two separate subject lines and content offerings. Wait 24 hours to measure initial response, and then roll out the winner.

While this simple test should be done for every email campaign, newer testing techniques have become far more rigorous. Enhanced methods like multivariate testing are nothing new to direct marketing, but are just gaining momentum in the email world. Multivariate testing establishes several statistical scenarios that systematically vary combinations of content, to measure the impact of any one variable in the test as well as interactions between. In tests run for our clients, we often see lifts of 30-40%…and that represents lifts in revenue, not just click response.

Is your organization ready to commit?
At the organizational level, another way to advance email marketing success is to create an executive-sponsored Center of Excellence. Email requires specific skills and approaches that are unique to the channel, and a devoted team of specialists can spread key learnings throughout an organization that may span several divisions or brands. Top-level sponsorship is key, in order to attain investment in the resources, training, and thought-leadership that is required to make the channel succeed.

The payoff in looking to the future
The investment to move your program from yesterday into tomorrow will yield messaging strategies that go from “1:many” to “1:several” and eventually “1:1”. Getting to “1:1” is the ideal goal of all marketers in today’s world of customer-driven, on-demand, and highly-relevant means of email marketing

By evolving to a lifecycle approach – both customer lifecycle and purchase cycle – you’ll see better conversions and increased multi-channel activity among your customers. If you aren’t consistently striving to improve timing and relevance, your email marketing program of today could quickly become a thing of the past.


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