Are email marketers adapting to modern realities?

Photo: @lelia_milaya via Twenty20
Feb 28, 2020

By Bryan Wassel

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the Retail TouchPoints website. 

Newer personalization tools are allowing marketers to tailor emails — even those sent as part of a broadly-aimed “blast” — based on the recipient’s profile, affinities and past behaviors.

Yet emails can’t just be sent on a static schedule because today’s shoppers expect to be contacted on their own terms and their own timetable — not just every time a retailer runs a promotion.

“You have to really understand what the customer is interested in, and you have to have variations in how often you send mail,” said Lars Fiedler, partner and senior solution leader for Marketing Solutions at Periscope By McKinsey. “As an example, if you’re emailing fashion to me, I don’t want to have that in my inbox every day, but I’m okay seeing it every week or every month. My girlfriend, who loves seeing fashion every day, would be interested in a daily best pick or daily offer.”

Co-branding and partnerships for exclusive products, experiences and events are playing a larger role in email pushes, again tailored to the individual. Chris Ventry, VP in the consumer and retail practice at SSA & Company, said, “Campaigns like these will play out over multiple channels, but they tend to start with notification to a current highly engaged emails segment, or by having those most interested opt in to learn more.”

The shift to mobile media consumption also has changed how many shoppers read emails. Subject lines, delivery time and even the specific type of mobile device are all factors that should be taken into consideration, with different best practices for mobile and desktop versions.

The real challenge to perfecting an email marketing campaign is finding ways to stand out from the competition.

“When thinking about best practices in the email channel, you need to go beyond frequency, timing of send and developing engaging subject lines,” said Kristin Boswell, manager in the consumer practice of Kearney. “Those are a given. Retailers should think about how to develop the type of content that speaks to your brand voice, and whether you have an operating model to support that level of content development and deployment.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Have email marketing best practices moved beyond frequency, timing of send and engaging subject lines? What tips would you have for taking email campaigns to the next level?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"While I would love for intelligence and differentiation in frequency, timing, and subject line from the brands I like, the reality is far away from this being 'table stakes.'"

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9 Comments on "Are email marketers adapting to modern realities?"

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Mark Ryski

Judging by my email inbox I’d say things may have gotten worse, not better. It’s rare that I see an unsolicited email that I find compelling — it happens, but it’s rare.

Brad Johnson
2 years 11 months ago

Agreed. I rarely even open the ones that are solicited.

Paula Rosenblum

I don’t see any email marketing best practices. To me, most of it is still “spray and pray.”

I keep getting emails advertising refrigerators I’ve already bought. If I’m just researching a company, I end up being served up ads about the company that I didn’t care at all about. I will also get served up ads based on that same refrigerator (already bought) from other sellers.

I know there’s software that does a better job than that. I’ve been pitched on it enough. But it seems that retailers aren’t gathering the right data. It’s inexcusable not to know that the person at this email address already bought that refrigerator.

And all the while, more and more sites won’t let me in while using an ad blocker, so I have to see even more irrelevant ads.

So perhaps someone can show me who is doing it right. I haven’t seen it at all.

Nikki Baird

While I would love for intelligence and differentiation in frequency, timing, and subject line from the brands that I would like to hear from, the reality is still far away from this being “table stakes” – as my personal inbox reveals, and everyone else I talk to as well. “I can’t wait for my email from XX Retailer!” says no one, ever.

And while email still pays, I just don’t know that it will hold as the primary driver of engagement with consumers in the future. Teens just don’t check email. Will that change as they enter the workforce? Will employers have to just give it up and move all communication to Slack? Does that mean brands need to figure out how to be there for customer groups too? Or just Facebook Messenger? I think that’s a bigger question than whether the content is engaging – it doesn’t matter how engaging the content is if no one opens it in the first place.

Georganne Bender

I have an email account set up specifically to receive email blasts from retailers. I use it to see what’s new and impactful to share in our digital marketing boot camps and seminars.

To be honest, there’s not a whole lot of new out there. I’m seeing occasional subject lines peppered with emojis, and attempts at personalization that address me in lower case as either “geo” or “bender”.

Email that gets my attention utilizes interesting photos and colorful, well-designed copy. The coolest thing I have seen was an email this week from Macy’s that featured a virtual scratch-off to reveal your discount. It’s hard to standout in a mailbox full of offers but this one did.

Cathy Hotka

I just had dinner with a group of savvy luxury retailers who admitted that their data is too scrambled to be able to personalize effectively. Luckily, there are some promising third-party companies that might be able to help them make sense of it.

Jeff Weidauer

Email marketing has a long way to go in terms of best practices. If your inbox isn’t full of offers and NPS surveys, count yourself lucky.

Lee Kent

I’m beginning to think less is more in email and by that I mean less personalization too. If you base personalization on what I have searched for or bought before, that is yesterday’s news.

I’m thinking just give me good AI when I come to your site that will help my journey. And as for emails? Send a note when you are having sales on brands, (not specific items) I have bought or when new shipments come in. Don’t elaborate, just short and sweet, but bold so I note it in my mind as I am scrolling past your email. And that’s my 2 cents.

Peter Charness

Google’s Gmail does a good job of keeping all the promotional emails in a folder that I never look at. Not sure of the “why” for what goes in there vs. my inbox, but can’t say I’m ever very motivated to look at the promotions folder in any event. Mass marketing is not effective and the era of spray and pray is pretty much done for me.

"While I would love for intelligence and differentiation in frequency, timing, and subject line from the brands I like, the reality is far away from this being 'table stakes.'"

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