Email Marketing in an Opt-In World

August 30, 2018 By Alan Chatfield

There has been a revolution in email marketing. Personalisation is king. Volume no longer matters. Adopting a customer-centric approach is the key to success.

Three months on from GDPR and inboxes haven't really noticed the difference. There probably have been fewer marketing emails sent since GDPR, but not enough to make a noticeable impact on prospect's mailboxes.  Some of the emails still being sent are from brands that took part in the mass influx of opt-in campaigns sent in late May. The flip side is that some are not. Many companies have either ignored GDPR or are following a loose interpretation of it so that they can carry on as previously. Despite some mixed messages from privacy regulators that's not what the EU intended, even if it is an understandable reaction. The upcoming ePrivacy regulation threatens to force the strict interpretation of consent across the industry.

Email is a popular tactic because it is easy to execute and has a high ROI. Marketing Automation has made it comparatively easy to prove that ROI. This has led to the situation where other tactics are used to build a large mailing list, which are repeatedly sent the same messages until they either convert or unsubscribe. Even event attendances are frequently built on the back of outbound email invites, with email expected to generate the majority of attendees for both offline and online events. Sales reps are then incentivised to provide attendees, with some social activity providing the balance.  

This was always unsustainable, and forward-thinking marketers have been taking steps to address this for some time. Marketing calendars and system communication limits help in internal co-ordination but do nothing to make your emails stand out from the other marketing emails in your recipients' inbox.

Anatomy of a Mailing List

Email never really worked as a top of funnel tactic, in part because email recipients tend not to be top of funnel audiences. Unless you're buying in large quantities of data, greenfield prospects generally aren't in your database. Cold leads are difficult to engage at the best of times, but email is seen as a fairly intrusive method of reaching out to them. Few people open emails from senders they don't recognise, particularly at management levels or above. Instead, mailing lists are typically comprised of former customers and recycled leads, many of them several years old, along with some previously purchased data of potentially dubious quality. At their worst marketing databases are a mix of the previously interested and the never will be interested.

It is difficult to correct this by building databases organically because unengaged prospects rarely fill in forms. They know they'll be added to your mailing list if they do engage. Requiring an opt-in might increase conversion rates, but it when it comes to your subscriber numbers it compounds this effect.

Right Message, Right People, Right Time

Thus email campaigns work best at re-engaging the previously interested. As a result, the emphasis on email marketing has been shifting from using it as a high volume top of funnel demand generation tactic to a highly targeted conversion incentive designed to get already engaged prospects in front of sales. This can take the form of an event invitation or a special offer.

Many tactical email campaigns are already run on this basis. It's not uncommon, particularly in the B2C world, to fix a slow sales period or an empty pipeline by running a last minute ad-hoc email campaign. Such communications are frequently highly targeted and written to fit a specific context. Doing this requires matching the right message to the right people at the right time, butonly works if you know who the right people in your database are. There is no benefit to having thousands of opt-ins if all you about them is their email address. In a B2B context, the ability to fill gaps in your database using firmographic information derived from company databases such as D&B is essential.

Unlocking your Data

The real power in your database lies with the engagement history and activity data of your contacts. In an opt-in environment, you have a fair amount of knowledge of what people are interested in based on how they come to be in your database. Your marketing automation platform will already have a decent amount of web tracking data and campaign history that can be combined with account profiles to get a useful baseline for segmentation.

B2C marketers have been collecting all that information into dedicated databases and using it to target prospects that brought specific products at specific times. This data is then filtered down to just opted-in contacts to produce a target list for email campaigns. The problem in a B2B context is that much of the most useful segmentation information such as opportunities and sales activities are only available in the CRM system, whilst customer purchase history is often in an ERP or purchasing database. This is a digital transformation challenge that can be overcome with integration between systems and a well designed central customer database that can be used by all departments.

Enabling Efficiency

Many marketers use the smaller size of B2B databases to avoid using the highly personalised approach. Email campaigns do have a minimum volume to justify the investment, but a highly efficient production process can reduce the audience needed for an email campaign to the hundreds. Creating standard templates and a comprehensive brand library allows field marketers to pull together an urgent email blast at the last minute, using their own copy. To take full advantage approval processes need to be fast enough to allow this agility, while still ensuring that all communications are compliant with all brand, legal and technical requirements that need to be met. For companies with sufficient volume, a centralised demand center structure often works best. This approach allows email production to be turned into a digital production line using specialist teams.

The efficiency this approach unlocks, allows marketers to be much more reactive to changing business needs. It is possible to design and send email campaigns in a few days, a timescale no other tactic can match.  Good timing is essential to the success tactical campaigns, but nowhere is it more critical than with email marketing. It ensures the content is relevant. Personalisation is all about relevance, without it your carefully crafted email is just another spam message in your recipients' inboxes.

Written by Alan Chatfield - Senior Digital Marketing Strategist, CRMT