Energizing the Inbox: Let’s Reinvigorate Email Marketing as a Tactic

February 5, 2021

Man with headphones checking his phone outside

Last year when Hootsuite's Sarah Dawley contributed a guest post here highlighting the five most important social media trends of 2020, she noted that private engagement channels – such as messaging apps and closed groups – were fast on the rise. 

This makes sense, as marketers at large are smartly leaning into personalized one-to-one touchpoints. At LinkedIn, we've been excited to take part in this movement with Conversation Ads joining Message Ads in our product portfolio. 

But with this being such a focus, it seems strange that the marketing community has largely soured on the original purpose-built channel for direct engagement: email. 

Sure, it's true that email newsletters remain the second-most popular B2B content type behind blogs, per Content Marketing Institute, but if you're like me, you probably don't encounter much enthusiasm around the tactic these days. For most companies, these newsletters seem to be perfunctory in nature.

I would argue that email marketing still has a lot of potential for those marketers who are open to taking it seriously and dedicating some energy to it. We first need to start by untethering ourselves from some of the firmly entrenched “worst practices” that have grown all too prevalent.

The Knocks Against Email Marketing

There are valid critiques to be leveled against email marketing. Many of them are represented in this piece at Martech Series: Email Marketing Isn’t Dying, It’s Already Dead. In it, Mahi de Silva makes some undeniable points.

  • There are security concerns tied to the malicious practice of phishing, which sews distrust in the minds of many regarding email.
  • Most email marketing content is not all that compelling or relevant to users, and as a result, younger generations are gravitating more toward chat apps and social media messaging.
  • The constant deluge of spam mail that users have grown accustomed to makes it difficult for brand messaging to break through.

Sometimes brands are getting in their own way, too – even the biggest and most respected ones. ExtremeTech writer Joel Hruska vented last year about Netflix and their missteps with email marketing

“Streaming services are benefiting from a disproportionate cross-slice of consumer attention compared with what they normally receive. But someone at Netflix doesn’t seem to realize this,” Hruska says. “The company has cranked up the rate and pace of its email blasts until being a customer feels less like a business transaction and more like dealing with a needy child.”

There are a number of challenges to be overcome, but none spell doom for this tried-and-true marketing channel.

Re-energizing the Inbox: 3 Tips for Better Results

Shying away from email as a way to reach and engage with your customers represents a big missed opportunity for B2B marketers. Consider this: A study from Adobe found that up to five hours a day are spent checking email on average, including 3+ hours checking work email. 

Here are some tips for combating the pitfalls of email marketing and restoring some excitement for brand communications delivered to the inbox.

Enhance Segmentation and Sophistication in Your Email Lists

It’s tough to be relevant to your audience if you’re sending the same email blast to everyone on your mailing list. While it might not be feasible to write a unique letter to every single recipient, you can increase the personalization of your messaging by dividing your list into insight-driven segments based on interests, specialization, or other factors. 

Drawing from data and your experiences with various customer cohorts, build out “personas” for each list segment based on what they care about and how they operate. Then, create tightly aligned messaging in your emails – especially in the subject lines – so recipients feel more like you’re speaking to them instead of just speaking. 

Effective personalization must be substantive and go beyond custom name tokens. Sophisticated segmentation offers a path to accomplishing this while remaining relatively scalable. One study highlighted by HubSpot found that “39% of marketers who segmented their email lists experienced higher open rates, 28% experienced lower unsubscribe rates, and 24% experienced better deliverability and greater revenue.”

Turn Your Communications into a Conversation Rather than a Broadcast

One of the biggest problems with traditional email marketing is that it inherently represents a one-way conversation. If you actually want to engage your list, aim to turn these monologues into dialogues. Invite recipients to reply if they have questions, thoughts or feedback. And make sure you have someone on staff assigned to reading each of these responses and addressing them if needed

Another essential step: be sure the sender name for your emails represents an actual person. When I see a marketing email in my inbox from “do-not-reply@[brand].com,” my immediate reaction is do-not-open@spam-folder.com.  

Respect the Time and Attention of Your Recipients

The “binge model” might work for streaming media, but not so much for email drip campaigns. 

As Hruska wrote in his article about email marketing miscues: “Netflix appears to have subscribed to a more-is-better strategy for customer contact without realizing that increasing the number of times you take up people’s time with useless contact only trains them to throw your email away.” 

“I am not a marketing expert,” he added, “but I’m fairly certain that the point of brand engagement is to generate a positive association with the product.”

A person’s inbox is their personal space. Brands won’t build trust by inundating it with irrelevance and constant promos. Adopt a quality-over-quantity approach and strive to make each message you send out worthy of anticipating. Put value first. If it’s not something you’d actually want to read, don’t send it.

Email Marketing Strategy: Don’t Mail It In

The email inbox remains a major focus in the daily lives of professionals everywhere, but people have grown accustomed to glossing over spammy promotional messaging. This is the hardened barrier that marketers must break through. Doing so requires genuine effort and creativity, but the potential payoff is profound. 

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