The week began with the sad news that Ray Tomlinson, the computing pioneer who is widely credited with inventing email, had passed away at the age of 74. In 1971, Tomlinson managed to send a message from one computer to another one sat 10 feet away. In doing so, he transformed the way businesses, consumers and brands communicate.
In the 45 years since its creation, email audiences – your customers – have become very discerning, not least due to the overuse of email by some companies. As such, brands that simply treat email as a function, a batch-and-blast engine, find it very difficult to strategically engage their target audience and identify tangible results from email marketing. When done properly however, Tomlinson’s invention is a strategic platform for a brand, and enables companies to form closer, better – and most importantly useful – ties with consumers.
In honour of Tomlinson’s passing, here are five ways in which marketers can make the most of his invention, and bring tangible returns from a medium too often misunderstood and misused:
Learn about the audience
Email can provide invaluable insight on your target audience. Email analytics can demonstrate not just how people are interacting with individual emails, but the extent to which these activities are driving direct responses, which can then be segmented further across different audiences and across different actions. The UK broadcaster ITV continually analyses how its target audience interacts with email to better understand how it uses the service, delivering exceptionally detailed intelligence about which pages and clips consumers are viewing, and building this insight into programming and content development.
Aim to engage
Consumers are more discerning over the contents of their inbox than ever before, and to effectively engage the target audience brands need to be smart. The hard sell and discounts aren’t always the best approach when you’re trying to engage audiences; yes, some people simply sign up for special offers, but these people are not brand-loyal and rarely advocates of anything except a generic bargain. To build long term advocacy and loyalty, it’s better to try and inspire recipients with compelling content that is tailored to their needs. Clothing company Barbour has focused on using email to educate customers about its brands and the breadth of its product ranges, rather than trying to push out price-based promotions. As a result, it’s seeing average clicks to opens rate running at 31.7 per cent, with very high average unique opens at 41 per cent.
Work in tandem with other channels
Email works best when it forms part of the wider marketing strategy, but it’s often set in competition with other channels, particularly social. While it’s true that each channel requires a different approach, integration and breaking siloes remains critical in the modern communications landscape. Email is personal and recognised as a channel through which transactions happen, whereas social is semi-open and a channel of chat and sharing rather than buying decisions and actions. However, if used cleverly, email can enhance, and drive traffic to, other platforms, particularly social. Links to social profiles and specialist accounts or forums within email communications can drive audiences to those platforms, while social activities can convince followers to sign up to mailing lists.
By automating marketing activities, brands can schedule, track and use the insight from email in tandem with other channels to target leads and customers. Transactional, demographic and behavioural data can inform CRM systems, and turn them into powerful engines that can segment customers into highly targeted, responsive groups.
A great example is Netflix. The streaming service uses data to determine what types of movies and TV shows subscribers like to watch, and uses its emails to make intelligent, personal recommendations in tailored emails, with subject lines like ‘we think you might like…’ It’s a great example of making data work harder by personalising communications.
As the BBC’s Dave Lee says in his piece on Ray Tomlinson’s passing, email is flawed, but it’s also never been bettered. In the technology industry a start-up can come and go in a matter of weeks, and yet email has endured for 45 years. Its constancy is something to be admired, but also to be embraced. Email is very far from a dead or tired platform. It’s now a crucial platform for brands to communicate with consumers, and to improve relationships with their target audiences as a result.
Marketers owe Ray Tomlinson a great debt. He created a system that can enable brands to have one on one personalised conversations with their target audience, and using marketing automation technology they can do that at scale. Batch-and-blast won’t cut it with today’s discerning consumers. By treating Ray Tomlinson’s invention with the respect it deserves, marketers can make the most of the potential of email, and cut through the noise to make genuine connections with subscribers.
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