Marketer’s Guide to Email and Omni Channel Marketing

Email is the universal communications connector. Here's how to leverage it for omni channel communications.

September 27 2016

There are almost 62 million results on Google for email marketing, which means this one post isn’t going to be enough to give you a complete picture of email marketing. So this post isn’t going to be about email marketing, this post is going to be about email marketing in the new era of omni channel marketing. Email has gotten a lot of flak recently. There have been hundreds of posts saying email is dead, it’s not dead, this app will kill email, and that app will save email.

It’s a little much.

And the death of email is really overblown. Like it or not, email is a universal communications tool. Email might not be great for project management or group conversations, it’s still great for newsletters and other mass updates. Email is still great for support. Email is still great for sending rich content to customers.

Bottom line: email is still essential to marketing. What’s changed is that email can now be much more engaging and powerful when integrated with other communications channels.

Recent trends in email marketing

A quick read of some of the top email marketing trends for 2016 gives some really interesting patterns (links at the end of the post) in how email marketing has, and hasn’t changed, in recent years. People are reading emails on mobile devices more and more often, people expect personalized content, HTML 5 is making emails more interactive, and privacy issues are still on people’s minds. These email trends and more illustrate not just the changing landscape of email marketing, but more importantly that email remains the foundation of all online marketing communications.

It’s a mobile email world

People aren’t just reading emails on mobile devices more often, trends suggest that people mostly open emails on mobile devices--at least when the email first comes in. This is interesting for a few reasons. One is it’s absolutely critical to make sure all your emails—from newsletters to support responses to auto-responders—are mobile friendly. There are still too many email newsletters that are unreadable even on a tablet, much less a phone, and this “little thing” makes a big difference to how customers engage with you. The next thing to consider is if people are most likely already on their mobile device when they are reading your email, what can you leverage next? Launch your app? Download an app? What would you like people to do if you’re already in the palm of their hands. One final consideration is how you deal with people downloading PDFs and other materials. Consider that someone using a mobile device can’t always just save the file to a drive. Consider other ways they can access and save the document for later.

Even more personalized content will be the norm

We’ve gotten used to being able to tailor some aspects of the emails we receive from companies. Would you like to receive daily deals? Weekly updates? Some kinds of promotions and not others? But those choices were ours, we made the choices and selections ourselves. With big data tools available to more companies, email marketing is going to become automatically more personalized. We see this already with Amazon’s shopping suggestions, but what about a SaaS vendor automatically sending you newsletters tailored to the kinds of questions you ask in forums and how you use their tool? What if your project management tool “knew” you were in marketing and not sales and created a completely marketing focused newsletter for you that helped you use their tool more effectively in the work you do.

Yes, this is complicated stuff. This means connecting all your communications channels together into a single omni channel. It means holistically understanding your customers and not just as an account or number. When you connect all your systems, SMS, push, app usage, voice, support, commerce, and email, you know a lot about your customer. Integrated systems power integrated and customized messaging. Welcome to the era of automated individualized marketing campaigns.

Spotlight on privacy and data collection

Every hack, every email leak, each time there is a warning that this company or that was targeted by hackers, people are reminded how much of their personal data is stored online. None of this is news to us. People are wary of giving their information, especially if they are afraid they will get spammed or signed up for something they don’t want. It’s good that people are aware of privacy issues, online privacy is important for everyone. As marketers we need to be upfront with people about what data is being collected, why, how it will be used, will it be shared, and what control people have over their data. In a growing number of countries, consumers can request to see all the data a company has stored about them and ask to have the data removed. This is a draconian approach to privacy, but we need to be cognizant that privacy and data collection are increasingly on consumer’s minds and behave accordingly.

Interactive emails leverage HTML5

The cutting edge crowd might be excited about interactive, rich emails coming to an inbox near you, but large-scale adoption of interactive emails is likely a few years away. Beyond the sheer complexity of compacting HTML5 into an email template, if most emails are going to be read on mobile devices, there are a lot of variations to test. Since it’s essential to have a consistent user experience regardless of device or platform, mainstream adoption of HTML5 interactive email will be hard, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth investigating or testing.

Automation finally lives up to its promise

Marketing automation and email marketing are closely intertwined. Companies have invested thousands and thousands of dollars into email marketing automation tools that might not have lived up to their promise. According to experts, automation tools are getting better and marketers need to start leveraging them more. Combining marketing automation with all the data you have for making personalized emails, marketers should be able to create automated campaigns that adapt to customers as customers react to it.

Imagine email campaigns that adapt to customer preferences intelligently to increase opens, clicks, and purchases. We’re not far off from that reality, what’s missing is the unsaid trend amongst all these other trends: omni channel communications and unified messaging.

The unsaid trend is omni channel

As the boy in The Matrix said “There is no spoon.” Just so there is no email marketing any longer. There is no online marketing. There isn’t even SMS marketing. Today we’re heading (back?) to just plain marketing and that covers everything. When print connected with TV it was groundbreaking. Though not really considering movies and radio had been linking media for years. When URLs were in magazines and TV people wondered who would ever put down a magazine or stop watching TV to use a computer. Now many of us watch TV with devices in hand and read those magazines on phones and tablets (making including a URL smart advertising). We’ve been living in an omni channel (or at least multi channel) marketing world for decades, the difference today is how tightly we can integrate all of the channels together and measure the results. It’s easy to go from reading about a new fitness regime in a sponsored post to personalized offers in the publication’s newsletter to an SMS with a coupon for your next purchase. And as marketers, we can take that trail of data, connect the dots and create buyer persona profiles.

The trend with integrating data and personalized emails and ensuring mobile support is directly connected to the omni channel view of how consumers engage with brands. By the same token, omni channel marketing raises more questions and fears about about data collection and privacy. When marketing crosses the line from clever and convenient to creepy and concerning, people start asking “just how much do companies know about me”. It’s that fear that proactive efforts on informing consumers about data and privacy works to alleviate. As marketers we can’t ignore consumer fears about privacy and data gathering. We need to ensure we put real rigor around how data is collected, aggregated, and stored.

Consider this omni channel customer experience from a recent Venture Beat post.

Consider this: It’s one thing to make a restaurant reservation via an ad, or an app, or a messaging channel. It’s another one to get a seamless dining experience upon making the reservation; get picked up by a ride-hailing service like Uber or Lyft to get to the restaurant right on time without having to order it; browse and order ahead from the menu during the ride without having to search for it; receive and pay the bill upon walking out without having to pull out a credit card; get picked up to go home without needing to enter the address, etc.

While this example doesn’t include email, it probably does if you consider that all the transactions mentioned in the quote are probably emailed to the person. This is what omni channel is working towards and regardless of what the tech pundits say, email is a long way from dead.

Picking the right reasons to use email

The key for email in the omni channel world is picking the right use cases. Email is great for newsletters. It’s great for receipts and confirmations. It’s great for things people need to remember like site registrations and logins. Email has gone from being good for everything to let’s decide what it’s really best for.

More resources:

Up next: Push goes beyond just a notification, it’s an invitation to engage your customer

Smartphones have changed how we think about interacting with devices. We don’t just call or text or email on these devices, we connect, collaborate, and document our lives—with apps. These apps have a unique way to interact with us: push notifications. When an app wants our attention it puts a message front and center on the screen. Push notifications are only as useful as the content and message being pushed. For omni channel communications, push is an integral part of how SMS, email, and chat interconnect with each other and engage users with messages and apps.

In the next part of this series we’ll look at how push messages have evolved from simple notifications to invitations to engage with messages and brands.

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