“It's gotten to the point where e-mail and marketing automation are being joined,” said Christopher Parkin, senior director-genesis solutions at Adobe Inc. “E-mail success traditionally is measured by opens and clicks, but that's insufficient. You want a prospect to go to a Web or landing page to take some action.”
Parkin said that e-mail marketers and those engaged in marketing automation have the ability now to work much more closely, and indeed must do so to increase the efficiency of the channel.
“E-mail marketers typically have not been well-connected with the Web side of the house to know what people do once they arrive there,” he said. “Some visitors will demonstrate desirable behaviors onsite, but others will start a lead form or begin to download a white paper but for some reason abandon the process. Today we can pass [visitors] back to the e-mail service provider to re-engage with them, to get them back in the funnel.”
Marketers also have to be aware that recipients' habits are changing. While ideally they still willingly opt in to commercial e-mail, b-to-b open rates average only 25%, according to MarketingSherpa.
Moreover, Parkin predicted, the sheer volume of e-mail will increase the challenge of gaining recipient attention. This year, he said, the average individual will receive 5,000 opted-in e-mails, a volume that will rise to 9,000 or more by 2013.
In addition, few recipients seem willing to plough through hefty chunks of text, no matter how compelling.
“The day when you sent out an e-mail with the primary purpose being that recipients would read the whole thing and digest your message ... those days are going away,” said Paul Teshima, senior VP-customer strategy and success at Eloqua. “Today, e-mail is just a way to say, ‘Hey, we're here again, and we'd just like to share something with you.' ”
Teshima said e-mail communications is now more about “nudging” recipients, letting them know a company and its products are still around, and perhaps inviting them to a richer experience on the Web.
Also affecting e-mail is the rise of social media and mobile marketing. The number of communications channels is increasing, and savvy marketers have to determine recipients' preferred channels. And that may not be e-mail.
“People want to do everything from everywhere, and marketers have to realize that computing habits are changing,” said Karen Talavera, president of consultancy Synchronicity Marketing. Some people want messages in their e-mail inbox, some want them on Facebook, others on mobile and still others in their postal mailbox. The question for marketers is: Do you know how your target market wants to hear from you?
“Knowing this can extend the marketing reach into as many channels of choice as possible,” Talavera said.
Adding to the forces of change working on e-mail are the increasing capabilities of e-mail services, driven by more powerful bandwidth and quickly evolving technologies such as audio and video.
“The inbox is starting to get a lot more interesting,” said Matt Blumberg, chairman-CEO of e-mail deliverability company Return Path. “All the big four ISPs—AOL, Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo—are running experiments allowing e-mail to have video and audio that would have been blocked automatically in the past. E-mail is a competitive business, and the ISPs want subscribers to have great experiences.”
But Blumberg cautioned marketers that technological advances are only useful if employed wisely.
“My prediction is that if rich media becomes readily available [for e-mail] it will immediately be overused, which will prompt some sort of backlash,” he said. “One or two pieces of video in your inbox is interesting; 15 pieces of video in it is not interesting.”