E-mail marketers are still concerned about relevance, according to a BtoB study being released this month. “B-to-B State of E-mail Marketing: Best Practices” details the current state of e-mail marketing as well as trends to watch going forward.
The study was based on a 21-question survey sent via e-mail to b-to-b marketers in December. A total of 414 responses were collected between Dec. 8 and Dec. 14.
More than half of respondents (56%) said their biggest challenge and opportunity over the next 12 months is to deliver highly relevant content. This is significant because experts say it is one of the core capabilities that marketers aren't delivering. It's also one of the strategies that can make the biggest difference in the success of an e-mail marketing program, said Morgan Stewart, CEO of Trendline Interactive, an independent e-mail consultancy.
“Look at any program that has segmentation and targeting coupled with highly relevant content and—across the board—it is going to have a higher response rate than ones that don't,” Stewart said.
Relevance may be difficult for those marketers whose primary e-mail focus isn't customer retention or awareness, according to the survey. Almost half (43%) said customer acquisition is their main goal. This is a change from only a few years ago, when b-to-b marketers concentrated on nurturing their smaller, more refined lists to help up- and cross-sell via e-mail.
This emphasis on acquisition may be directly related to marketers' replenishing lists that were decimated by the recession, said David Daniels, CEO of the Relevancy Group, an industry research company. “What we [see] from our data was the top initiatives all had to do with improving relevance in part because [b-to-b marketers said] they were losing a lot of e-mail subscribers,” he said. “They saw e-mail addresses going bad; there were a number of problems.”
The study found that b-to-b marketers, unlike their b-to-c counterparts, send a relatively small number of e-mails per month. Most (79%) respondents said they send fewer than 500,000 e-mails a month, while another 9% send between 500,000 and 1 million. Some marketers are looking to decrease the number of e-mails they send by culling lists and doing highly
specific targeting based on analytics.
“We're working with customers to update their profiles and working with our dealers to understand how they are capturing customer information,” said Jon Johnston, e-business marketing manager at Volvo Construction Equipment North America. He said his focus is customer retention, but that he will be looking to do more e-mail optimization and search engine optimization this year.
Bill McCloskey, founder of OnlyInfluencers.com, a private, invitation-only network for digital marketers, said he's not surprised at the lack of SEO integration. “It's something that requires internal marketing integration, and the marketing department is still very siloed,” he said.
One emerging technology, however, is starting to catch on. Social media, according to 49% of respondents, “increases brand reputation and awareness.” Another 26% said it “extends the reach of e-mail content to new markets.” Only 9%, though, said it helps generate new leads.
Stewart said marketers must think social when they are planning and developing new e-mail campaigns. “It's been a fairly dramatic shift,” he said. “How will an e-mail campaign affect what you're doing in the social space? Can you get more sign-ups by tweeting about your latest e-mail offer? Those are some of the things e-mail marketers have to think about.”