Like snow blanketing the East Coast, email is relentless. But there is the occasional snowflake—an email so relevant, timely and well-crafted that it moves you to action—and delivers an ROI of, say, $42 for every $1 spent. This kind of email, it turns out, can be found only through testing. One expert in this area is Melissa Sargeant, chief marketing officer of Litmus, a leading provider of email testing software. Sargeant anticipates a bright future for email especially as marketers increase their use of AI and machine learning. These technologies enable marketers to deliver personalized and consistent experiences—trends Sargeant sees converging in 2021.
How a testing software firm helps marketers double down on email
What should marketers keep in mind for email in 2021?
In 2021, we’re going to see a lot in the areas of machine learning and artificial intelligence, particularly around the issue of personalization. There’s been this evolution in email marketing. We started with “one-to-many,” now we’re in the “one-to-some.” What customers and prospects are telling us is that “I want you to know me. You need to be able to talk to me.”
Those communications are getting human-to-human, so that takes us to the one-to-one, which makes things very, very complex. And that's where I think we're going to see a lot of innovation in the next 18 months, because personalization is something that prospects and customers 100% want, done in a responsible way, in a non-creepy way.
What trends should marketers be thinking about?
A big trend this year—and it will be for forever—is really experiences. What we're talking about is customer experience or brand experience, and that doesn't happen in one email. It doesn't happen in one visit to your website. It happens with the first time that person interacts with your brand all the way through that journey. Whether they upgrade and buy more from you, whether they renew from you, do they ultimately become an advocate for your brand?
It's about having that consistent experience with your brand throughout a bazillion different touch points. It’s not just what we're doing in marketing, it's when they call to log a support ticket, that interaction with their account manager, everything across their entire journey and their entire life cycle. Driving that experience in a consistent, relevant way that provides brand love that keeps them coming back for more is really what we're all trying to do.
How can you ensure you aren’t spamming your email list?
Relevancy is key. That's what people want. They are happy to receive those communications from your organization if you're sending them highly relevant information that helps them either make a decision, or teaches them something that they didn't know about, to help nurture them along that journey. Finding that relevancy, whether it's through an email, through dynamic content, content recommendations or product recommendations that you can highly personalize, you're going to see much better performance there.
A lot of companies will see their open and click-through rates more than double when they personalize those communications. But up to this point, it's been some challenging for some organizations because they're just trying to get the first and last name right and, depending on how clean their data is, that's not actually necessarily an easy thing for them to do. Batch-and-blast days are gone. It's about engaging with them, learning, and then applying those learnings to the next stage of your email marketing program.
What are marketers getting wrong with email right now?
They're neglecting to test every email every single time. This is problematic in that there are 90 different combinations—the combination of how people read their email, on what device they read it, what client they're reading it on, is mind-blowing. Updates are usually made to those things every two days on average, and it becomes an incredible math problem that you couldn't try to solve on your own.
It's humanly impossible for you to do that, so you must test every email every single time. Even if they're the transactional emails, don't leave anything to chance because the last time you sent that exact same transactional email, something may have changed that you're not aware of. You want to make sure that every email hits the inbox and it's perfect every single time because that is a representation of your brand and your brand promise.
What metrics are important when measuring an email campaign?
As marketers, we focus on metrics that ultimately don't matter that much to the business. Opens and click-throughs are important. Every marketer knows they have to look at that, but you really should be taking it a step further. What time of day did that person open that email? Where were they? Were they viewing it in dark mode? How much time did they spend on it? What did they do after they read the email? Did they forward it to someone? When you move beyond batch-and-blast to this nurture approach to email, that information is going to make your next email better and the email after that better. That's how you drive continuous improvement in your email marketing program.
How important is email to a B2B brand’s marketing mix?
Email supercharges your entire marketing mix. Too often, people will say, "Hey, this blog did well. Let's send an email promoting the blog." The inverse of that is actually true. This email performed well, why don't we try to apply that in search? Why don't we optimize SEO for that? Why don't we drive this in our next display ad? It can help drive efficiency and effectiveness across your entire marketing mix. At a time when a lot of marketers are looking at flat or decreasing budgets, you want to be able to squeeze every piece of value you possibly can to drive your entire mix, and email is a great part of that channel.