Email marketing: marketing best practices and inbox habits


As marketers we often think we know what our customers and prospects want and how effective marketing strategies should look, based on gut feeling and generally assumed marketing best practices. Although some gut feeling is useful in marketing, the best way to know what actually works best is still looking at the needs, habits, behavior and digital footprints of the people, we interact with. Effective marketing strategies and marketing best practices are not about what we think is right but about what testing, analyzing and real-life behavior prove to be effective.

Conversion marketing is a highly contextual exercise that begins with business goals and target groups, and ends with offering relevant and personalized customer experiences. Effective marketing strategies are not about general marketing best practices but about what our  customers and prospects actually want.

This applies to all marketing tactics and channels, including email marketing.

Email marketing has a place in a customer-centric and cross-channel direct marketing approach. The customer-centric imperative means that effective email marketing strategies should at least look at the inbox habits of consumers. Again, the best way to do this is by testing. However, research also helps in understanding in how people actually use email.

A recent survey by the UK Direct Marketing Association (DMA) shows there is a gap between what we often see as email marketing best practices and what's really happening in the inbox. Effective direct marketing is never about our own behavior, it's always about that of our target groups.

Mark Brownlow wrote an interesting post on the 2011 edition of the Email Tracker Report by the Direct Marketing Association, emphasizing some key findings that clearly show many assumptions about marketing best practices, in this case email marketing, are "based on our collective view of just what's going on inside consumer inboxes".

Some takeaways.

There are no marketing best practices on the ideal day to send an email

The debate about the best day to send emails stems from a campaign-centric approach, instead of a customer-centric and cross-channel one. However, even if we look at email marketing campaigns, there is no timing best practice. One of the results of the Direct Marketing Association, for instance, was that most people don't use email during their working day. In a multichannel reality, the ways consumers interact are changing, and the only marketing best practices are those that correspond with the behavior of your customers and prospects.

Effective marketing strategies are per definition cross-channel

Direct marketing and dialog marketing is cross-channel. Let's not forget that on average people use at least three marketing channels before actually buying something. The survey showed that "when asked what they might do on receiving an interesting email from a trusted brand, 22% would visit the sender's website without clicking on an email link, and 45% would "bear the information in mind for later use". So, it's important to look beyond the single channel and focus on all touch points and the single customer view to have a customer-centric and effective marketing strategy.

The only marketing best practices are increasing relevance and being more customer-centric.

Here is a fact: in general, open and conversion rates have been dropping for a while, although recent reports have noted a change. Managing the volume of messages is important to avoid marketing fatigue but one has to make a distinction and look at his own email marketing strategies and recipient base. The Direct Marketing Association report found that over 60% of respondents are signed up to 10 or fewer senders. That's not much. Obviously, there are differences but there are ample opportunities to stand out and do better, especially when developing an effective marketing strategy that takes the whole cross-channel customer relationship into account. The only real direct marketing best practices are those that look at the bigger customer perspective, are less channel-oriented and focus on increasing relevance across all channels.

Read more findings about the Direct Marketing Association report in the post of Mark Brownlow (who wrote the report).

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