Evolutions in e-mail marketing in Belgium and beyond


Recently, IAB Belgium released the latest edition of its annual e-mail marketing benchmarks. Selligent's Eric de Bellefroid was asked to comment in an interview. A summary.

What conclusions can be drawn from the use of e-mail marketing in Belgium?

It is appropriate to make a clear distinction between:

1) Prospecting e-mails: those made from an opt-in database external to the company and made available to advertisers by the media (e.g. the Yento initiative), affiliation networks, broker lists and specialists in data and the animation of opt-in communities (such as WDM). These traditional types of e-mail marketing have had their glory days. They have to adapt and confront new challenges such as managing marketing pressure, performance-based marketing, the development of methods of selection and segmentation, exploiting behavioral data, the systematic exploitation of split testing methods, etc. It is the conjunction of these various efforts which will allow e-mail marketers to slow down the observed reductions in performance. Another challenge is the level of the maturity of advertisers in relation to the specificity of e-mail as a communication channel which still retains a great future.

2) E-mail as an interactive management tool for customer relations. This is an extremely promising type of e-mail marketing, especially when it is used in support of objectives related to loyalty management, satisfaction and development of personalized services. In short, services perceived as being of high added value by consumers. These usages must furthermore be considered part of a cross-channel strategy. From a single device, with no constraint of place or time, today the mobile, always on and active prosumer is capable of interacting with brands by telephone, e-mail, social networks, mobile applications, text messages and mini-sites, to name just some.

Is e-mail marketing underestimated in terms of its efficiency and potential for real communication?

Yes it is underestimated by the majority of advertisers, particularly those who have a poor CRM culture and direct marketing practices. It is a problem of maturity. E-mail is still too often used in the form of campaigns, whereas the best practices are related to concepts of permanent "programs," which the Anglo-Saxons call drip marketing (drip by drip dispatches) or event-driven marketing based on the detection of customer signals, opportunities for contact, of rebound on the stages of the sales cycle or of animation of the customer life cycle.

The figures from the IAB (Ad Ex study) each year show the low level of investment in e-mail marketing? Is it a reality or a false image of its rate of adoption by businesses?

It is a false image. The problem is the same, for example, at the level of monitoring media expenditure by the CIM - direct marketing is not represented there; in the advertising spend on digital media, the advertising space purchase aspects are over-represented. Furthermore, the share of revenues arising from e-mail marketing and charged in the form of CPM (costs per thousand) will decrease in favor of methods linked to the development of value, such as remuneration linked to performance or to the invoicing of a price per profile and per annum.    

In your opinion, what is the real level of investment by Belgian businesses in e-mail marketing? 

One must absolutely not decide to reason in terms of channels. The important thing is the development of investments in direct marketing practices, all media/channels taken together. E-mail is an excellent communication tool for building a dialog with one's customers and prospects, whether this dialog is initiated by content pushed out by e-mail, or whether the e-mail is a part of the system for nurturing demand resulting from investment in traffic creation.

Which are the "model" countries in terms of the use of e-mail marketing?

The northern countries are confronted with stricter regulations concerning opt-in and the protection of privacy. The example therefore comes from these countries. Our brands must increasingly adopt this logic of "permission marketing", so well described by Seth Godin. In these countries, reflections on subjects such as the relevance of content, the management of marketing pressure etc. are much more advanced. The transition between interruption marketing and conversation marketing appears very inspiring to me.

What are the major trends in e-mailing which will soon be unfurled in Belgium (social e-mailing, CRM integration, mobile, couponing, etc.)? And what do they consist of, what are their advantages?

E-mail is a channel which has its technical and functional specificities, which justify a form of specialization on subjects such as deliverability, the treatment of retro-action loops, white-listing, the reputation of IP addresses and their specializations. From this point of view, there is the development of a trend relating to this "technical" component of the e-mail channel.

From another viewpoint, e-mail is being used more and more in cross-channel communication strategies with an intention to measure efficiency which greatly exceeds traditional measurements of opening and clicking. It involves measuring the conversion performance with indicators of sales revenues, lead acquisition cost and rates of transformation of leads into customers. In this sense, the integration with CRM or contact center management tools is a must. The 360° view of the customer or consumer relationship henceforth requires integration of behavior onto digital media. Can you still imagine a contact center operator at your telecoms company not having access to your invoice or complaint data? The same is true for communication flows on the digital media. Communication via these media becomes so individualized that it is indispensable for the actors in customer relationship to have access to content pushed by e-mail. Communication by e-mail becomes really one-to-one, and that implies that the rest of the organization follows the movement and adapts.

What are the techniques and resources which can (or will) revolutionize the practice of e-mail marketing in the years to come (mobile, social e-mailing, e-couponing, etc.)?

Of those which you cite, e-couponing is certainly the most important, particularly with retailers. But as referred to previously, these are usages of the "event-driven", individualized content type, usages with multistage interaction scenarios which are henceforth re-dynamizing the usage of the e-mail. The real revolutions are therefore between the campaign-centric and the customer-centric and between the multi-channel and the cross-channel.

Do there exist efficient (miracle?) strategies or recipes in e-mail marketing to optimize leads and convert them into sales? What should one do or not do?

Yes there exist plenty of recipes each better than the other. And it is the role of the agencies to assist their clients in this area, particularly by instigating approaches of the test-and-learn type. At Selligent, our vocation is to make available "execution capacities" in the form of software solutions. By intensively putting into practice these test approaches, by accumulating and intelligently exploiting behavioral data, certain of our clients manage to double their performance!

Do you have any examples, or "client cases" in Belgium which illustrate the power of an e-mail campaign?

Sorry, but the term 'e-mail campaign' needs to be banned from the language of marketing from now on. A newsletter program is not a campaign. The same is true for a "Welcome Pack" campaign, or one of discovery of the offer during the weeks which follow a purchase or a subscription. A reminder sent on the abandonment of a shopping basket or a subscription process is in no way a campaign. Should we still refer to a program of sending the offer of the week or the day as a campaign?

Is e-mail marketing a channel suitable for all sectors and all types of business?

All sectors are concerned, B-to-C as well as B-to-B. It is for each to make the most appropriate use of it, depending on the marketing challenges and especially the expectations of the public and audiences concerned. The right message for the right person at the right time and via the appropriate channel. The decision to use the e-mail channel must therefore be made individual by individual (or segment by segment) on the basis of the objectives.


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