While the events of 2020 were unprecedented, small businesses embraced the increased opportunity to communicate via email with their customers who were spending a lot more time at home and online. Fortunately for small businesses, in addition to email being highly efficient and cost-effective, it’s also the preferred marketing channel for 73 per cent of consumers according to a 2018 study by the Data & Marketing Association (DMA).
Despite email’s proven popularity and effectiveness, it still presents challenges. In a recent Validity Inc. panel discussion with email experts including Guy Hanson, Sophie Jean, Sandra Schubert and Elliot Hogg, we identified eight unexpected challenges that SMEs experience when it comes to email, and most importantly, how to avoid them. In this article, I’ll explore the first four.
1. Data quality
Over the past year, email volumes have been on the rise, largely driven by businesses needing to communicate COVID-related information, but also because we were conducting so much of our lives online. For SMEs, this increased communication meant they were often reaching out to disengaged users, such as those on their mailing lists that hadn’t purchased anything in years. Emailing disengaged users can result in bounce backs and hitting spam traps, which in turn impact your sender reputation and ultimately result in degraded deliverability. Given the increasing competition for attention in the inbox, this is something you want to avoid at all costs. SMEs need to be stricter with their data hygiene practices and regularly clean their data to ensure subscribers have recently either made a purchase or been actively engaged. Don’t be afraid to purge subscribers from your list. If they’re not active, they’re costing you by being in your database.
2. Agile not fragile
The rapidly changing circumstances caused by COVID-19 meant businesses have needed to quickly respond to changing government regulations and shifting consumer needs so as to preserve their reputation. Those that have utilised email to give clear instructions on how government regulations have changed have proven to be most agile. One example of this being done well was large businesses using email to inform their customers of the change from Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales instore to entirely virtual experiences.
3. Triggered relevance
Never underestimate the importance of the Welcome Email for onboarding new customers. In fact, it’s estimated the Welcome Email is approximately three times more relevant than any other communication with a subscriber. Therefore, you need to ensure you’re not wasting this golden opportunity to win over subscribers early. Update your emails to provide context and relevance, for example, there’s no point in saying “we look forward to seeing you in one of our stores soon” if those stores are closed. By being clever, creative and even funny with your Welcome Email, you can help to ensure long-term engagement with the brand.
4. Time to be kind
In 2020, we witnessed how important it is for SMEs to adjust their messaging to reflect an understanding of the difficult times people were going through. Moving forward, marketers would do well to apply this kind of empathy and understanding to more email interactions, as well as supplying subscribers with important information, rather than just relying on a steady stream of promotional material. This approach resulted in big gains for subscriber engagement in 2020, and is set to become standard practice for many SMEs as we move beyond the worst of COVID-19.
Next month I will discuss four more challenges around emails, and how to overcome them.
Tunc Bolluk, VP APAC, Validity Inc.