To paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of email marketing's death have been greatly exaggerated.
"For all the popularity of social media, 92 percent of adult internet users maintain at least one email account and 59 percent of marketers say they believe email is the best outlet for generating revenue," says John Hayes, marketing strategist, iContact, Vocus's email marketing arm. Indeed, if anything, the increase in the use of social media and mobile devices has increased email marketing's effectiveness. That said, there are always ways to improve your email marketing.
To find out how you can generate a better return--or click-through rate--on your email marketing this year, CIO.com queried experts from Constant Contact, Emma, iContact and Mad Mimi. Following are their seven picks for email marketing trends you should leverage in 2013.
1. Take advantage of mobile. Thanks to smartphones and tablets, "email is no longer tethered to a PC or laptop, or restricted to when people have access to their computer," says Hayes. "People now carry their email around with them everywhere and engage with it frequently throughout the day. This means marketers can now better target prospects, delivering more time sensitive offers (i.e., restaurant vouchers prior to lunch or sales promotions during busy shopping periods)."
2. Forget the bells and whistles. "Multi-column email layouts can be lovely in [computer] inboxes, but for success in the mobile device arena, the single column format is best," says Dean Levitt, chief of Culture, Mad Mimi. "For all the sophistication of mobile devices, email marketers see the most success with layouts that have as little noise' [i.e., graphics, photos and video] as possible and the call to action visible without scrolling."
3. Use email to monetize social. "In 2013, marketers will discover that email is the key element driving social media marketing results," states Ron Cates, director of New Market Development, Constant Contact.
"The easiest way to drive customers to [your] company is by linking to social channels in email campaigns, ensuring that your social content is seen by a wider audience that has already expressed an interest in receiving your email content by joining your mailing list," Cates says.
4. Change your focus from sales-based to education-based. "Today, many marketers view email campaigns primarily as a product or service showcase," says Cates. "They display their newest offerings, and then provide direct links to purchase. However, even with great deals and promotions, customers are becoming bored with the bombardment of sales pitches," he says.
With that in mind instead of constantly lobbing sales pitches to current and prospective customers, provide content that adds value--e.g., useful information about a topic or problem--without pushing a particular product or service.
"By providing useful content in your area of expertise, customers will be more interested in opening your emails, driving more views to your website or social media profiles," says Cates. Moreover, "when you combine this with providing links to your social media platforms, you are also giving your customers a chance to interact and respond with you on those subjects, increasing engagement and keeping your brand top of mind."
5. Move away from mass mailings to segmented, targeted marketing. "[In 2013,]"we'll see more brands abandon the one-message-for-one-audience approach to email in favor of smaller, behavior-based sends," predicts Suzanne Norman, brand strategist, Emma.
"Social media has shown us the value of personal relationships with customers, and with smart segmentation, email marketing delivers that all-important relevant, personal content on a larger scale," she says. Her advice: "explore more targeted welcome notes, shopping cart abandonment promotions and lifecycle messaging--and see the higher response rates that go with them."
Similarly, Cates suggests marketers collect customer data beyond basic contact information. "By collecting customers' interests, marketers can segment their lists and deliver content that is much more engaging, relevant and personalized to each recipient."
6. Don't restrict your email signup form to your home page. "Email signup forms are typically relegated to a site's footer--or forgotten altogether," says Norman. But that strategy won't get you many new customers anymore.
"Marketers [need to get] bolder when it comes to asking for email addresses," she says. Think about adding pop-up email signups on landing pages, as well as placing email signup forms (or links to them) on Facebook and YouTube. And use tablets at trade shows or events to gather contact info at your booth.
7. Don't underestimate the value of permissions marketing. "In 2013, if you don't get permission to be one of the select companies to contact a customer, your marketing efforts will go nowhere, as tolerance for the uninvited is reaching absolute zero," says Cates.
"Once you have permission, guard it carefully," Cates says."Be sure your recipients immediately recognize emails coming from you. Provide them with the content they want, and, by all means, don't abuse the privilege."
Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a contributor to CIO.com and runs a marketing communications firm focused on helping organizations better interact with their customers, employees and partners.