Will social media make way for an email renaissance in 2013?

A recent study by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) found that over half of senior business-to-business and business-to-consumer brand marketers said they were confident expenditure on email marketing would rise this year.

The DMA Email Marketing Council’s 2013 National Client Email report also suggested there had been an overall decline in direct marketing spend with marketers’ optimistic outlook for email’s prospects linked to the channel’s improving commercial performance.

According to the respondents polled, email provided an average ROI of £21.48 for every £1 spend in 2012, representing the first time the Client Email Report has published an ROI figure.  And this strong performance of the channel is linked to improving techniques, with over half of brands reporting an increase in open, click and conversion rates last year, marking a five per cent increase from 2011.

The research indicated that the value of generic “one size fits all” campaigns is continuing to fall, with 75 per cent of email revenue now derived from more targeted approaches.

In contrast, Facebook saw an unexpected slump in users last Christmas, with 600,000 social network visitors in the UK switching off.  The dip – a fall of 1.6%, according to monitoring firm, Socialbakers – made Britain the only country among Facebook’s top 10 territories where usage dropped.

Are we about to witness a decline in Facebook’s appeal and the importance of social media this year?

When Facebook pulled off the biggest tech flotation to date, doubts were already circulating over its ability to monetise itself.  Commerce remained a huge unknown for social media and research has shown that consumers are just not ready to make purchases over social networks.

This leaves us with email, a tried and trusted channel that has consistently delivered results as potentially the channel-of-choice with new innovations expected this year.

Personalisation, driven by clever segmentation will turn email broadcasts into a personal, relevant brand experience – something which is still not widespread today.  Innovations such as launch time advisors, services that can determine the time of the day and day of the week a recipient is likely to click an email and improved mobile reporting, which can establish how many people open their emails on a mobile rather than elsewhere to help improve delivery strategies are all expected to make a difference in 2013.

Add features like smart insight customer intelligence and graphical automated campaign planning which will enable more focus on customer lifecycle behaviour. Campaigns can then be targeted at certain ‘trigger points’ based on purchase actions or even on the prolonged inactivity of certain customers.

Email will develop in line with the demands of its audience. Just as a few years ago when the channel had been the main focus (email, social, web) the future of email technology will need to add other dimensions. It will not just be getting the right message to the right person at the right time but also in the right location. This will add significantly more impact especially with ‘clicks and mortar’ companies. Getting an email based upon geo-location about special offers in retail outlets will not be beyond the realms of possibility.

Email may seem ‘long in the tooth’ but surprisingly many people actually want email that they’ve signed up for.  They may not always read it, as many people now selectively open only those emails that are of interest at the time they see it. The result is an inbox crowded with unopened emails.  And it remains a challenge to send attractive emails with powerful subject lines that stimulate their opening. Customer data gathered from behaviour and shopping experiences to create relevant emails will significantly boost click-through.

While Facebook fights back with changes to its social network i.e. the smart search engine, graph search to increase connections between friends and pages to effectively increase the reach of advertisers it is email marketing, particularly in today’s tough economic environment, which is expected to keep its focus firmly on delivering best value.

An email renaissance?  The biggest hurdle as always is finding enough time to execute on your ideas.

John Fleming VP Marketing Emarsys