Kath Pay: Email is the Ultimate Push Channel. It's NOT a Shove Channel
As you head into the frenzy of the holiday email-marketing season, take a minute to step back and appreciate email's great strength as the original disruptive marketing channel.
Email, in fact, is enjoying a renaissance! Those of us who have made email the center of our work lives can rightly feel vindicated when study after study shows people prefer email for brand communications. As shown below from Econsultancy’s Email Marketing Census 2016, the ROI still outshines every other channel from print to broadcast to direct and social.
Maybe one of the reasons email continues to shine is because we have had to work hard to make it better. Many of you reading this have been leaders in the push to do email marketing better, and you know how far we've come and how much farther we still have to go.
Email is the greatest push channel of them all – the others being SMS/text messaging and app/web push notifications – but my greatest fear is that we're still not doing it right even after all these years and that we’re taking this strength of the email channel, for granted.
The reality is, we don't have to wait for our customers to find us through search or happenstance – our messages show up in our customers' inboxes, and they're welcome because they have requested them. And, if you design them well, even your unopened email messages can keep you top of mind just by simply appearing in their inbox.
What other marketing channel has that power? You have to tune in at the precise moment in order to catch a broadcast ad. Your print ad is invisible if nobody sees it. The closest you can get is maybe having someone glance at a catalog cover as she drops it into the recycling bin. But, even then, those catalogs arrive maybe once every few weeks.
When push comes to shove
All of that is well and good. But we're still not harnessing the power of email as well as we could, because we're ignoring some uncomfortable truths.
Yes, email is a push channel. But recipients don't like having things shoved at them through irrelevant messages, messages that don't recognize them as loyal customers, messages that don't deliver any meaning or value.
Having been granted access to the inbox, we have to ensure we're pushing messages in a palatable way by sending customer-centric emails that focus on benefits. Said another way, these emails should answer that age-old question: "What's in it for me?" Or, more succinctly, "So what?"
Old-style email marketing operated under a strategy (if you can call it that) that shoved one-size-fits-all messages willy-nilly into inboxes, each with the same brand-focused message: "Look how wonderful our product is! Buy it now!"
It worked for a time, whilst the channel was still new and emails were a novelty, but that time has long past. Even your most loyal fans will tune out that message and this leads to another issue that marketers have to deal with today.
Awareness and action, not snagging the sale
I know what you're thinking: " Hang on, Kath. Email is ALL about the sale!"
Think about your email's mission for a minute. Unless you have some magic form in your email that lets your customer buy right then and there, the conversion actually happens on a landing page.
So, the goal of your email becomes building awareness or your products/services/% off sale etc., whetting your customer's appetite to learn more and clicking to your landing page, where the conversion – the sale, the download, the registration – happens. Yes, that’s right, the objective of your email is to incentivize the recipient enough for them to click the call-to-action.
In other words, your email sells, but it doesn't close the deal. So, you need calls to action that reflect those different goals. An unrelenting diet of hard-sell "Buy now" doesn't get you there, as often this may be too big an ask, too soon within the buying journey.
Every transaction is actually two sides of the same coin. The brand objective: "We want you to buy our product/service." The customer's objective: "I need to buy a product/service, but is this the right one?
If your email copy reflects just your own brand perspective, your same-old/same-old message won't draw in your potential buyers. What would? A customer-centric approach and wording that anticipates and answers questions is one way that will.
For example, ensure the wording focuses on the customer. Show how they can benefit. "Grab yourself a bargain in our 20% off sale – today only!" is more customer-centric than "We have 20% off today only".
A great example of a beautifully crafted customer-centric email can be seen below from Hilton Hhonors.
I fully believe that we, as the marketer, should be doing the hard work and converting features into benefits, and not asking our customer’s to do it, as by asking them to do the conversion themselves, you’re providing them with an opportunity to jump off.
Recognize and uphold the value exchange
The downside of being a disruptive push channel is that it leads many marketers to a condition Dela Quist of Alchemy Worx calls "fear and self-loathing." We interpret "disruptive" as a negative, when "disruptive" in this context really implies a channel that that brings change and innovation to message communication.
So, instead of finding new ways to reach customers via email, we entertain suggestions that by reducing our frequency we will make our customers value our emails more. We get nervous and hung up about unsubscribes. We practically apologize every time we send a message. That's wrong!
Your email program began as a value exchange. Your subscribers are on your list because they want to be there (assuming you run a 100% opt-in program). They're interested in what you're selling or because they bought something from you and want more messages and offers from you.
When they gave their marketing permission to you, a transaction took place, even if no money changed hands. You promised them something similar to; “Be the first to hear about our great offers and latest products” and they gave you something of value based on this promise. So, they now expect something of value from you in return. Every message you send has to deliver on that promise of value.
Use this powerful channel to push customer-service messages. Once you have grasped the concept that every message you send is delivering upon this transaction, ALL of your emails have now become ‘transactional’ messages. And what are transactional message known for? – their customer-service quality and messaging. As long as you deliver upon your initial promise to them when they subscribed, you are delivering a customer-service to them – so hold your head up high!
As the original disruptive channel, email is second to none for customer preference and ROI. But it's easy to get the message wrong – to use the hard sell and to speak in terms that don't relate to customers' interests, needs and preferences.
Smart marketers will capitalize on the advantages that this push channel has over pull channels like web, social and search marketing by delivering consistently on the value exchange that sets up customer expectations.
A customer-centric, customer-service focus that aligns with your brand strategy and voice makes your messages welcome additions in the inbox, keeping your brand top of mind just by virtue of being seen there.