When did you last open an unsolicited e-mail and think “Hey, this is really useful?” When did you last actually download the pictures for an unsolicited e-mail?
There are those who make pretty convincing arguments that B2B email marketing is a dying art. I’m not one of them, although from a personal angle, I’ve seen more than my share of email campaigns that seem to be intent on killing it.
The problem is that marketers have over-killed email marketing by getting it wrong, by thinking that because it was cheap, it was the best way “in” to a new prospect. And while a broad, scatter-shot approach may have worked 10 or more years ago, it doesn’t work now.
As B2B marketers, we need to understand our channels better, and I sincerely believe e-mail marketing should be a part of the marketing mix – but not as it is now. Falling open click-through rates show us clearly that we can’t just stand by, shaking our heads as the prostrate carcass of a valuable marketing tool lies gasping for air on the floor.
Engage Before You E-Mail
An unsolicited e-mail – however catchy the title – will often go ignored, and persistent unsolicited e-mails can result in a negative feeling towards your brand. I personally remember one e-mail from a 78-year-old man in Edmonton, Alberta in Canada, who was not on our mailing list. He was, however, on that of a sub-affiliate with dirty data. It was typed in capitals, screaming NEVER CONTACT ME AGAIN. EVER. I HATE YOU.
E-mail rage never sounded so eloquent. E-mail is personal – it’s a 1-to-1 discussion to which no one else is party. It differs from what we now call social media, because that’s an open community for open discussion. We should stop trying to engage with people by e-mail unless we’ve already engaged with them through another channel. Increasing email ROI is the new mantra among top management, and if B2B email marketing is to survive, we need to take a fresh look at the process of engaging customers before we send that first email. This involves bringing in engagement metrics and enforcing them throughout your demand generation pipeline.
What could they look like? Well, you could be looking at active engagement measures, from having made contact through Twitter or LinkedIn, or you could be looking at passive engagement measures, such as known web visits (e.g. logged in, IP address tracking, etc.) You could start measuring engagement in terms of sentiment or awareness: do they feel positively towards you or not? Have they engaged several times with you, or was it just a fleeting glance at your website?
You need to understand these engagement metrics before you start using e-mail. Just where do you stand with that contact?
Develop Your Contact Strategies
Multi-channel marketing communications these days means a lot more than just print, email, web, and video communications. So make sure that your contact strategy includes all manner of additional methods of contact, including Twitter handles, LinkedIn addresses, and so on. So use your CRM system to manage contact history, and you’ll start to build up a picture of which contact strategies work, and which ones come to a dead end. Linking social media and email isn’t a new idea, but it’s an important one.
Linking social media and email is the way you’ll be able to nurture a prospect through social media channels before you reach for the e-mail – and your e-mail marketing will be all the more powerful as a result. You’ll be able to see how soft conversions through your website, such as white paper downloads, develop into harder conversions.
- Have your data thoroughly cleaned. A data append service, telemarketing campaign, or survey can help you scrub a list before your campaign starts. Many of these services are very low cost, and offer invaluable insights.
- Invest in data enrichment, and link your email marketing campaign to a social media campaign. Take your scrubbed list, and use it to find LinkedIn profiles, Twitter handles – even personal blogs. There are services like FlipTop that offer a social media profile for as little as 0.10 per email address – and charge only when there is a match between the email address you provide and the social media profile they can match it with.
- Invest in content creation, so that you have something interesting to say. You can carry out surveys online, and have results back within a few days. Use the survey data to craft a message that’s unique and of value to people in your target audience.
- Promote your content through LinkedIn and Twitter discussions – and use an e-mail capture form for downloads. Don’t forget LinkedIn Groups and responding directly to Twitter users or Twitter lists to connect directly with people in your industry or target market.
- Monitor and record engagement with your brand, and develop an e-mail list on the basis of engagement. Budget for regular contact list management and updates, so that the list remains fresh and is constantly updated and scrubbed.
Taking these five steps means that the email campaign you run next is more likely to turn into a one-to-one conversation, and you’re taking the first steps toward increasing email ROI. You will notice better open rates, better click-through rates, and fewer unsubscribes. And those are the metrics that will ensure that B2B email marketing is a viable part of your marketing mix for years to come.