Email Marketing Continues to Confound Publishers
[Sponsored] An exclusive survey conducted by Folio: and WhatCounts reveals a lack of consensus on the all-important marketing channel.
Despite email’s long-established role as a critical marketing channel for publishers, diverse challenges remain and, when it comes to return on investment, uncertainty persists.
That’s the upshot of an exclusive survey conducted by Folio: and WhatCounts to better understand publishers’ goals, concerns, and tactics as they pertain to email marketing.
A total of 151 executives, publishers, marketing directors, and head editors from across the B2B, consumer, and association segments of the magazine industry responded to a 15-question survey, conducted in September, designed to glean some empirical insights into media companies’ email marketing objectives, opportunities, and obstacles.
When asked to rank a selection of seven common email marketing challenges from most to least important, more than a third of respondents (38 percent) cited list growth as their primary concern, and another 20 percent named it their second-biggest challenge.
In-house resources and expertise, data integration, and deliverability followed closely behind, with 50 percent, 44 percent, and 36 percent of respondents citing them as one of their top three challenges, respectively.
“We need to retrain upper management that it’s less about list size and more about list quality,” Emily Keye, director of strategic service at WhatCounts, tells Folio:. “Challenges like deliverability will become obsolete when list quality is a top priority.”
Rather than making list purchases or rentals, says Keye, publishers should instead focus on organic growth through optimized opt-in forms, promotion on other channels, and delivering relevant content to minimize subscriber churn.
Mobile optimization and monetization, while still a concern for many, were the two least cited challenges. Despite this, nearly a quarter of respondents say their email templates do not feature responsive design — something that should probably be a given at this stage in the channel’s maturity.
“It’s surprising that deliverability and mobile optimization are such a challenge,” Keye continues. “It’s pretty easy and inexpensive to have a responsive template and most service providers offer deliverability consulting that helps publishers improve inbox placement.”
Time to Up Your Investment?
Considering that over 88 percent of respondents named email one of their top-three most important marketing channels, a serious disconnect appears to arise when moving from challenges to tactics, analytics, and investment.
Despite the more than one-third of respondents who report sending at least one-million emails each month, only 22 percent say they invest at least $5000 per month on email marketing.
“If publishers would spend the money to invest in more sophisticated integrations and technologies, and utilize additional agency or professional services, they would be able to accomplish more relevant messaging at a faster rate and see returns quicker,” continues Keye. “Email marketing is the backbone to their digital marketing program. If they don’t take care of it and invest in it, all may come crumbling down.”
While respondents were well aware of the challenges they face in email marketing, there appears to be little consensus on measuring the channel’s effectiveness. The percentage of web traffic driven from email was the most commonly tracked KPI, but only 72 percent of respondents reported measuring it. About two-thirds reported tracking monthly list growth trends, and just over half of all respondents said they track the percentage of recipients who are inactive (62 percent), and opens on mobile devices vs. desktop (61 percent).
Similarly, when asked how they measure the ROI of their email marketing efforts, responses varied significantly. About half of the respondents derive direct advertising revenue from email. Another 46 percent track indirect ad revenue, such as a lift in web traffic driven by email.
“Increasing customer lifetime value should be a key focus,” Keye says. “I recommend publishers create audience segments based on customer lifetime value.”
These different segments might include, for example, print and digital subscribers, newsletter-only subscribers, or engaged vs. inactive subscribers.
“Once you have your lifetime value segments identified, create automated campaigns to convert subscribers to the next highest customer lifetime value segment. Monitor how each segment is performing to show lift in email ROI.”
Re-evaluating Your Strategy
When looking at top investment priorities going forward, things become even murkier. Nearly 20 percent of respondents cited optimizing the opt-in and opt-out process to drive list growth as their top priority moving forward, consistent with the 38 percent who named list growth a top challenge. Following closely behind, however, are obtaining a 360-degree view of the customer (19 percent), launching more lifecycle email campaigns (18 percent), and integrating circulation data with their email service provider (16 percent).
Perhaps most striking of all is that only 45 percent of respondents plan to re-evaluate their email marketing solutions within the next six months, while 40 percent will either do so “more than 270 days from now” or not at all. Given the importance of email as a marketing channel, and the rate at which consumption habits change and new technology emerges, publishers might want to consider keeping their email marketing solutions more top-of-mind.
“Publishers should really take the time and invest in bettering their email marketing program,” concludes Keye. “Without the proper resources, the high-quality subscribers and relevant messaging, their most important communication tool will experience lots of missed opportunities. Think beyond newsletters, and really try to understand each subscriber’s lifecycle within your brand.”