Moving from Transactional to Conversational Email

Updated: August 03, 2010

Why Change?

This is the most important question to address. After all, "If it ain't broke, why fix it?" Companies are short-staffed, budgets are shrunken, and there's a world of pressing issues. So undoubtedly you're asking "Why should we try to improve email marketing?"

Good question. Bottom line is that big improvements can be gained with minimal time or effort, so why not? Email's so inexpensive and easy, it's simple and quick to blast out a campaign at the end of a quarter. We get a handful of responses so we pat ourselves on the back. But it's also very easy to get dramatic improvements.

Ben told me that Acxiom client Heinz Foods says "There's no meal we cannot improve." Ben feels a good corollary is there is no email campaign that cannot be improved.
Sure, you can improve, but why MUST you? The corollary to "Why change?" is "What happens if we don't change?" Is standing still a recipe for disaster?

Email is so popular that standing out in the InBox is harder than ever. Here are a few shocking statistics about email (fun to share at parties too.)

• 247 billion emails were sent each day in 2009. That's an email every 0.00000035 seconds.
• In the time it takes to read this sentence, some 20 million emails are sent.
• $13.4 billion - the number of direct marketing dollars forecasted to be spent on email in the USA in 2009
• 1.4 billion email users in 2009, expected to increase to 1.9 billion by 2013.
• 81% of all email traffic is spam.

With the explosion of email, users have gotten smarter. They ignore or unsubscribe. And they want it personal.

E-Dialog found that more than half of US and UK email recipients said they would be more receptive to emails from marketers if they were more personal and highly-targeted. 85% of consumers surveyed want their preferences set at registration. When such large majorities speak, we ought to listen.

It's clear that if your business is going to stand out in this chaotic world, you need to move differently. Let's look at how to do it.

Segmentation, personalization, email preferences, social networks, testing - there are many ways to break through the noise, engage your buyers and earn trust. Let's examine them. 59% of US and UK Internet Users said the reason for not regularly opening/reading email marketing messages is that they come too frequently.
e-Dialog "Manifesto for E-mail Marketers: Consumers Demand Relevance" (2010)

Breaking through the Noise

The keys to success in email marketing today are relevance and simplicity, along with making it easy to communicate. Another key element is knowing when NOT to send an email.

John Rizzi, CEO of e-Dialog said the decision NOT to send an email is one of the the most difficult for marketers today. But it is essential. (The data bears it out. 6 out of 10 say the reason for not opening/reading emails is they come too often.) When you do decide to sent me an email, I don't want just any email. I want it written just for me. That means the email is written to me and me alone. (At least you make me think that.)

You've adapted it to my preferences. You've watched my behavior (clicks, offline and website visits) to adapt to what I was doing. It's simple and just for me, so I quickly scan it and understand it and I can continue the conversation with you on Twitter, Facebook and the like.

What happened? What changed? What made changing the way we do email an imperative?

Three key things:
1. The explosive growth of mobile, including Smartphones
2. Popularity of social networks
3. Online Video/Broadband connections

The Explosive Growth of Mobile - Especially Smartphones

Smartphones, capable of a robust email experience, were only 16% of mobile devices in 2009, but is expected to capture 37% of the global cell phone market by 2014, predicts a new report from Pyramid Research. An October 2009 report from the Radicati Group suggested there were 139 million mobile email users in 2009. It predicts this number to rise to over 1 billion mailboxes by the end of 2013.

The 2009 Australian Mobile Phone Lifestyle Index revealed that 36% of Australian mobile phone users had accessed email via their phone. On a numbers basis, there are 4.6 billion mobile phones, expected to surge to 6.5 billion by 2014. Morgan Stanley predicts the phone will be the "first screen" in five years - the mobile web will surpass desktop internet use. Social networks are the fastest growing app on Smartphones, with 240% yearly growth - up to 14.5 million users. And people use Smartphones to share.

You need to be in mobile.

But being in mobile also means new rules of respect. Smartphones mean near instant receipt of email regardless of time or day of week, and thus has major ramifications for email marketers. Send an email at dinnertime on Sunday? These savvy email recipients are among the first to opt out. So caution's the watchword.

The growth of email on smartphones means you need to be more careful with email than ever before.

Popularity of Social Networks

Twitter continues to explode, with 1,382% growth year over year as of May 2010. 4.5 million unique visitors - just in the USA alone. Even bigger was Facebook, with 65.7 million unique visitors. Anytime we have the number of people engaging in the tens of millions, it's a serious platform for marketers today.

Online Video/Broadband Connections

In 2008 121.4 million people viewed online video at least once during a month. That's 59.7%. But by 2014, that's forecasted to jump to 193.1 million, 77%.
It's clear that the world is undergoing rapid change. Broadband penetration in the USA is over 95% at home and over 98% at work. Only 1.47% connect at
56K or less at work. Speed has lead to dramatic growth in video, which has major ramifications for marketers today.


More than 1 billion people will be accessing email on their mobile phones by the year 2013. This is compared to fewer than 200 million in 2009.
- The Radicati Group (2010)

There were more than 267 million mobile phone users in the US for the third quarter of 2008 - a 6% increase over the fourth quarter of 2007, which saw 251 million users.
- DMNews (2009)

Only 9% of those surveyed preferred getting marketing messages via SMS (text) instead of email.
- ExactTarget "2008 Channel Preference Survey" (2008)

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