Raising Our Standards for Email

Your email standards need to rise above the rest

In recent years, many leading brands have diligently been working on eliminating data silos and ensuring that there’s one source of truth for all of their data. New information pours in by the second. Marketers instantly use that data to create highly personalized experiences on the web and mobile apps in real time. Online retailers work hard to make their website a well-orchestrated, enjoyable experience for customers, often with highly customized elements and personalized recommendations. Everything is immediate. The standards are high. No retailer would accept their website being too slow to respond to customer behavior.

Yet, at the same time, many companies seem to make an exception when it comes to email, as if email is inherently slower and they have to deal with it. Industry-dominant marketing clouds and ESPs require you to remove data from the central source of truth and sync it to their system, creating an unnecessary silo and wasting precious time.

At MediaPost’s recent Email Insider Summit, a brand panelist said her company recently made a big investment in a new centralized database, but her team had no way to access it for email. The whole room laughed, everyone in the audience being able to relate to the issue. This is a known problem, an open secret in the email marketing world. So much so that people offer a knowing chuckle when someone brings it up in a room full of marketers.

We’ve been institutionalized

Why are we OK with this? Instead of laughing about this “being the way things are,” why aren’t we mad as hell about it? Companies spend so much time and money on marketing and technology. At the same time, we’re complacent in the face of crippling problems we’ve convinced ourselves aren’t so bad. We repeatedly invest in technology that doesn’t let us do our jobs efficiently. But we don’t hold ESPs and other vendors accountable to offer meaningful solutions.

Accepting that email is somehow different and less dynamic is part of what’s kept the big brands from engaging meaningfully with customers via email and meeting the customers’ standards. Email is permission-based: people raised their hands, asked us to contact them, perhaps done business with us. These are the people we want to communicate with. And, in most cases, we have time to plan what we want to say to them via email. Yet somehow, we still get things wrong.

To start taking full advantage of the power of the direct line to customers that email provides, we must find vendors that efficiently utilize data where it already lives. Once we’re able to have a complete view of our customers in one place, we’ll be able to understand them a little better. The technology that taps into our single source of truth then allows us to execute better.

And we need to be better.

What do customers really want?

We can talk about email having superior ROI all day long, but something’s broken between enterprise brands and their subscribers. A recent article from McKinsey puts it bluntly: “What customers want and what businesses think they want are often two different things.” Here’s what they determined customers really want when it comes to personalized communications:

  1. Relevant recommendations they wouldn’t have thought of themselves
  2. Knowing them well enough to time messaging appropriately
  3. Reminding them of things they should be keeping track of but aren’t
  4. Being able to see them across any touchpoint seamlessly
  5. Sharing value in a way that’s meaningful to them

Delivering these sorts of messages to customers is nearly impossible without visibility and technology that works in real time from a single source of truth. While we need to hold our ESPs accountable, we also need to hold ourselves accountable that we’re demanding solutions that help us deliver consistently relevant messages to our customers, not just accepting that email is irreparably broken. It isn’t, and we don’t have to accept less than what our customers want. Demand more. Make sure your standards for your emails are at least as high as the standards of those you’re delivering to.

(This is Part 2 of a two-part post responding to a recent Wall Street Journal article. To read Part 1, click here)