Email Marketing vs. Marketing Automation – Getting It Right the First Time

by georgeeboy

ContentMarketingTagcloudThis post discerns the difference between email automation and marketing automation as a guide in making the correct choice for your business. As a preface, having a historical perspective of how we got from there to here could be useful.


“Don’t tell anyone! This isn’t what we’re supposed to be working on.”
– Ray Tomlinson, 1971

Memorable events or quotes usually mark significant inflection points in innovation. The Wright brothers flight at Kitty Hawk ushered in the Golden Age of Flight and commercial air travel. Henry Ford ushered in the age of the affordable automobile with the famous quote, “You can have it in any color you want, as long as it is black.”

Then, there’s Ray Tomlinson who ushered in the age of email in 1971 by imploring his colleague, Jerry Burchfiel, “Don’t tell anyone! This isn’t what we’re supposed to be working on.”

Ray had just cause for wanting to keep his email invention on the QT. As a recent MIT grad, Tomlinson was hired by Bolt Beranek and Newman – BBN – to help build-out the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network – ARPANET. A government-funded precursor to the Internet, ARPANET was intended to connect various research facilities around the country.

Wandering off the reservation, Tomlinson built a networked message address program instead. Sending messages to different users of the same computer was a done deal by 1971. Many mainframe computers of that era had up to a hundred users. But, things got real complicated once computers started talking to each other over networks. Messages needed to be addressed for an intended receiver actually received the message. Tomlinson solved the problem of messaging over networked computers with the now-universal @ symbol to signify networked email.

The Tectonic Shift

Though email lingered as a communications tool over networked computers for academics and businesses during the 1970s and 80s, the invention of the Internet in 1991 marked a tectonic shift in how ordinary people communicated with each other. Sending emails over the Internet allowed for personal communications with friends, family, even strangers living on the other side of the planet in a way never imagined. Best of all, email was free and fast.

Fast-forward to today, you find that email usage is ubiquitous. In 2015, DMA reported 4 billion email users on the planet. Moreover, 91 percent of U.S. consumers use email every day.

As personal communications shifted to email, savvy marketers likewise saw email as the future of marketing communications – a low-cost, effective way to communicate with customers and prospects. Even in its infancy, marketers saw email as being far superior to snail mail and telesales for direct B2B and B2C communications for numerous reasons.

Here are some recent email marketing factoids that reveal just how prescient those savvy early adopters marketers were:

  • The average 2014 email marketing ROI was $44.25 for every $1 spent (EmailExpert).
  • Email marketing generates an average 4,300% ROI for United States businesses (Direct Marketing Association/Copyblogger).
  • Emails convert to purchases at a rate three times greater than social media, with the dollar value of purchases being 17 percent higher.
  • Email acquires customers 40 times better than Facebook or Twitter says McKinsey & Co.
  • Hubspot says nurtured email leads generate 50 percent more sales-ready leads at a 33 percent lower cost and produce a 20 percent increase in sales opportunities compared to leads that are not nurtured.
  • Salesforce Marketing Cloud says 70% of people open emails from their preferred companies.

The Beast That Refused to Die

Few would argue that paralleling its reputation for proven profitability, email marketing also acquired a bad rap. It creates a horrific amount of spam that clutters our inboxes. In the early days, email marketers used tawdry batch & blast and shotgun tactics that annoyed consumers to no end. Though rumors of the imminent demise of email marketing were numerous and frequent, they proved greatly exaggerated. Rather than kill the beast that annoyed, industry innovators and thought leaders raised the bar. They took email marketing to a higher, more sophisticated, more consumer-focused level.

The Move to Mobile

Winning email marketing campaigns today are light years ahead of the old batch & blast and shotgun tactics from back in the day. Thanks to huge leaps in technology and an explosion in knowledge about consumer behavior, today’s campaigns use tactics that were unknown even 10 years ago: demographic and psychographic segmentation, pinpoint targeting, contextual personalized and dynamic email content and analytics. Significantly, email marketing has evolved from a free-standing marketing channel to unifying link that seamlessly connects cross-channel campaigns within the digital marketing gestalt.

Back in the day, email marketers had no choice but to annoy consumers with bulk email tactics. Location, demographic and psychographic personalization, and devices were non-issues. Everyone used a desktop computer and got the same email – “any color you want as long as it’s black.” The tools simply had not been invented to wage contextual, personalized digital marketing campaigns.

Today, you are remiss as an email marketer if you don’t crank these variables into your campaigns. For example, by the 2014 fourth quarter, smartphones accounted for almost one-half of email opens, with tablets approaching 20 percent. More people opened emails with iPhones alone – 38 percent – than all desktops combined, according to Movable Ink. B2B email marketers cannot ignore that 64 percent of decision makers use smartphones to open their emails says EmailExpert.

Email Marketing Personalization

When you wed the smartphone email-opens phenomenon with the email-personalization phenomenon, you have a winning combination for email-marketing success. According to Experian, personalized emails increase the unique open rate by 29 percent.

Email personalization in today’s lexicon means a heck of a lot more than placing the recipients name in the email. It’s about collecting customer information and exploiting that information to create the right email for the right customer or prospect at the right time. Hence, personalization and relevancy are now the defining characteristics of successful email marketing.

Personalizing emails requires tailoring specific content for email recipients depending on their stage in the buying cycle as they move from prospect to client. Personalized content is relevant, dynamic and contextualized. Getting the timing relevant for the email send is as critical as relevant content. Moreover, personalization requires developing re-engagement and follow-up strategies to maintain ongoing conversations with your customers.

You must satisfy three requisites to execute effective personalized email campaigns:

Segmentation: This concept is not exactly like discovering the Holy Grail. It’s old school Brand Management 101 from back in the day when network television reigned supreme, updated for the digital era. Segmentation is about knowing as much about your target audience – the people behind the email addresses – as possible without hacking the computers at the National Security Agency.

The good news is segmentation in email marketing is happening at a propitious time. Consumers are accustomed and willing to give up more personal information to businesses. But, you must give them something useful in return.

You can do segmentation by grouping customers and prospects by their browsing activities, things they bought, demographics and cohort generation brackets, and pyschographics – archetype personas of users in your target market.

When done correctly, segmented campaigns can produce huge payoffs. DMA reported in its 2015 survey that segmented and targeted email campaigns generated 58 percent of all revenue. Some markets reported an amazing 760 percent increase in revenue from segmented campaigns.

Dynamic content: Effective segmentation allows you to create dynamic content that’s personalized, customer focused, contextually relevant and tailored to the individual’s specific needs and location in the buying funnel.

Email Automation: Personalization is impossible without the technology infrastructure in place to send personalized, timely, relevant emails to to the right people at the right time. Campaign Monitor says 96 percent of your website visitors, though interested in what you sell, are not ready to buy. So what to do? Do you leave them in a lurch, or establish a way to continue the conversation? These people have a clear interest in what you sell and are perfect candidates to continue communicating with to make the sale at a later date.

Email Marketing Fail

That personalization is game-changer for email marketing is indubitable. You can now create relevant content that speaks to your audiences based on offers and information relevant to their wants and needs.

But, the entire notion of email marketing presupposes having a steady flow of leads. Absent a top-of-the-funnel strategy that provides a steady flow of primo leads, you’ll find yourself in the quagmire of re-working a steadily decaying database. Worse, you’ll wind up buying another company’s tired list with the unwanted consequences this low-rent tactic always produces:

  • low engagement from pestering people not interested in your stuff,
  • sliming your IP address reputation, which lowers your deliverability rates,
  • rock-bottom to negative ROIs.

Hence, winning email marketers place as much emphasis on generating and capturing leads as nurturing leads to stay ahead of the curve.

Inbound Marketing

In recent years, “inbound marketing” has become the rage for B2B and B2C email marketers. They leverage their customer and prospect interactions across multiple online and offline marketing channels to deliver an integrated brand experience. In the process, they generate a constant influx of quality leads they own rather than rent – leads from websites, blogs, social media, paid media and event marketing. Trolling for leads is a relentless, ongoing process that never stops. Landing pages proliferate the digital landscape. They all have the singular purpose – getting visitors to fill-out and submit contact information.

Because buying decisions often evolve over an extended period, B2B and B2C marketers also have a need to nurture their leads. They do this with drip email campaigns that nudge prospects through the buying cycle. Marketing automation enables marketers to send automatic drip emails based certain behavioral milestones prospects reach as they progress through the buying cycle.

Marketing Automation at a Glance

blog_graphic jpeg2 (3)

Successful omni-channel B2B and B2C email marketers generate leads across multiple channels, which they then nurture. In contrast, eCommerce marketers get the vast majority of their leads from top-of-the funnel lead-generation tactics. They may have a website, blog and social media presence. But, they don’t capture leads until customers buy something and give up their personal info during the checkout process.

eCommerce Conundrum

Because the buying cycle is short compared to B2B and B2C marketers, eCommerce marketers rarely nurture leads with drip campaigns. The conversion from prospect to customer often occurs with one website visit. As such, their databases tend to comprise of their own customers. And, by ignoring website visitors that fail to buy, eCommerce marketers miss huge opportunities. These visitors could be converted into customers with proper lead-nurturing drip campaigns.

Ecommerce customer lists often lack the segmentation sophistication used by B2B and B2C marketers. The lists might have rudimentary segmentation, such as customer purchase history. But, segmenting customers by campaign responsiveness, cohorts, personas and buying cycles remains the playpen of B2B and B2C marketers.

In consequence of minimal list segmentation, eCommerce marketers tent to blast their entire lists with the same annoying generic content that would do Henry Ford proud – “any color you want, as long as it’s black.” eCommerce customers rarely receive emails based on their unique customer profiles – their interests, lifestyles and behavior.

A Sucker Bet

One clear conclusion from this synopsis of email marketing from Ray Tomlinson up to 2016 is that email marketing is a moving target. It’s driven by vagaries of consumer preferences and behavior, government regulations and Google’s pervasive influence on virtually all content transmitted over the Internet. As such, email marketing is continually morphing into something it wasn’t.

Betting on email marketing to drive sales based on an email marketing paradigm you perceive it to be today is likely a sucker bet. The paradigm is always shifting. Google was awarded a patent in 2015 for an algorithm that enables it to penalize companies’ search engine rankings based on the amount of junk email they send. Consumers are fighting back against the proliferation of junk emails clogging their in-boxes with filters and by trashing unwanted emails.

Not only are consumers fighting back against junk email, they’re becoming steadily more proactive in getting information about solutions to their needs and wants. They’re talking to friends, doing Google searches, cruising company websites and tapping into social media platforms.

If your business is a one-channel, one-trick pony that’s communicating with your leads and customers only through email, you’re vulnerable to becoming roadkill by the next big paradigm shift heading your way. If you’re not leveraging interactions across multiple marketing channels, you lose the chance to tune into your leads’ behavioral cues and nuances that influence decision making. You lose the chance to build your brand by communicating with your leads in non-salesy venues as an authoritative thought leader in your specialty. You lose the chance to establish enduring relationships with your leads as something more than a mere vendor.

Think Content

Rather than think email marketing, think inbound marketing. Focus on creating quality content you can share across multiple marketing channels. Quality content is content that establishes your authority and earns the trust and confidence of your leads. Quality content works like a magnet to pull your leads to your company instead of your competitor. You’ll find it is far easier to convert leads to customers when you stop pitching and start aligning your content with the interests of your customers and leads.

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