Lean into Email in 2022: An Interview with iContact’s Hank Hoffmeier

Lean into Email in 2022: An Interview with iContact’s Hank Hoffmeier

I like email. Data says almost all of us do.

Email breathes easier than the social noise pollution of customers and brands trying to shout at each other through a disjointed deluge of disaster and dog photos. Ever notice how your brain feels switching from the overstimulation of Twitter to the one-on-one hush of a list of emails which you can either choose to open or delete? Do you experience a difference? Stats indicate that our private email inboxes are a sort of refuge we’ve come to count on, a quieter corner where people can experience satisfying customer service when done right.

When Moz and SMB email marketing software provider iContact joined hands this past summer, I began looking for an opportunity to explore our shared goals of facilitating brand discovery and brand-consumer communication. Like you, I’ve absorbed years of steady statistics about the outstanding ROI of email marketing amid louder social media hype, but this was my first chance to sit down with an expert like Hank Hoffmeier, who is Strategic Insights Manager at iContact.

I believe reading Hank’s tips and talk on trends today will make 2022 the year you center email in your customer service strategy for its welcome privacy, usefulness, familiarity, cost effectiveness, and excellent conversion potentials.

The profit and popularity of email marketing

Miriam: A stat which stunned me is that email marketing generates $42 for every $1 spent, yet I sometimes feel like email has been presented as “boring” vs. the glaring busy box of social. What is your take on this, Hank?

Hank: According to Demand Curve, email marketing has a higher ROI than any other form of publicity, can drive 6x more conversions than Twitter posting, and is 40 x more likely to be noticed than what a company posts on Facebook. Email marketing allows you to send the right message, to the right person, at the right time, at a ridiculously low cost. Stop throwing money at PPC and social media advertising that takes longer to convert and costs so much.

Email marketing allows you to get personal with your subscribers. This is either not plausible or can be very challenging with other channels like social media that require you to follow customers to message or DM them. Email is where we obtain long form personal messages, obtain order and shipping information, and communicate at work.

With your email marketing campaigns, each message can feel like a one-on-one conversation by using segmentation and personalization. Subscribers can be greeted by first name and can experience content that matters to them on the basis of data such as survey information, purchase history, engagement history and more. Make sure to ask for information to help provide a better experience for your subscribers.

Miriam: Email open rates increased 13.64% in 2020, mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but I was surprised to read that it’s actually millennials who are spending more time in email than any other group. What stats convince you most that email is popular, not just with brands, but with everybody?

Hank: A study from Pew Research says six in ten American workers who use the internet say email is “very important” for doing their job, while the Content Marketing Institute reported that 83% of B2B marketers use email newsletters for content marketing. Still not convinced? 95% of online consumers use email! In fact, to sign up for a social media account, you need an email address. The demise of email marketing has been reported year after year, but it is still a pillar in the content marketing world.

Email’s edge amid privacy concerns and consumer protections

Miriam: Consumer privacy has become a huge topic for SEO, and I’ve mentioned above my “quiet corner” idea about email, but I know it also faces challenges. What can you tell me about respecting customers’ privacy?

Hank: Data privacy is going to be trending next year. Email marketers are going to need to do more with less. We are seeing more of an emphasis being placed on data privacy. Apple in particular is creating a challenge in measuring email open rates and identifying subscriber location. For sure, we will see more email and technology companies follow suit. There is also the pending demise of third party cookies to worry about.

By collecting first party data, marketers will be able to continue segmenting, targeting and personalizing their emails for maximum effect. Things that will help marketers prepare would be updating sign up-forms, using surveys, and integrating with CRMs and e-commerce platforms to make better use of data being collected.

Miriam: I’ve talked about social channels being overwhelming, but complaints about groaning inboxes are common, too, especially when customers receive emails they don’t want. What can you tell me about double opt-in as a vehicle for respecting customers’ wishes?

Hank: Marketers should only send emails to people who want to receive emails from them. No exceptions. One way to ensure that subscribers really want your emails is to use a double opt-in process. This allows subscribers to confirm that they want your awesome emails and also helps them find your email in their inbox right away and dig it out from spam, should it land there.

Your double opt-in messaging should not be generic. Get potential subscribers excited to receive your emails and want to opt-in right away! Remember to offer value and entertainment.

More importantly, once subscribers opt-in, you need to send a welcome email right away, telling them what to expect and how often. It helps set expectations and allows you to start your relationship off right.

Miriam: So, what types of emails have you documented as being most welcomed by customers who have definitely opted-in, and have you noticed any differences in this between virtual and local business customers?

Hank: For the most part, the differences are small between brick-and-mortar and e-commerce emails. They are both similar in that brands are looking for conversions and the differentiation is that the conversion for brick-and-mortar can drive traffic into a physical location vs. e-commerce’s solely online purchases. The same email marketing best practices work for both entities.

According to the IDC, 80% of people check their email within 15 minutes of waking up. Email is still the preferred method of communication for consumers. We buy stuff and want to know when it will ship. We want to be entertained and inspired. Marketers need to educate and inform their subscribers using email.

Emails that have images and video tend to perform best. According to Forrester, video content has a 95% retention rate versus a 10% rate with text only. Use more images and videos in your email marketing campaigns to entertain and inform.

The mobile mountain and the marketers’ meh

Miriam: 64% of small businesses are using email marketing, but one-in-five campaigns isn’t formatted for mobile use. This is a huge mountain of a problem! Both Moz and iContact care a lot about SMBs. What advice do you have to help them make the necessary mobile transition?

Hank: Let’s face it, we live in a mobile world. More than half of email opens are on a mobile device. If you are not creating mobile responsive email campaigns, you are creating friction with your recipients. It is a bad experience that will lead to subscribers ignoring your emails or worse, marking them as spam or unsubscribing.

Almost every email marketing platform will have a drag and drop email editor that inherently creates a mobile responsive version for you. iContact has an easy-to-use editor that provides inspiration and great results.

Let’s cover some basic items:

  • Email content needs to have the ability to stack elements on top of one another and images and text must conform to the size of the screen they are being displayed on

  • Avoid images with small details that will not render well on mobile, while also making sure that your content is not cluttered and allows for finger-friendly clicks and scrolling. Calls to action, such as buttons need to be legible and clickable.

  • Use larger font sizes, shorter subject lines, avoid stacking links, and the most important tip is to test, test, test!

Miriam: Sadly, about half of marketers confess they feel the email campaigns they’re engaging in are only poor-to-average in quality. It’s definitely a “meh” state of affairs. What are the top mistakes you see in your day-to-day work in this field and do you have tips for improvement?

Hank: The biggest mistake I see email marketers making is thinking of their campaigns through their lens. They do not get to know their audience (avatar) well enough to send emails that matter to them and wonder why the results are lacking. Consider:

  1. It’s important to find the right frequency of emails that resonate. Do not send too many or too few emails. Survey your audience or watch trends in your reporting to find out the right amount of emails to send.

  2. The days of “spray and pray” are over. Many marketers fail to use subscriber segmentation. Segmentation allows for better-targeted emails. According to the Data & Marketing Association (DMA), marketers can realize up to a 760% increase in ROI by using segmentation. How about that? Better results for sending the right message to the right person!

  3. The most underutilized feature in email marketing is automation. By using workflows, you can create a powerful welcome or nurture series as well as have checks and balances along the way to drive better engagement and conversions.

Miriam: I do feel concerned for SMBs when I receive their emails with formatting errors or other problems that must be undermining the success of their campaigns. What are the bare minimum basics small business owners should look for in an email marketing tool?

Hank: Since email marketing has been around for a long time, whatever platform you choose should not be hard to use, should offer the most up-to-date features, and have good support. Look for these must-haves:

  • Segmentation

  • Automation

  • Easy to use email editor

  • Templates

  • Dependable support

  • Split testing capabilities

Email for welcome stability in 2022

I learned so much from chatting with Hank, and hope you’ve found good takeaways, too. As he says, email marketing has been around for a long time, and there’s something reassuring about that.

Make no mistake, email isn’t standing still. I’m interested in innovations surrounding AMP-style emails that turn mailers into microsites, enabling recipients to complete a checkout, book an appointment, or RSVP without having to leave their inbox. Dark mode email compatibility is another trend I’d like to know more about, and I’m always on the lookout for A/B split test developments that indicate how to prompt more engagement on matters of social progress.

But I think it’s the longstanding reliability of email that appeals to me most. As marketers and business owners, we feel constantly pressured to jump into the latest-greatest-new-thing. There can be fun in that, but also fatigue. Also, wasted client budgets when trendy experiments lack a foundation of proven results. Recently, I saw Rand Fishkin explain that email open rates are 252x higher than Facebook page engagements. Veteran marketers have been softly sharing this kind of wisdom about tried-and-true email marketing for years.

Do experiment! Do build the brands you market to converse everywhere. But don’t forget to take a breather when it’s so readily available, leaning on the steady edifice of email with its history of high conversion rates. Most companies, and most customers, have experienced more rapid change lately than we’ve wanted, and I’d say this should make the dependability of email communications all the more welcome to all parties in the year ahead.

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