Why email is a push channel… not a shove channel

As the original disruptive channel, email is second to none for customer preference and ROI. But only a smart customer-centric approach that aligns with your brand strategy will make you welcome in the inbox. By Kath Pay, founder of Holistic Email Marketing

As you head into the frenzy of the holiday email-marketing season, take a minute to step back and appreciate email's great strength as the original disruptive marketing channel.

The email renaissance

Those of us who have made email the centre of our work lives can rightly feel vindicated when study after study shows people prefer email for brand communications. As shown below from Econsultancy’s Email Marketing Census 2016, the ROI still outshines every other channel from print to broadcast to direct and social:

Marketing channels rated 1-5. #1 Email marketing #2 SEO #3 Content marketing #4 Paid search #5 Social media

Maybe one of the reasons email continues to shine is because we have had to work hard to make it better. But we still have a way to go. Email is the greatest push channel of them all – outshining SMS/text messaging and app/web push notifications – but my greatest fear is that we're still not doing it right even after all these years and that we’re taking this strength of the email channel for granted.

The reality is, we don't have to wait for our customers to find us through search or happenstance – our messages show up in our customers' inboxes, and they're welcome because they have requested them. And, if you design them well, even your unopened email messages can keep you top of mind just by simply appearing in their inbox.

What other marketing channel has that power? You have to tune in at the precise moment in order to catch a broadcast ad. Your print ad is invisible if nobody sees it. The closest you can get is maybe having someone glance at a catalogue cover as they drop it into the recycling bin. But, even then, those catalogues arrive maybe once every few weeks.

When push comes to shove

All of that is well and good. But we're still not harnessing the power of email as well as we could, because we're ignoring some uncomfortable truths.

Yes, email is a push channel. But recipients don't like having things shoved at them through irrelevant messages, messages that don't recognise them as loyal customers, messages that don't deliver any meaning or value.

Having been granted access to the inbox, we have to ensure we're pushing messages in a palatable way by sending customer-centric emails that focus on benefits.

It’s tempting to think that email is all about the sale. But really, the conversion usually happens on a landing page. So the goal of your email becomes building awareness or your products/services/% off sale etc., whetting your customer's appetite to learn more and click through to your landing page, where the conversion – the sale, the download, the registration – actually happens. So the objective of your email is to incentivise the recipient enough for them to click on the call-to-action.

Your email sells, but it doesn't close the deal. So, you need calls to action that reflect those different goals. An unrelenting diet of hard-sell ‘Buy now’ doesn't get you there, as often this may be too big an ask, too soon within the buying journey.

Every transaction is actually two sides of the same coin. The brand objective: "We want you to buy our product/service." The customer's objective: "I need to buy a product/service, but is this the right one?"

If your email copy reflects just your own brand perspective, your same-old/same-old message won't draw in your potential buyers. What would? A customer-centric approach and wording that anticipates and answers questions is one way that will.

A great example of a beautifully crafted customer-centric email can be seen below from Hilton HHonors.

Email content: Dear Katherine, Your next getaway is closer than you think. With these special offers, you can escape to your paradise. Below are some featured destinations, but with 4,000 hotels, you have even more places to make unforgettable memories.

Recognise and uphold the value exchange

The downside of being a disruptive push channel is that it leads many marketers to see "disruptive" as a negative, when "disruptive" in this context really implies a channel that brings change and innovation to message communication. 

So, instead of finding new ways to reach customers via email, we entertain suggestions that by reducing our frequency we will make our customers value our emails more. We get nervous and hung up about unsubscribes. We practically apologise every time we send a message. Wrong!

Your email programme began as a value exchange. Your subscribers are on your list because they want to be there (assuming you run a 100% opt-in programme). They're interested in what you're selling or because they bought something from you and want more messages and offers from you.

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When they gave their marketing permission to you, a transaction took place, even if no money changed hands. You promised them something, perhaps exclusive or early access to deals, offers and useful information. In return, they gave you something of value based on this promise: their email address. And now they expect something of value from you in return, in every message.

So use this powerful channel to push customer-service messages. Once you have grasped the concept that every message you send must deliver on this value transaction, ALL of your emails become ‘transactional’ messages. And as long as you deliver upon your initial promise to them when they subscribed, you are delivering a customer service.

Push, don’t shove

As the original disruptive channel, email is second to none for customer preference and ROI. But it's easy to get the message wrong – to use the hard sell and to speak in terms that don't relate to customers' interests, needs and preferences.

Smart marketers will capitalise on the advantages that this push channel has over pull channels like web, social and search marketing by delivering consistently on the value exchange that sets up customer expectations.

A customer-centric, customer-service focus that aligns with your brand strategy and voice will make your messages welcome additions in the inbox, keeping your brand top of mind just by virtue of being seen there. 

About Kath Pay

Kath Pay is one of the World's Top 50 Email Marketing Influencers (Vocus, 2014). She heads up training for Econsultancy on Personalisation and Email Marketing, and runs her own agency, Holistic Email Marketing

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