4 Reasons Broadcast Emails May Be Quietly Breaking Your Email Program
Don't let an over-reliance on broadcast emails drag you down. Columnist Chad White explains why marketers should spend less time sending broadcast emails and more time on optimizing their triggered email efforts.
Mainly driven by increases in broadcast messages, per-subscriber email volume has grown tremendously over the past decade.
When I tracked per-subscriber email volume sent by retailers from 2007 to 2012, I found that it more than doubled — from an average of 95 emails during 2007 to 210 emails during 2012. That’s a 17 percent compound annual growth rate, on average.
And it’s continued to grow at roughly that pace since. For instance, during the second quarter of this year, email marketing volume from all brands grew 16 percent on average compared to the same period last year, according to Experian CheetahMail research.
It’s an impressive growth streak — and a testament to consumers’ strong preference for brands to communicate with them via email versus other channels.
It’s also a streak I think is about to end. Here’s why…
The sea change that’s occurring in email marketing is that triggered and transactional emails are accounting for more and more of channel revenue.
These messages are incredibly effective because they are triggered by subscriber behavior, and therefore, they reach a subscriber when he or she is engaged with the brand. They also contain content that’s tailored to the individual’s needs at that moment.
Simply put, they’re super-relevant.
For some brands, revenue from these emails — which include welcome, browse and cart abandonment, birthday, post-purchase and order confirmation emails — already account for the majority of their email marketing revenue. In the not-too-distant future, the quality of email marketing programs will be defined by whether they’ve passed this milestone.
There’s just one thing holding back more brands from achieving this: an over-reliance on broadcast emails.
That’s because broadcast emails tend to be short-term, low-value, high-complaint, company-centric messages, whereas triggered emails tend to be long-term, high-value, low-complaint, subscriber-centric messages.
Given those characteristics, here are four reasons an over-reliance on broadcast emails may be impeding your ability to transition to an email program where triggered emails drive your revenue:
1. The Fight For Resources
In a world of limited marketing budgets, triggered emails are fighting for resources against broadcast emails — and sadly, broadcast appears to be winning at many companies.
Sending one more broadcast email is often seen as a quick win. When sales are coming in a little soft at the end of a quarter or a month or a week, hitting the “send” button one more time can do the trick.
Resisting this pressure can be difficult and, in some cases, impossible.
Sometimes, the content of broadcast emails is also the subject of considerable political jockeying from merchandisers, product groups and others within an organization. So sending one more email may be the most politically expedient way to appease everyone.
As a consequence, email marketers spend much of their time on low-yield, short-term tactics and very little on high-yield, long-term growth strategies, such as building out and optimizing triggered email capabilities.
2. Depleting The Audience For Triggered Emails
While marketers’ triggered email programs remain small, under-optimized and starved of resources, sending one more broadcast email can seem worth the risk. However, as a brand sends more and more triggered emails of increasing effectiveness, the point is quickly reached where the opportunity costs associated with sending more broadcast emails becomes too great.
That’s because the list churn and list fatigue caused by sending more low-value broadcast emails directly weakens the effectiveness of a brand’s high-value triggered emails by reducing their audience size.
For instance, having a subscriber opt out or tune you out right before they receive their annual birthday email represents substantial lost revenue.
Similarly, if subscribers opt out because they received “too many” emails between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday, then you’ve lost the critical ability to address abandoned carts and browsing sessions with those customers during the rest of the crucial holiday shopping season.
Put another way, in a company where the majority of email marketing revenue comes from triggered emails, retaining the ability to send triggered emails to a subscriber becomes an imperative — which means that losing subscribers due to excessive broadcast email volume becomes a key concern.
3. Campaign- And Company-Centric
As virtually every industry shifts toward becoming much more customer-centric, a heavy focus on broadcast emails is becoming increasingly off-brand.
That’s because broadcast emails are largely company-driven. They’re sent at a time decided by the brand with a message that’s determined by the brand.
On the other hand, triggered emails are subscriber-centric. They’re sent at a time that’s directly or indirectly decided by the subscriber, and the content of those emails is tailored to the subscriber’s circumstances.
Also, when done right, most triggered emails feel like great customer service rather than another hard sell, which is starting to wear a little thin in a world of ad blocking and commercial skipping.
Going hand-in-hand with this transition to customer-centricity is a move away from campaign-centric metrics toward customer lifetime value metrics. Mapping out your subscribers’ potential journeys with your brand is inherently centered on the lifecycles of your customers and encourages the holistic measurement of experiences rather than the momentary measurement of an isolated interaction.
This shift toward lifetime value metrics allows brands to see the collective impact of their email marketing programs.
4. Hidden Consequences
Marketers struggle with attribution and with measuring ROI, which is understandable given how complex our omni-channel interactions have become. According to Salesforce’s 2014 State of Marketing Leadership report, 48 percent of senior-level marketers rate “quantifying marketing’s ROI” as a major challenge, second only to “budgetary constraints.”
But just because something is hard to measure doesn’t mean marketers can pretend it doesn’t exist.
For instance, when sending “just one more broadcast email,” are you weighing the revenue generated by that campaign against the subscriber lifetime value lost due to the unsubscribes, blocks and spam complaints generated by the campaign?
Are you factoring in the additional email production costs associated with that campaign? Are you factoring in the opportunity cost of more strategic work that could have been done instead of spending time on that campaign?
Even if you can’t measure those, common sense and a need to protect your brand image must prevail at a certain point, because you know these consequences exist.
Am I saying you shouldn’t send broadcast messages? No, I’m not saying that.
Broadcast emails will always represent the majority of the email that marketers send, especially in industries like retail.
However, I am saying that when most of your email marketing revenue can come from roughly five percent of your email volume, that should cause you to do two things. First, take a hard look at the other 95 percent of the email that you’re sending, which for most brands is largely broadcast; and then re-evaluate how you allocate your resources and ask whether you’re focused on meeting this month’s revenue goal or blowing away next year’s.