Is email marketing going to be the victim of a slow death of 1,000 cuts? While data say yes we think not.
For the better part of a decade, the performance of B2B email marketing programs has been declining. When we started this blog and its accompanying newsletter in 2009 our opt-in email lists routinely delivered open rates of 30-35% and CTRs of 10-15%. These days, most email marketing benchmarks top out at 10-15% open rates and 2-3% CTRs. Depending on how you slice it that’s a performance decline of 70-90%. Awful.
There are many reasons this is happening. To start, people began turning more and more to social media to get their daily dose of news and insight. More recently, they’re leaning on YouTube and podcasts. Simultaneously, while the email inbox used to sit at the heart of a busy executive’s day, more organizations have moved internal communications to Slack or Teams channel. In short, people are spending less of their day in their inbox.
In fact, in our 2022 survey on thought leadership, conducted in partnership with Buday Thought Leadership Partners, 163 B2B marketers and editorial leaders ranked email marketing just 6th on a list of most effective promotional tactics.
B2B Email Marketing is Alive and Well
Taken collectively, these prevailing behavioral trends and data paint a bleak picture for email marketing. But, I wouldn’t suggest heeding them.
Despite the narrative, many organizations like CB Insights, The Information, Prof G Media, Axios, and McKinsey are bucking the trends. They’re increasing their investments in email. Launching multiple newsletters. Growing subscriber lists. Increasing engagement. Driving return website visitors. Building lasting relationships. Sometimes they’re even building entire businesses on the back of email newsletters.
How are they doing it? In short, they treat the medium far differently than their peers. It’s not just a conduit to drive people to a website. It’s an editorial product unto itself.
#1 – Map Your Product to Your Audience
This seems like marketing 101, but most email newsletters are quite generic in nature. Firms publish all their latest thinking across a wide range of topics, industries, and practices then serve it all up in one generic, diverse templated newsletter.
The best firms are getting more relevant by being more targeted. Their identifying niche audiences and building email products customized to their unique interests, needs, and consumption habits. In the last 3 years, McKinsey has launched 11 such email products ranging from targeted multilingual newsletters for executives reading in Spanish, Portugese, and Arabic to a product called “Mind the Gap” developed specifically for Gen Z readers and executives interested in better understanding their Gen Z customers and co-workers.
#2 – Develop a Unique and Differentiated Delivery Format
Like many digital communications, email newsletters have converged into a sea of sameness. Almost every newsletter looks identical – a basic graphical masthead, short snippets for a few articles, a case study here or there. A fair amount of energy goes to producing something without a whole lot of thought. The best firms are bucking this trend.
The McKinsey newsletter “On Point” features two quick bullets of news on a timely topic, some relevant data, and featured McKinsey perspectives on the topic at hand. It gives the reader context and perspective and packs it all in with less than 500 words.
The “Chart of the Week” from Prof G Media features a simple visual chart, a few bullets to offer some context, and a link to a short video of Scott Galloway explaining what it means. It’s useful, timely, relevant, and quick-hitting.
Axios newsletters are designed to be skimmed. Each article is prefaced with a summary of “why it matters” and gives the reader just what they need to come up to speed on the day’s news in less than 5 minutes. Many of the links even point to other news sites.
#3 – Bring Discipline and Rigor
High quality thought leadership is built on having a distinct point-of-view on a topic that is of interest to your clients. Success hinges on being novel and presenting a better, more coherent solution to a sticky problem.
Email marketing is the opposite. It’s built on routine and predictability. Great editorial products have always been highly predictable. Good Morning America starts every day at 7:00A EST. Without fail. Your email marketing should be no different.
Prof G Media is a master at this. Scott Galloway’s team delivers the Chart of the Week every Monday. Without fail. His perspective newsletter, “No Mercy. No Malice.” arrives every Friday. Without fail. Readers come to expect it. In fact, they look forward to it.
Your firm is essentially making an appointment with your clients’ inbox. Every week. Same time. Same channel.
Take a First Step
The first question to ask is this – “Is having a regular ongoing, 1:many relationship with your clients and prospects important to the success of your firm?” If the answer is, “heck, yea!” then I’d suggest taking a few steps:
- Check Your Email Performance – Are subscriber rates growing? Declining? Stagnant? Look over a longer period than a few months. Look for trends that would indicate it’s time to shake things up a bit.
- Shake Things Up — Brainstorm with your team some different ways you could approach your email marketing activities. Think of each email newsletter as its own, unique editorial product; not just a conduit to push a message to some names on a list. What can you provide that others cannot? How could you mix a few different content formats to provide something different and useful? What could you do so readers look forward to receiving your “product” in their inbox? How can you make your newsletter “habit forming” so people want to come back?