Email marketing will survive – but only if you adapt with it

Email marketing will survive – but only if you adapt with it
Barron Ernst is Chief Product Officer for Naspers company ShowMax, an SVOD offering that's bringing 10000+ hours of on-demand video to South Africa. Founded in 1915, Naspers is a global internet and entertainment group and one of the largest technology investors in the world. Operating in more than 130 countries and markets with long-term growth potential, Naspers builds leading companies that empower people and enrich communities. It runs some of the world’s leading platforms in internet, video entertainment, and media.


For anyone working in eCommerce, a recent report by Return Path may have made some uncomfortable reading. The company released a new benchmark for email marketing, which found that emails from business marketing companies had the lowest read rate of any sector surveyed (just 9%, compared to 47% for those from utilities).

In today’s multi-channel world, where consumers can be reached in a variety of innovative ways, including in-game advertising, promotions through Shazam and QR codes, it may seem that the humble marketing email has had its day. Yet the reality is far more complicated.

While the era of generic emails and untargeted newsletters is ending, email in eCommerce will continue – but only if it’s transformed into a highly personalised, value-add service. 

This point has been much-discussed in the marketing community in recent years but what many still take for granted is the added complexity of local market conditions.

The future of email is mobile

Crucially, email is now primarily consumed over mobile devices. In fact, according to Litmus, over the course of 2015 mobile opens increased by 17% and now represent 55% of all email opens.  Attention spans on mobile are short, so users are only going to read content that is relevant to them. The rest they’ll filter to go straight to trash, or simply ignore.

eCommerce businesses that wish to continue to use email need to ensure their content is tailored to each reader. Every communication must relate to a reader’s individual context.

Over time, brands can pick key user moments or events that will drive critical emails to move the user to take an important action, such as finishing on-boarding, purchasing, friending, or following, for example.

The use of email marketing should vary according to the market. This is because email open and read rates in high-growth economies are considerably lower than those in developed markets; a fact that must be considered in any successful, global marketing strategy. In many Sub-Saharan markets in Africa, for example, I’ve seen open rates of less than two percent for emails; this compares to around 10% to 15% in the US.

Use push notifications

As a result, eCommerce brands targeting high-growth markets, such as China, Brazil or India, should consider the use of push notifications and other app notifications over email. With each of these channels, personalisation remains absolutely essential.

Mass push notifications can often backfire because they cannot be as easily ignored by the customer as emails. As a result, push notifications should be even more highly targeted and only used sparingly.

For example, brands can build a service that can send a notification to a customer at the ideal time of day for them (i.e., when they will find the content useful and have time to pay it proper attention).

In the world of email marketing, therefore, context is everything, and businesses must consider their core operations and their geography as these will dictate whether email is the right channel for them.

An eCommerce company based in a developed country and offering monthly box subscriptions (Graze, for example; or Ipsy) will find value in email promotions. It’s a great channel to drive users back to the site to finish their initial checkout, to remind them that they have another box coming, and to invite feedback on what they received.

Moreover, as the content customers receive from the brand is highly relevant to them, they are likely to find it engaging.

On the other hand, an online grocery delivery company in a high-growth market might get more value from a different approach. Here, more emphasis on mobile, push notifications, and other app notifications makes greater sense as for many consumers in these markets the mobile is likely to be their primary (if not only) way of interacting with the brand’s service.

A local approach to marketing is crucial.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of email marketing are greatly exaggerated. However, eCommerce brands need to be much more innovative in how they use the channel.

They need to be context-aware and highly-targeted and only use email in situations where it will deliver obvious value. Where it’s clear that tailored email will help brands meet their performance goals, then it should be embraced wholeheartedly.

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