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GUEST COMMENT Email marketing – are retailers heroes or zeros against other sectors?

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Email marketing is having a resurgence. Businesses report that conversion rates and ROI are up, and email is increasingly becoming the heart of digital marketing strategies by integrating with other channels in the marketing stack. According to the DMA [Direct Marketing Association National Email Client Report 2015], email ROI has jumped 53% in a year, delivering £38 for every pound spent. Delivery rates, conversion rates, open and click-through rates have all increased.

As a business tool for driving revenue email is often unequalled. However, it’s a major challenge for marketers to stay on top of new technology and developments which ultimately deliver an improved service to customers and better value to their business. Research by law firm Ashfords LLP found that although retailers are keen to implement technology, 48% admitted they don’t know what their customers want, and when they do they are unsure of how to use technology to help provide it.

The latest Econsultancy & Adestra Email Marketing Industry Census 2015 delved deeper into the practices, plans and expectations of over 1,000 of today’s digital marketers. This article goes even further by comparing retailers with other sectors, looking at which are the ‘heroes’ or ‘zeros’. Importantly, it offers practical tips and advice along the way to both improve customer journeys and to make it even more meaningful to modern businesses. The six sectors surveyed were retail; publishing and media; travel and leisure; charities, government and not for profit; financial services and technology and telecoms.


Across all sectors, email marketing is consistently a top performing channel for Return on Investment, ahead of other marketing channels such as SEO, content marketing, and paid search. When exploring the individual sectors, it is clear publishing has knocked retail from last year’s top spot, as they value email marketing the highest – 80% say the ROI is excellent or good. In fact, retail has dropped to fourth spot behind charities/government/NFPs and travel and leisure, with 69% saying excellent or good ROI. This slip may well be because retailers have made a major investment in email marketing – including increased adoption of technologies such as dynamic content, email automation, live webscrapes, abandoned browsing and basket recovery – and the results have taken some time to achieve.

Tip: As a starting point to improving your email marketing, ensure tracking is in place to measure the return for every £ spent. Remember investing in new technology and processes means you’re not going to see a return immediately.

Fig.1 How do you rate the email channel in terms of return on investment? (Results show Excellent or Good)

Email performance

When asked how marketers rate the performance of their own email marketing, they don’t hold back – the answers are always surprisingly honest. Most indicate that their company’s email marketing offers a huge opportunity for improvement as they are underperforming compared to the ROI possible (see above). Travel and leisure (56%) and retail (52%) brands are leading the way, rating their performance as mostly good or above. Publishing/media achieved a commendable third place, having risen to 47%.

As leading sectors are using a wide range of automation triggers and ESP functionality (as we will see below), it’s no surprise they rate their own performance highly and as a result their expectation is to see ROI increasing accordingly.

Tip: Embracing both the technology and services available from ESPs will undoubtedly help marketers take advantage of market opportunities and boost their confidence and performance levels.

ESP Functionality

One thing is clear: the more marketers collaborate with their chosen email provider, the more they can home in on opportunities. By starting with the basics and moving up to more advanced techniques, this offers more scope for better return.

All sectors have shown an improvement in using their ESP functions over last year – Publishing, Tech and Retail companies are leading the way – most are using over 50% of functions.

Retail has shown the largest percentage rise in the last 12 months – an increase of 38% (from 40 to 55% this year). Retailers are clearly perceptive about the power of using ESP functionality and are eager to make the most of their supplier relationships.

Time management

We never have enough time in the working day to do all that we want, and email marketers are no exception. But how exactly are they spending their days? And are they using their time efficiently – balancing tactical and strategic actions that maximise results in the long run?

Spending over two hours per campaign on strategic actions must be beneficial as marketers look to refine and improve their approach. Financial Services and Retail score well here as they both spend time on strategy/planning, optimisation and reporting. Charities/government and NFP have to invest more time in these activities.

Fig 2. For a typical campaign, how many hours are spent internally on the following email related activities? (showing 2-8+ hours)

Likewise spending too much time on tactical actions may impact campaign results. Dwelling on the details may not be your best use of time, so use delegation and outsourcing to ensure your plan stays on track. Retailers are middle of the pack, and publishers come out on top here (as a lower score is best). This should definitely be an area where streamlining processes, and making them more efficient, should be a priority in order to focus more on strategy to improve performance in the long run.

Fig 3. For a typical campaign, how many hours are spent internally on the following email related activities? (showing 2-8+ hours)

Tip: Getting campaign time management right is a fine balancing act. Evaluating time spent on tactical and strategic activities – and looking for efficiency improvements – is vital.


This year’s Sector Report also measured the type of activities email marketers were undertaking. While Retailers and Travel & Leisure brands undertake a good spread of email practices, Publishers are the most consistent in their use of practices of any sector, topping the charts in six categories (and tied top in the seventh).

Retailers are in third place overall, coming top in two practices: Regular list cleansing, and Promoting customer ratings and reviews. They also scored highly in Basic segmentation and Re-marketing. However they undertake relatively little multichannel triggers, Use of video content, Lead nurturing and lead scoring.

Fig 4. Which practices are a part of your email marketing efforts?

What conclusions can marketers draw from this?

Firstly, know your audience and market. As publishers are producing the best ROI from email, we can safely assume the practices they are using are key in delivering this. Following the example of publishers, retailers should look to increase activity in a number of areas: multichannel triggers, advanced segmentation, content personalisation (beyond name), encouraging sharing content on social, optimising email for mobile, lifecycle programmes and lead nurturing.

Using and trying other practices is a good strategy to boost ROI, but there is always room for improvement in other areas too. For example, retailers say they only use 55% of their ESP’s services and functionality (against 70% for publishers) and they are happy with their email performance, but ROI has declined. Therefore, it seems logical that by using more practices and more of their ESP’s services and functionality, they could achieve a higher ROI.

Tip: Clearly, some practices are going to be more or less relevant for your sector – the key is to rank their relative importance to your organisation and then keep testing!

The future

Retailers agree that the future of email marketing is exciting. Retailers feel more strongly than other sectors that email will still be one of the highest channels delivering ROI in five years’ time (88% said this). All sectors agreed that ‘Email will be fully integrated with other marketing channels’ with 70+% saying strongly or somewhat agree –retailers also felt the strongest on this point (89%).

Clearly email will not stay the same, and businesses that exploit the integration and automation possibilities over time will reap the benefits.

Email will continue to be a measurable, reliable, dependable channel for marketers that want to drive results. However, the level of return will increasingly depend on whether businesses manage email as merely a direct response channel, or as a central piece of the jigsaw for delivering personalised, integrated customer experiences.

In summary

Retailers have seen a drop in email ROI over the past year, as their investment in this channel takes some time to bear fruit. However, with a focus on more practices and an increased use of their ESP’s functionality, the retail sector may once again be the definitive hero.

Liz Smith is partnerships manager at Adestra [irdx vade]

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