Pay: New Research: Helpful, Personalised, Customer-Focused Emails Drive Higher Engagement


Around this time last year, I asked you all to think differently about email marketing, to envision "marketing as helpful customer service, not a means to an end." In other words, to build your email marketing around creating a better customer experience – Customer Experience Email Marketing.

CX Email Marketing is a major force in the rise of marketing that centres on relationships, rather than brand-focused, one-size-fits-all campaigns, to build sales and grow profits.

This is not wishful thinking. I've just put the finishing touches on research that supports upgrading your email programme from a "Buy this" message to one that focuses on helping your customers achieve their goals.

The main reason for this about-face is that your helpfulness and customer focus will increase loyalty, engagement and sales – thus helping you reach your goals, too.

The essence of CX Email Marketing lies in a simple question: "How do my emails help my customers achieve their own goals and objectives and be successful in the parts of their lives that my products/services touch?"

Does reader engagement correlate with CX Email Marketing?

My company, Holistic Email Marketing, teamed with Liveclicker to study emails that 82 retail and travel brands sent to UK recipients and used data from eDatasource to look for connections between CX Email Marketing and reader engagement.

We began with this hypothesis: Putting the three pillars of CX Email Marketing to work in an email campaign will deliver higher engagement results.

I'll provide findings and analysis elsewhere in this post, but right now I'll just cut to the chase:

Email campaigns built around helpfulness, personalization and customer focus drove higher reader engagement in business-as-usual emails.

Keep this in mind as you plan out both your holiday campaigns and go forward with your general approach to email marketing.

The best news: You don't have to blow up your entire marketing programme and start over. A change in focus and content can be enough to get started.

What's the state of CX email marketing?

That was another of the research questions we wanted to answer in our study. How do email marketers currently use helpfulness, personalization and customer-focused content in their emails?

The three characteristics I mentioned previously – helpfulness, personalisation and customer- focused content – make up the three pillars that CX Email Marketing practices stand on. Here's a little more about each one:

  • Helpfulness: Elements in a message that would help your subscribers, customers or users achieve their objectives, however grand or simple. They can be anything that we can do to make the customer experience better.
  • Personalisation: Using preference data in segmentation, behavioural data in triggered messaging, or real-time contextual elements like those that make a message more helpful and which underscore the customer-focused nature of your emails.
  • Customer-focused: Copy and tone that encourage sales (or other conversions) by focusing on benefits to the customer instead of selling features.

Research findings

We go into depth on our research methodology in our report: Customer Experience Email Marketing: Getting Ahead of the Consumer, which I invite you to download. But here's a snapshot of how we did the research:

State of CX Email Marketing: We took three non-transactional emails from each brand in the study and scored each email from 0 to 3 on each of the three CX Email Marketing pillars: helpfulness, personalisation and customer-focused copy. Then we averaged all nine scores across the three emails to determine the overall CX Email Marketing score for that brand.

Reader engagement: We compared each email using eDatasource’s engagement metrics, which measure subscriber actions: the percentage of recipients who read the email, read and deleted it or deleted it without reading.

Here's what we found:

1. The average overall score among all brands for each CX Email Marketing pillars:

  • Helpfulness: 3.46/9
  • Personalisation: 2.08/9
  • Customer-focused: 2.60/9

Email marketers have a long way to go to make their emails more customer- and service-focused. Although helpfulness ranks the highest among these three factors, the lower score for customer-focused tells us that marketers might couch their helpful content in features rather than benefits. And, we'd love to see those numbers go higher!

2. Brands whose campaigns scored above average earned higher reader engagement than those whose emails scored below average.

This supports our hypothesis that emails that scored high on one or more CX Email Marketing factors would see higher read rates.

3. Those higher read rates tended to be significantly higher, often more than double.

This finding shows promotional emails that score high on the CX Email Marketing scale will generate significantly higher engagement than lower-scoring emails. We focused on promotional over transactional emails because transaction emails, which reflect behaviour, are naturally more helpful, personalised and customer-focused than broadcast and business-as-usual emails.

Wrapping up

CX Email Marketing helps you navigate the delicate balancing act between customer and company goals. You achieve your goals by helping your customers to achieve theirs. The result is a mutually beneficial relationship with the potential to endure into loyalty. Everybody wins!

Title: New Research: Helpful, Personalised, Customer-Focused Emails Drive Higher Engagement
About: Email Marketing Research
Audience: Email Marketers
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