Above: Matthew Smith of Really Good Emails
For marketers in search of the Next Big Thing — that hot new technology that will reach and engage your customers — Matthew Smith has you covered. Look down. To your phone, your desktop, your tablet. Yes, it’s email. The tool we most love to hate.
For Smith, email is an evolving tool with boundless possibilities. And one that has put his business Really Good Emails at the “epicenter of the email earthquake.”
Smith and three other self-described “email geeks” have been collecting and curating navigation, contact forms and all things email for nearly a decade. The RGE website is a searchable gold mine of how companies handled emails for everything from abandoned shopping carts (21 examples) to winning back lapsed customers (three examples).
“Our goal is to become the center of everything email, and we are becoming that,” Smith says. “Through that, we will become the answer to the questions: Where do I go to find the best resources for email, the best templates? How do I choose a provider? How do I learn how to use email better to sell our product?”
This email immersion seems to be working. Today, Smith is a sought-after Sherpa on the future of email.
“I strongly believe that email is incredibly important to connect with real customers,” Smith says, predicting that “we are marching into the golden age of email.”
Here are some of the trends and technologies that could significantly change the consumer relationship with email marketing.
Email goes interactive
Email currently serves as a conduit to get the consumer from an email to the website and from there to purchase. True interactivity, which Smith believes is “an era we are just about to enter,” will shorten the distance between the consumer and the company by eliminating the need to go to the website to make a purchase, or a donation.
Smith uses abandoned carts as an example. According to CPC Strategy, nearly 68 percent of shoppers add items to their shopping carts and then abandon them, a trend that costs retailers about $18 billion a year in sales. Currently, if you are TV shopping and you put one in your cart but don’t complete the purchase, the company may send you an email reminding you. But what if when you opened the email it could interactively update the price and offer you a special discount or incentive, like free shipping? And then complete the transaction fully without ever leaving your email application? Smith sees that as a valuable service — and an opportunity for companies.
Email content becomes more fluid
Once email is sent to you, it’s a done deal. Now. But Smith envisions email building and updating itself contextually when you open it.
“Content will live on the web and it will be orbital, more versatile,” Smith explains. Emails could be comprised of independent chunks of content that change and update each time you open the email.
Real-time messaging is predictive
It can sound a little “creepy,” Smith admits, but mobile technologies like GPS, near-field communication chips, radio frequency identification (RFID) and beacons, coupled with stored data, put message personalization on the front burner for businesses. Your phone knows you are near a store, the store knows what you bought last and a personalized offer is delivered to your email. “There are a lot of opportunities for even small businesses to be able to use [information] more wisely,” Smith says.
Making sense of the data
But why email? Why not text or an app? “People aren’t going to download an app,” says Smith, for every organization or retail outlet they are interested in. And a “phone number is too personal. But they will give up an email address.”
The opportunities certainly don’t pertain only to retailers, but to any organization or nonprofit that values meaningful connection.
“Most businesses don’t understand what they have with data,” suggests Smith, who admits that “the idea of sitting down over a spreadsheet and trying to make sense of it is overwhelming for a lot of people. It is for me.” That brings “data scientists and even philosophers who understand how to take data and make meaning out of it” to the table.
The goal is not to have to ask your customers what they want, Smith says. “They personalize through their actions and inactions. Your thoughts and patterns determine the future. That’s the way things will go.”
Email marketing tips for small businesses
“If you don’t have the resources, time or money to do something really big, then do something honest and authentic really well,” Smith advises.
- Define what you can do really well. Don’t try to be everywhere. “For many companies, studies and analytics are showing that email marketing can be more effective creating stickiness with customers than all social marketing combined,” Smith notes. If you had to choose between social media and email, “I would choose email.”
- Curate instead of create. Smith suggests you can provide valuable content to your customers by pulling together content from other sources in one place. Be consistent about when you send it out so your readers know what to expect and when it is going to come.
- Don’t underestimate humor. “People love to laugh, and we don’t do it enough. If you connect a positive emotion with somebody thinking about your company, you’ve made a connection that is going to be hard to break.”
- Recognize the value of email. On social media, you just “join the noise.” But if you have an email address, someone has invited you in. And there’s a lot you can do with that connection. Don’t be afraid to ask people for advice, involve them in your product development or conduct surveys.
- Be ethical. “Don’t try to entice me through intensity or a fear of missing out.” Subject lines may be places where you see both the best and worst of email marketing.
RGE writes an ongoing exploration series that involves deep dives into different company’s emails. You can read it at explore.reallygoodemails.com.