Email is one of the most effective digital communication channels, and delivers the highest ROI of any marketing tactic (email marketing generates $38 for every $1 spent!). It’s also the key to unlocking a consumer’s entire Internet-based life and your new omnichannel marketing strategy.
It all starts with the Digital ID. The Digital ID is your pot of gold when it comes to understanding your customers’ online behavior. It’s the crux of who they are on the Internet; a lens into nearly every crucial aspect of their digital footprint.
The Digital ID is, in essence, a customer’s email address. This little asset can help you understand everything from where customers have been spending time online to what they’re purchasing, and even where they’re most likely to spend money in the future.
An email-first mentality is a must for any company that wants to be ‘omnichannel’ because it’s all based on consumer movement, data generation, and the Digital ID.
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Tell me more about this Digital ID
Before we go any further with the Digital ID, let’s look at why it matters. In today’s digital universe, consumer technology has fundamentally changed the game for digital marketers. Email is the one constant amid a sea of movement. Because if there’s one word to describe the ebb and flow of behavior and consumption of popular consumer technology, apps, and devices, it’s movement.
We move from seeing a review for a movie on our iPhone to watching it on Netflix via our iPad.
We move from reading a story on our tablet to seeing who’s tweeting about it on Twitter or commenting on Facebook.
We compare prices on items using mobile, then move ‘in-app’ for specific item research, or hop onto a desktop for a more immersive experience then back onto mobile again.
Amongst all this movement, there’s one constant: our email address. It’s effectively the social security number of our digital lives; a data-generating engine. For marketers that want to go omnichannel, it’s the lynchpin that holds it all together.
Email is far from dead – it’s our unique online identifier. The number of email users worldwide is forecasted to rise to 2.9 billion by 2019, and, according to Pew Research Center, 92% of online adults use email, with 61% using it on an average day. It’s undoubtedly the best way to remain relevant, targeted and attention-grabbing moving into 2018.
Just listen to what email marketing expert, Brenda Stoltz, the founder and chief strategist at Ariad Partners, had to say:
“The biggest email marketing challenge for 2018 continues to be relevancy. Consumers are more sophisticated today. They have no problem unsubscribing, marking something as spam, or even setting up a fake email. Companies must deliver highly targeted, highly relevant email content to get and keep attention… Email may be an ‘old’ channel, but it’s not dead.”
Email-driven behavior is the data source that many progressive-thinking digital marketers use to gather a wealth of information to take advantage of the #1 opportunity and challenge that email enables: personalization.
Kath Pay, the CEO and Founder at Holistic Email Marketing, has the following to say about its vitality:
“Both the biggest opportunity and challenge for email marketing is personalization. Email personalization is based upon the unique ID of the individual (the email address) – and as such, you’re personalizing the experience to the individual, not to the computer (via cookies). Ultimately, marketers can better personalize the web experience based, first, on email. Email is the easiest channel to personalize on a 1:1 basis; though it still isn’t ‘easy’. Personalization is a strategy, made up of covert and overt personalization tactics. Marketers are often tempted to let the technology dictate strategy – however, we need to ensure that we, the marketer, take the reins and create a meaningful and relevant experience for our customers. Remain in charge of your strategy and allow the technology to bring it to life.”
Email is probably more common in your digital life than you even realize. Think about it. It’s how we:
- log into accounts, portals, and dashboards;
- register for webinars, workshops, and courses;
- subscribe to blogs, podcasts, company updates, promotional notifications, and loyalty programs;
- sign up for events or social programs;
- download mobile apps, PDFs and guides;
- make purchases of almost any kind, whether online, via an app, or in-store.
So you can see that while email addresses are our Digital IDS, our behavior is omnichannel. The big question all marketers need to be asking right now is, how am I using email as the foundation of my omnichannel strategy?
Marketers thinking about omnichannel can get there most effectively by using email addresses to first build flourishing, data-driven customer profiles.
As we’ve established by now, the Digital ID allows marketers to note online behavior, the devices a consumer prefers to use, the times they’re most receptive to emails, and dozens of other metrics closely tied to online behavior. After enough interactions, you can then begin forecasting future actions, making inferences about customer preferences, and predicting future purchases.
In an age where web visitors retargeted with personalized display ads are 70% more likely to convert on your website, it’s critical for marketers to offer up desirable, personalized content. Use Digital IDs (aka email addresses) as a prime indicator of where people have been to predict where they’re going and what they’re interested in.
How to use email as the first step in your omnichannel strategy
Now that we’ve discussed the value of the Digital ID (aka email address), let’s dive into how it can be used to as the first step in your path to a successful omnichannel marketing strategy.
The trick to omnichannel is to use email as the starting point. From there, you can collect and organize data about customers, then expand into building a personalized web experience, a thriving mobile program and a robust social retargeting strategy.
Still, it’s crucial to make email as robust, personalized, and optimized as possible before launching into other channels. Like any new relationship, you don’t want to rush into omnichannel.
Because of email’s status as the number one marketing ROI channel and its wide-reaching, global capability, setting up email effectively is the most potent omnichannel roadmap to invest in for maximum ROI.
Pro tip: Consider your goal. The eventual goal of most digital marketing or B2C approaches is to achieve a true omnichannel strategy, armed with personalized capabilities to maximize revenue: the ability to provide a consistent experience regardless of which channels customers are using at any given moment.
The best practice is typically to start with one channel. While we don’t recommend using only email, we do advise most companies we help to start there. The most successful brands we work with began with an email-first strategy, then amplified and expanded their efforts once they were ready.
Email marketing experts all agree on the value of an email-centric, omnichannel approach. So now let’s look at three powerful ways you can use this Digital ID to actively improve and scale your marketing strategy: personalization, deliverability, and retargeting.
1. Increase email personalization
More than 73% of customers today are looking for some level of personalization from the brands with whom they regularly interact.
The Digital ID is crucial to hyper-personalized, 1:1 relationship-building.
By building unified profiles around each customer’s Digital ID, marketers can gain actionable insights about how each person tends to behave online and prefers to interact.
Once you can start to mix and match email behavior with web behavior, you can quickly start to get really granular, and more effectively target content, products, ads and incentives to each customer on an individual level.
“Behavioral triggered emails are both relevant and effective. The email address is the key to get from anonymous clicks to actionable campaigns (via customer data profiles). What many marketers haven’t realized is that with the email address, you can ‘stitch’ historical anonymous behavior to the user’s profile. Say, for instance, a visitor browses your website, and adds a product to their cart without logging in. Web behavior is stored in a cookie or logged through device fingerprinting. If their email is collected in a subsequent session, the marketer can use the information from those cookies to start sending more targeted emails – like an abandoned cart email – from day one.”
These kinds of personalized incentives, product recommendations, and time-optimized offers are usually the most effective when you begin by collecting data with email at the center.
2. Improve email deliverability
It’s critical that your marketing messages are actually reaching their intended recipient. While email is arguably the best way to track and measure whether your message was read by a consumer, it also comes with its own set of challenges.
Firstly, just because you hit ‘send’ doesn’t mean the email is necessarily landing in the intended inbox. In fact, some 20% of emails never reach their destination – of the 12,000 emails the average B2C brand sends out each month, around 2,400 never reach the intended recipient.
The key factor in the deliverability rate of your emails is not the content of the message, the sender, the call-to-action or even the subject line. It’s actually just subject to the individual user’s Internet service provider (ISP) and its guidelines for accepting email. Different ISPs have unique ways of protecting their customers from spam, and their own set of bounce codes and policies.
The most personalized email design and content mean nothing if it isn’t hitting the intended inbox because of ISP guidelines. If your messages aren’t making it to your recipient, you’re missing out on significant revenue opportunities.
The answer is to track the user’s ISP using their Digital ID to gain an understanding of which kinds of emails will and won’t make it through the filters. Doing so will help you manipulate emails to maximize the chances of each email hitting the right inbox every time, thus improving revenue generated via email.
3. Retarget via other channels
Deliverability refers only to the successful transport of your email to your customer. Open rate, engagement, and conversion are entirely different beasts. Even when marketers successfully send emails, the majority of intended recipients never read them.
So what can you do to bridge the gap?
This is where the scope, utility, and cross-channel usability of the Digital ID truly shines.
Data collected about how a customer reacted (or didn’t react) to an email can be used to inform continued efforts to re-engage across other, more effective channels for that individual. How might this work, you ask?
Chad S White, a research director and the author of Email Marketing Rules has a few ideas:
“Email data might show that a customer opened your message, clicked on your offer, but failed to convert. You can then re-market to that person using SMS notifications or CRM ads, increasing recall and giving them another opportunity to convert. Email addresses are a key customer identifier and that email is a key engagement channel. Brands should use their email database to power digital ads, including the targeting of lookalikes, and use the performance of email subject lines, calls-to-action, and other content to inform the words and images used in ads, catalogs, and elsewhere. At the same time, pull product reviews, social media posts, and other earned media into your emails. The de-siloing of email marketing is a major trend. Make sure you’re integrating email with your other marketing channels, and vice versa.”
All of the data collected in an individual’s Digital ID helps to build their unified profile, thus allowing for increasingly relevant and effective interactions over time and channels – in other words, for an omnichannel marketing experience.
Adam Q. Holden-Bache, an email Marketing expert and the author of How to Win at B2B Email Marketing makes the following recommendations:
“Aside from email marketing, the email address can be used for postal appending (to gather the consumer’s mailing address), social appending (to gather a consumer’s social channel profiles), and for serving targeted ads. With an email address, a marketer has an arsenal of options to learn the who, what, where, and when about each consumer, and can use that information for more targeted and relevant messaging. An email address with accompanying profile data can be used to create personalized segments and message content, which results in a more relevant message. And increased relevancy means increased conversions.”
Increased relevancy is in itself the greatest challenge: crafting messaging and using data and recipient behavior to create a personalized experience. While platforms are improving to help marketers with this task, it still requires a lot of effort to collect data, establish strategy and workflows, set up campaigns and automations, test, integrate tracking methods, deliver and analyze results.
Still, recipients have acknowledged that more personalization generates better engagement and responses, and if marketers can deliver a high level of relevant messaging, their results should be impressive.
Ultimately, the ability to unify all available data about a customer, and retarget them across all channels is all made possible only by data stemming from their email addresses.
An omnichannel strategy is a great general goal for marketers to have, but email is the sole key to getting there. If omnichannel is the roof under which all customer’s shopping experiences are housed, email is the foundation that those experiences must be built upon.
For marketers, to get beyond using ‘omnichannel’ as an aspirational buzzword, we must start to build out our entire channel’s strategy around a unifying element; the central piece of information that serves as a gateway to understanding our customers – that’s the Digital ID.
The pinnacle of email marketing success today truly is optimizing via automating – leveraging, augmenting, and ultimately trusting technology to target customers as individuals.
Omnichannel excellence is more than achievable for every company regardless of size, stature, or resources. The path to omnichannel is more about strategy than anything, and that begins with email, leveraging the Digital ID at the core.
Digital marketers who use email addresses as the central unique identifier for each customer, building up information around them as data is accumulated then using that information to deliver personalized brand interactions across multiple channels, will enjoy a breakout 2018 and beyond.
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Guest Author: Michael Becker is the Digital Content Manager at Emarsys, the largest independent marketing platform company in the world. He graduated from Butler University in 2014, and is a content marketing fanatic. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.