Reports From The Field: Global Email Marketing Challenges

This year, I’ve been surprised by the consistency of the challenges faced by clients in different markets and different industries. I’ve heard some of these themes in past years, but the uniformity of the challenges was new.

Here’s what I heard:

Need for a single view of the customer vs. resource constraints and privacy concerns. Email marketers would like more personalized and contextual messaging. This requires building a single view of the customer and the customer’s interaction with the company in real(ish) time. 

Today that data is largely in silos across the business. Without a single customer view, putting together personalized and contextual messaging typically requires complex data integration tasks that take a lot of time and sometimes lead to data quality issues. These data tasks take a disproportionate amount of time and make innovation difficult. 

Enabling certain contextual messaging types (e.g., abandoned shopping carts) is typically achieved by using “easier to integrate” systems provided by email service providers or other specialist vendors. Many email marketers that I talked to are interested in the concept of a customer data platform (which aims “to bring together all customer data and stitch the data together into unified customer profiles,” according to an Econsultancy blog), but worry about privacy — because a third party would host the most important data. Even more commonly, they worry that they don’t have the resources to implement such a system.



General concern about overmailing vs. lack of empirically driven approaches. Marketers feel as if business pressures are causing them to send more mail than is “healthy” for their list. Most marketers address this concern by applying “rule of thumb” approaches. This problem is even more complex for email operations teams that send mail for multiple parts of the business. 

Creating governance rules that apply across brands or business units is a particularly difficult challenge. Marketers would like better tools to address overmailing and to defend their decisions to business decision-makers.

Lack of operational and strategic reporting. Another common issue is reporting. Clients spend a lot of time pulling data from their email service provider, matching that with site/app/ecommerce and deliverability data, and then building strategic and operational stories in a business intelligence tool. Sometimes an agency does this for the marketer. Generally, clients would like to spend a lot less time doing this, and are looking for better reporting from their email service providers.

Triggered and contextual messaging vs. a traditional campaign-based paradigm. The final challenge is somewhat less common. Some clients expressed some difficulty in mixing “old-school” campaign-based email approaches with “new-school” triggered/contextual/customer journey approaches. These new-school approaches are mostly continuous, and sends are initiated by client actions in some cases. This requires a different approach to reporting and optimization. 

Reporting for the new-school approach must cover a longer period of time since the programs are continuous. Accurately attributing revenue to these kinds of programs is typically more difficult because clients are interacting with the company in more ways on average. The optimization approach for these programs is actually more similar to what a product manager of a consumer product would use than traditional email marketing approaches: making a series of smaller tweaks over a longer period of time to drive dramatically improved results.

What challenges are you hearing that I missed? Which trends don’t ring true to you?

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