Why the human is the most important part of email marketing automation

Do you know why customers aren’t opening your emails? Steve Kemish advises how to get the greatest impact from email marketing automation

What does good email marketing achieve?

Steve: Many things to many different organisations. As well as helping B2B organisations with their marketing and sales efforts, good email is about being able to deliver service, and communicate well with your customers, prospects, partners, community and employees. 

It’s still a really good way to get to people, and it can give you those direct business outcomes. Not just opens and clicks, but opportunities in terms of leads and registrations. Incidentally, it can be used to position your brand as useful, relevant and all the positive phrases that mean there’s more consideration for customers and prospects.

What are the prominent challenges with email marketing automation?

First of all, automation is an extension of email marketing, which means more technology for marketing. Marketers aren’t traditionally technologists, so they have to wrestle with the marketing and technology disciplines together.

There are two really important fuels for your automated email marketing. One of them is data; make sure you’ve got the right set of data on the people you want to communicate with, so it’s not a batch and blast or a one-size-fits-all. The other key fuel is content; automation gives you the ability to create more messaging to people, and it’s a good content delivery vehicle.

You need to run data and content together. It’s about enhancing the art and science that modern digital marketing needs.

Are there misconceptions as to how automation should be used?

It isn’t about buying a list to send to, it’s much more precise. We all get bombarded which is part of the overall problem with email. It’s easy to send so we get saturated and our inboxes get too busy.

It’s about using much more precise targeting. Try to build one-to-one interactions rather than one-to-many – although I think one-to-few is probably the best that most of us can achieve. The positive of automation is it can give the feeling that the email’s very much meant for you, and  sent to nobody other than you, rather than feeling just a recipient on a list.

Has the popularity of email automation influenced its effectiveness over the past 10 years?

It depends what industry you’re in, but we tend to put too much emphasis on automation and lose that human-to-human element. There are certain industries where automation is incredibly beneficial because it means you’ve got that customer journey moving along and email is the vehicle to deliver the message you want. 

Holistically, if you want to map the customer journey you need to find out where email is the most effective to get the message to the customer or prospect. There may well be another way that may be better to get your message across effectively. But if email is the right way to do it, then you use it.

Where email marketing automation is used well it gives a halo effect to the rest of your email. You can use automation to trigger an email because something that recipient has done or not done. So if they’ve gone idle or cold on you,  you can give that feeling that it’s personal and meant for the recipient – even though it’s through technology – which can have that positive impact. 

What a lot of organisations fall foul of is using the technology just because they’ve got the contract and they have to justify the money they’ve spent on it. That can be a compounding factor – you can actually end up with too much going out the door.

So it’s really about being relevant?

If you’ve received automated messages that aren’t for you then it feels quite hokey. For example, when you’ve got a message saying ‘thanks for booking’ but you’ve clearly not done that.

The point with automation is you can’t just start it and leave it to run on its own. You need human management. There are exceptions where you’ll need to turn automation off; where you’ve got a customer complaint or there’s a broader issue in the industry. If you turn it back to the positive, there are things that happen that you need to notify people about in a timely way, automated email marketing can help here.

Are there any tactics you think are over-used in email marketing?

We’re too tactical with email, there’s too many sent out. Even in a post-GDPR landscape, there’s still a high volume of emails going out which means most emails are just simply deleted. 

Due to technology in modern email marketing systems and marketing automation, there’s the opportunity to be more relevant but companies stick fast to personalisation. Instead of personalisation it should be about the outcome which should be relevant and feel like it’s meant for the recipient.

If you’ve got good data then you can be personal. But personal doesn’t just mean putting a name into the subject line, or putting ‘Dear Steve’ at the top of the email. It’s thinking hard about a recipient’s previous engagement with you, what they’ve bought from you and where they are in the world.

Can you retain the human element while using automation?

I think you can. If you’ve not audited and worked out what automated message is going out then you do risk ‘computer talk’. You must have a human element to your automation. Well-curated and copywritten emails that feel like they’re meant for you need to be on brand, have the right tone and the right imagery. 

The best automated messages never look that way, they feel like they were crafted by somebody that really wanted to communicate with you. Although there’s lots of talk about technology disrupting the traditional marketing department, there is still a need for a well-crafted, well-written piece of prose that can sit inside that technology. That blend of technology and human is where the positives for marketing are.

What are your quick hacks for making emails feel more human?

Make sure the look, tone and feel of those automated emails look like the other human-written messages that might go out. It’s a really important to audit salutations. Often a company will use ‘Dear Steve’ or ‘Dear Mr Kemish’ but when humans within that company send an email they use ‘Hi Steve’. It’s those tiny things that can really stand out and set off someone’s brain to think it’s marketing and can be deleted.

What makes someone click on an email?

Relevance and timeliness are the two important parts of email. You can dupe somebody into reading something with a salacious subject line or a false offer but ultimately people are only going to click-through if they can understand what it’s about, why it’s for them, what the reward is and what action you want them to take. In B2B that reward will probably provide premium information – it’s something that’s a bit more precious than they’ll get elsewhere.

At a basic level it’s also about design, it’s quite a common mistake to write your emails without really thinking about the layout. You need to make sure it’s really obvious where the call-to-action is so it’s as easy as possible for someone to scan your email and see if it’s important to them. If the link isn’t obvious then you might just be missing out on traffic.

How will you help marketers on your training course?

I aim to blend practical and theory. That means understanding what best practice in email marketing is now and in the near future. We’ll look at what the quick wins are, the strategies that need thinking about, and a blend of tactics and strategies. 

Tactics are about doing, and strategy is about thinking and solving a problem. We’ll cover both. I aim to have a number of things you can do differently the next time you send an email. There will also be important things to consider and prioritise long-term because they’ll be strategic and demand more time or budget.

Steve's Email and Marketing Automation Masterclass

Want to max the impact and ROI of your email marketing, through automation?

Join Steve on 2 October, where he'll guide you and fellow marketers through a full day of learning.

Join Steve's Masterclass