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It’s been a while since we last published an instalment of our “Spotlight on” series, so we’re super excited to kick start the first one of 2018 off with a digital marketing veteran that has been in the industry for over 20 years.

Benjamin Spiegel is Chief Executive of Houston-based data-driven agency, MMI. Before that he worked at WPP-owned agency, Catalyst, where he managed the Procter & Gamble business.

Spiegel believes that email marketing should be a core element of a brand’s CRM-centric campaign. In the Q&A below, he talks about how marketers should use the vertical, what metrics they should be using, as well as how it has changed over time.

Q. What role should email marketing play in your clients’ overall marketing strategy?

A. Email marketing has gone through many different phases over the last 15 years. I still remember the early days of email marketing when it was an acceptable practice to use it to cold call “prospects”—to email people you either didn’t know or barely knew to tell them about your product or services.

As with many other marketing tactics, email had to evolve with the changing preferences of consumers and the changing platforms. Today, we look at email marketing as a core element of a brand’s CRM-centric campaign and use it in several ways:. to close sales in the final stages (such as in the case of cart abandonment, or as part of a drip campaign), and to communicate with our existing consumers to strengthen the relationship and increase their share of wallet.

Q. When looking at the content of emails, is there anything specific that you find does better than others? 

A. It really depends on the brand’s objective and the audience, but obviously content around sales, discounts and specials always work well. We have also seen a renewed level of engagement around life stage and seasonal content, with proactive messaging that provides educational and informational value to our brands’ clients.

Overall, we have found that less is more, and if possible, brands should skip large images or lengthy text. When we think about consumption and engagement rates, we have seen that the faster the email loads (and works offline on mobile devices), the higher the ROI.

Q. How should marketers use data to segment and personalize their email lists? 

A. The majority of today’s platforms allow for very advanced levels of customization via custom segments. The biggest opportunity is the data that goes into the platforms—or conversely, the challenge is that there is very little data actually fueling them. Being able to connect a website visitor to a social media activity to an email address and ultimately, a sale is what will guarantee continued growth of email marketing.

We need to start managing email marketing platforms more like DMPs and continue to feed information into them. The simplest example of this is if we monitored the social media activity of all our past customers and detected that one of them is asking for gift ideas, we could send a personalized email to them with gift recommendations. You get the idea.

Q. What metrics do you tell your clients to look at? Are good open rates the sign of a successful campaign?

A. Obviously, there is a wide variety of KPIs for different campaigns, but for most of our email clients it is purely an engagement and ultimately, leads / sales game. How many leads did the campaign or trigger generate? What was the conversion rate? Those are the metrics that matter most in the end. Of course, open and delivery rates are still important, because without them the email marketing campaign won’t go anywhere. But in my opinion, those have become almost more of a platform KPI than a campaign measure of success.

Q. What does success of an email campaign look like for you? 

A. For our ecommerce brands, we look at sales volume, ROI, basket size and win back. When we talk about our retail-driven brands (not direct to consumer sales) we are looking to provide value to our consumers’ lives, to become a sought-after resource, and to delight them with meaningful content that will strengthen the brand-consumer relationship. No matter what business our clients are in or who they are trying to reach, success metrics have become much more tangible and measurable due to today’s tracking abilities.

Q. As the use of data changes significantly, how have KPIs changed as a result?

A. The focus has shifted to bottom-of-the-funnel conversions, like repeat purchases and advocacy. Most marketers (thankfully) stopped looking at email marketing to fill their funnel; instead, it’s focused on CRM and retention. Many of our clients have not only campaign specific goals, but actually goals that are unique for each segment within their campaign.

Q. With perhaps ‘cooler’ verticals such as social, where do you see the future of email marketing? 

A. A lot of these ‘cooler’ verticals tend to be very noisy and are often the wrong context for many of the messages we see on there. Email marketing, when done well, will always drive higher ROI than most of social media’s push messaging. Email is a great channel for renewing and reminding people of their existing relationships with brands in a more direct, personal way.

Q. What is your biggest piece of advice that you’d give a junior email marketer starting out in the industry?

A. It’s about emotional insights. Today’s marketers are focusing too much on the specific channel or platform they are working on, and they often tend to forget that there is a human being on the other end of that channel. Put yourself in the mind of the consumers: What are they doing when you send them the message? Where are they? Is this the right message at the right time—and  more important, does your message matter in that moment? Furthermore, can they do anything about it in that moment? Is it actionable when they get that email?

The more you understand (truly understand) your consumers, the better will you be able to address their concerns and needs, and craft the right message for the right moment.