B2C messaging isn’t slowing down, but it is evolving. So says a new study from MessageGears, a marketing platform, and UpWave, a brand intelligence company, which looked at the digital marketing trends of B2C marketers at mid-to-enterprise level brands.
The study involved enterprise companies with over $100 million in annual revenue and which send out five million-plus emails in a month. Frankly, it generated a complete brain dump of data, so to help me digest some key points, I spoke with MessageGears, VP of Marketing Will Devlin.
First up, and this isn't a big surprise, over 90% of respondents said digital messaging - email, SMS, text - remains extremely important compared to other marketing strategies, seen as critical to the business goals of a company.
The majority of messages are still email. For example, in 2019, 41.1% of study respondents sent between 80-100 million messages. In 2020, the number that dropped to 31%, while in 2021, that percentage is expected to be 29.8%. However, the number sending more than 100 million is expected to grow, with 52% saying they expect the number they’ll send to double in the next two to five years.
That's a lot of messages, and it suggests most brands are sending multiple messages a day. In fact, a little over 45% sent multiple messages, while another 40% only sent one message per day. If you get emails from brands, this may not be surprising. But what was confusing was that over 88% were either somewhat concerned (47%) or very concerned (41.7%) about consumer overload from messages, while almost as many were concerned about consumer financial distress.
But while brands say they are concerned about the danger of overloading consumers and about financial distress, they continue to send multiple messages and plan to double the amount they send over the next couple of years.
Devlin says this was discussed when the findings came in, acknowledging that the two things seem to be in conflict. His view is that there's a human element, whereby brands do care and think about these things, but this is counterpointed by the business element based on the reality that messaging works, people open messages, they click and they buy.
Brands know they have to be where consumers are, says Devlin, and today that's more online than ever before. They are also used to a certain level of engagement or interaction, so until consumer reaction proves to be a problem, the current trends will continue to move forward, he predicts:
These tactics work - they continue to work, they're very cost-efficient when you think about it in terms of traditional advertising, or even other digital advertising programs. So, when you look at the numbers, you look at spreadsheets, and you're like, ‘Okay, we'll just keep plowing ahead. Let's keep growing our database, let's keep sending the messages. And if it's not broken, let's just keep hitting them up’. But then you've got the other side of it, where I think people were like, ‘Of course, I'm concerned’. But until they see that in the data, they're just going to keep pressing send.
The impact of COVID-19
Brands didn't stop sending messages during COVID, but the pandemic did impact what they said. Research that MessageGears did among its customers around messaging during COVID found that there was a flurry of email and mobile messaging up to March of 2020, then a drop during the worst period, accompanied by a shift to communications around what the brands were doing in response to the pandemic. And as stores closed or continued to stay closed, brands communicated options to buying online. Devlin explains:
One of our customers is Open Table; nobody's been booking restaurant reservations for the better part of a year, so their messaging was much more lifestyle-focused and much more just trying to promote local businesses, trying to get people to order from them. And [there was] really a little bit more brand building and humanizing, which I think benefits everybody involved in the long run. I think that was [seen in] all of those brands, that messaging shift from being purely promotional to being a little bit more 'Yeah, we don't know what's going on either; this is crazy to us too’. It was a humanizing element and beneficial for a lot of brands.
Personalization continues to be a goal
Personalization is still top on the list of goals for many brands, although Devlin thinks marketers use the word personalization as a "catch-all" term and that for many, it's more about relevance than being promotional-focused.
He also thinks marketers feel pressured because they now have access to so much data about the consumer. How do they use that to deliver better experiences? But he also argues that the best experiences are the ones that aren't all that noticeable, the ones that are easy and seamless. And that's where data can help greatly.
Mobile push is growing
As far as lessons learned by respondents in 2020, the top two were related to the importance of data access and personalization. A third lesson was that mobile is worth a major investment, but does that mean consumers are about to get slammed with text and SMS from brands?
Devlin says mobile messaging isn't near the volume of email yet, but it is increasing. Brands are thinking more about how to use mobile as part of a cohesive messaging strategy and not just spamming a consumer across all messaging channels with the same message:
Text is different; text is more personal. Brands that are doing it right are having this mix of, ‘I'm only going to text in a situation where it's more of an aid to something you're already doing’ versus a promotion, whereas email is still that sort of ‘blast the promotional aspect out there, let's get an offer in front of you, let's get what you know about a sale or deals happening on flights or something like that’. But I think push, and SMS get utilized more in a behavioral or triggered fashion.
Getting access to live customer data
One of the things B2C brands said would help them in 2021 was better access to live customer data, notes Devlin:
There's been a huge rise in brands that have tried to consolidate all of their data into something that allows them to get a better view of what's going on with their customers and allows them to activate all this data that's being collected on various channels about their customers in real-time. The problem is a lot of the tools that are out there don't connect. They're stuck, operating like they were 15 years ago, so they're, they're not catching up fast.
What’s needed, he concludes, is a way to consolidate this data, usually into a data warehouse like Snowflake or RedShift, and then use it quickly to make messaging communications more relevant and real-time.
Email marketing is here to stay. Consumers accept it; most want it, otherwise we wouldn't sign up for brand communications. Do we get too much? Maybe. But until brands see that as a negative, they will continue to blast us, knowing something will resonate and get through the clutter. But I do like the idea of doing messaging better. Being more human and relevant means more success for brands and happier customers.