Lisa Welch is the Senior Vice President of Worldwide Sales at Movable Ink, which offers contextual email marketing software and services. Lisa has 25 years of experience building high-performance sales teams and expertise in vertical industries and sales of product, SaaS solutions, and services. We recently talked to her about contextual email marketing and how it can help brands reach a wider audience and convert more traffic. Here’s what Lisa had to say:

What’s Movable Ink’s approach to email marketing? What sets you apart from your competitors?

Contextual marketing has become an industry buzzword, so it’s an easy term to gloss over. But from the very time when Movable Ink pioneered the concept of contextual marketing in email, the company’s focus has been to help marketers deliver relevant, personalized messages that consumers want to receive and read. We don’t view contextual marketing as a set of widgets but as an entire mindset and philosophy to marketing – one in which real-time data is used to power experiences that provide value and meet the individual consumer’s needs at the moment of open – regardless of the time, place or device.

There are companies that do bits and pieces of what we call contextual marketing but again, we believe the best approach requires more than just plugging in a widget here and there. Our dedicated CX team works with our clients through all aspects of campaign planning and execution, as we believe that while data is powerful and provides the fuel for contextual marketing, it’s the campaign’s creative aspect that takes that data and makes the consumer want to engage with it.

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How has email marketing evolved since Movable Ink started?

A lot has changed in email marketing both conceptually and with technology since we launched the company just over five years ago. Consumers have come to expect regular communication but they want brands to inform, entertain and provide value – not promote and sell. They also want messages that speak to them as individuals based on their personal wants, needs, and values.

The batch-and-blast approach to email marketing has been successful to date, but increasingly, real-time data that allows marketers to personalize in the moment is a better option than using only traditional audience segmentation methods that rely largely on static data. Email marketers are leveraging richer data sets based on customer behaviors in real time to target them with messages tailored to each individual.

Sophisticated technology is what’s enabling this use of data. It’s also allowing marketers to automate processes at scale, whether it’s the process of building email templates or sending triggered messages or “signals” – the development of tools that allow for automation have increased efficiencies and conversion rates for email marketers.

How important is email marketing to brands today? Why should they care about it?

There’s been a lot of talk about the death of email, but email marketing continues to be an important driver of engagement and revenue for brands today. If we’re just talking purely in financial terms, email could be considered the most important marketing channel for brands as it’s continually proven to deliver the highest ROI of any direct marketing channel with estimates exceeding $40 for every $1 spent.

While ROI is, of course, important and conversions are the end objective of virtually all marketing activity, brands should care about email because it provides one of the best platforms to provide the personalized and relevant messages that consumers demand today. Brands that have the technology capabilities and understand how to use email to deliver creative, contextually relevant emails – even without a direct sales message – will ultimately garner the loyalty of more consumers and attention when they are ready to buy.

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What are the most common ways you see brands could improve their email marketing efforts?

The two things that brands could do to improve their email marketing overall are 1. do a better job personalizing the content 2. focus more on providing value versus selling. Aside from all of the individual tactics and elements that go into an email campaign, the biggest overarching improvements are delivering content that speaks to each individual recipient.

What are the most important considerations a brand needs to make when launching marketing efforts via email? What are the must-have components of any campaign?

The most important step in launching any marketing campaign is to establish your objectives. Before you jump in and try to decide what tactics to employ in an email, it’s critical to step back and ask the question “what are we trying to accomplish with this campaign?” Once your objectives are set, the required tactics will fall into place much easier.

The one must-have component of any email marketing campaign today is some kind of personalization. This could be content hyper-specific to the individual recipient such as past-purchase history, or content that provides some kind of value for the recipient based on his or her context at the time of open such as location, weather, time of day, etc.

What are the most common mistakes or oversights you see brands making with their email marketing efforts?

There are a lot of things that can make an otherwise good email marketing message get overlooked or deleted:

  • Bad subject line
  • Poorly designed
  • Focuses just on selling (i.e. product focused versus customer focused)
  • No clear call-to-action, or on the other hand, too many CTA’s
  • Not optimized for mobile
  • Featuring stale content – such as out of stock products or old pricing

What sort of marketing insight can email campaigns offer brands?

Email marketing campaigns can provide all kinds of useful data and insights. Traditionally, marketers segmented audiences based on demographics and data was largely static. Now with the right technology, marketers can garner insights on consumers in real-time as they navigate the web and move from place to place and across devices. Once a consumer opens and engages with the email, each click and action then provides further data that can be captured and used to provide an even more personalized experience and value.

What types of data do you recommend brands focus on to measure the success of any given campaign?

Every brand and marketer will have unique KPIs. Some will focus on engagement, while others on customer acquisition, or ultimately revenue or ROI. The critical point here is that you should define the objectives for your business, and create the email campaign to deliver against those goals.

What brands have been especially innovative and/or effective in their email marketing efforts? What can we learn from them?

We work with more than 350 brands and see great examples of email marketing innovation every day. One that stands out was a campaign that U.K. retail brand Boden launched to re-engage with high-value dormant customers. Boden used past purchase data to create 19,977 unique stories for 19,977 individual customers. Using Movable Ink’s technology, Boden pulled product details from its website into each email in real time. If a product were unavailable, it would be replaced with another item at the moment of open. The campaign produced unprecedented results, generating a 230 percent increase in click-through rate compared to other emails sent during the same week. This, in turn, resulted in a 2,000 percent increase in revenue-per-email, with one in 10 customers going on to make a purchase.

Detroit Pistons of the NBA.

Another recent innovative campaign was launched by Palace Sports and Entertainment, the parent company of the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons Interactive Gameday Guide used Movable Ink to pull in real-time data before during and after the game, including team match-up stats, live stats of players on the floor, and box score of final game stats. The emails also feature a live traffic map that updates in real-time to help fans find the optimal route in and out of the venue. The results were an 18 percent increase in click-through rate, a 45 percent increase in engagement time and a 49 percent increase in mobile engagement compared with its previous pregame emails.

These campaigns provide a compelling lesson for all kinds of brands. When you combine data and creativity to deliver content that is both contextual to each individual and provides inherent value, consumers will respond with positive action and engagement.

What marketing trends or innovations are you most excited about right now? Why?

There are obviously a lot of exciting marketing innovations happening outside of email. While still in their early stages, IoT and virtual reality are providing vast potential for creative marketing campaigns. And as we’ve recently seen with the Pokemon Go craze, technologies like augmented reality, which have been around for a while but not used extensively in marketing, have great potential for marketers if leveraged creatively.

More than any specific innovation, it’s great to see a trend toward more personalized, interactive, consumer-led marketing. This is because old forms of marketing are no longer effective. Email is a perfect channel for this trend and also a good hub where brands can eventually integrate all of these new innovations and technologies right into the email inbox, which consumers are checking all the time.

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