Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Suzanna Chaplin, CEO at esbconnect, talks “the rebirth of email”

Suzanna Chaplin, CEO at esbconnect, discusses the renaissance of email and how this most traditional of channels remains a foundation for modern marketing… 

Tell me about esbconnect and how its positioning has evolved?

We’ve been in business for nine years and are repositioning ourselves for today’s market following a management buyout I led earlier this year. While we have been seen traditionally as a media or affiliate partner, now we’re focusing on our data credentials. We’re a business rich in data with an extensive email database encompassing 170 attributes fed by real-time information and intent data. The data is a critical asset, allowing companies to improve their profiling, segmentation and understanding of their customer data, ultimately better equipping them to market more effectively.  

Central to what we do is email marketing, but disimilar to many businesses, we predominantly use email as an acquisition tool.  And in today’s changing landscape, driven by the coming death of the cookie, a growing focus on privacy and compliance, and the current economic situation, email is having a renaissance. Brands are seeking data-driven approaches that can deliver performance, and at a time when this is becoming increasingly difficult, email holds the key.    

The perception of email is it’s a traditional, low-cost communications channel, but you believe it’s much more important than this?  

I do, and it is. Email has been about since the dawn of the Internet, so it suffers from the perception of being old-fashioned. But this is a misnomer disguising its actual value.

The importance of the humble email is demonstrated by the value the tech giants place on securing people’s emails from the start, because it acts as a passport to the internet. From an email, a user can log on to any device and have a single view.  By having this critical piece of data, businesses can use it to reach that same user, irrespective of the device or platform they’re on. From here, individual online user journeys can be created. From this single data point, you can begin to assign more attributes against this person, confident that it all ties back to a real individual, not simply a cookie or a device.  

Once you have an email address, you own the conversation. Because of this, and the fact email as a data asset has a long shelf life, it becomes a central ID that can be harnessed across every channel to drive marketing. 

And as a channel, email marketing is powerful because advertising in the inbox works. Recognising people are happy to receive advertising in their inboxes is why Google created its promotional tab in Gmail.  And the inbox is one of the most personal spaces, offering the best insights into a user’s onward intent. 

Today, people must reappraise their perception of email marketing. They must avoid seeing it as a channel and instead recognise it as a linchpin for all marketing. 

How should marketers think about email to get the best value from it?

What’s critical is ensuring you enhance any email address with more data. When an email address is acquired, always consider what other information you can get from the user. And where possible, try to collect data at every interaction point. For example, asking customers what they’d like to hear more about from you suddenly offers insights into their interests. Marketers should constantly look to tie additional data points to the email to understand and segment their customers better to deliver more personalised, relevant marketing. 

Equally important is recognising how they prefer to engage. It may be an email address, but if they’re more active social users, use the email address as a custom audience, as these channels would be more relevant to reaching them than email.  

And going beyond this, marketers should use their existing insights to create lookalike audiences. Activating this data in any channel allows them to find new prospects with similar traits to their current customers in any channel so they can continue to build their business. 

On the flip side, you can also use the information to identify holes in your data. By analysing the data, you can determine if there are segments of your audience you’re not attracting but should be. From this, you can start taking action to find out where these people reside, where you can gain data on them and then begin looking to target them.

Owning the email and enhancing it with first-party data is bringing a fundamental shift in the power brands have, which is helping reduce their reliance on walled gardens. Ultimately, gaining an email is just the starting point. From there, it’s a case of maximising its value for the benefit of marketing, the business and customers. 

Often, email is seen as a retention tool, but should it play a bigger role in supporting customer acquisition? 

Very much so. Email is an acquisition channel, but marketers are either unaware of this or, because of GDPR, frightened about using it for this purpose. And yet, it’s one of the safest channels. You must have the user’s consent to be on an email database. And if someone wants to stop receiving emails, it’s a simple click on an unsubscribe button to do this. But compare this to online, where finding how to opt out of marketing or change your preferences is a huge challenge.  The misconception is that digital is more compliant and safer as an acquisition channel – but it’s not. 

Marketers must reassess their opinion of email for customer recruitment. As an acquisition channel it has high read rates, with open rates currently around 40%+ based on our data. Compare this to an average click-through rate for a display ad of 0.1%, and you see how much more effective it is. It’s a performance channel that drives conversions and incremental spend at a cost much lower than others. And even if someone does delete an email without opening it, they will read the From and Subject lines, which supports building brand awareness. 

So whether it’s recruitment or retention, safeguarding your data-driven approach or delivering your omnichannel marketing, email ought to be somewhere near the heart of your marketing strategy.