In our latest interview, we met with Sam Holding, Head of International at SparkPost, to discuss the unsung hero of digital marketing: Email. Find out more about what Sam had to say in this exclusive article.
Time and time again here at CEO.digital, we’ve highlighted just how far digital channels have come in the past year and a half. For many people, these channels have become the primary form of connection and communication for consumers and brands alike. But for the most part, attention tends to focus on the shiny new tools like Zoom, Teams and other video-based communications.
While those tools are great for bringing people together, when it comes to new business value and reconnecting with customers, there’s only so much video-based tools can offer. It’s surprising, then, that so little attention has been paid to one of the primary ways in which brands engage their customers: Email.
For Sam Holding, Head of International at SparkPost, email is the great unifier of digital marketing. It’s the glue that holds businesses and marketing strategies together. But getting into user inboxes is easier said than done. Fortunately, marketers have adapted rapidly in the past couple of years, as we found out in our discussion.
Head of International, SparkPost
After spending almost 20 years in digital marketing, Sam joined SparkPost as he sought new challenges and opportunities. Unlike other marketers, who may have moved from email to PPC, Sam moved in the opposite direction after seeing just how critical email is for people. Now, he helps build new partnerships between SparkPost and its international clients. Previously, Sam worked at Oracle Data Cloud.
Adaptation Following Disruption
After catching up with Sam about his background, our conversation quickly turned to how things have been in the past year. Clearly, there’s been some disruption since the Covid-19 pandemic began, and this has fuelled a new era of adaptation and business innovation.
In the first instance, Sam argues that this is because brands needed to find a way to reconnect with their customers when most other channels were unavailable. Video messaging software got a lot of press during this time, as people came together to chat and connect despite social distancing. But, as Sam points out, in the background there was another channel that was playing a huge role.
Email’s relegated position in the press doesn’t relegate it in the minds of marketing leaders. It has been key as a support for video messaging software, for starters, but it has also played a crucial role in communicating key information to customers. Consider how opening times, post-lockdown, changed for many high street brands. Likewise, how brands communicate new deals, order tracking, and more to consumers.
To capitalise on email’s potential, Sam says that marketing leaders have had to improve their email game to keep up their communications with consumers and clients. As one of the most cost-effective channels, it makes perfect sense. Granted, there may be a big draw towards new channels for consumers, but for businesses email is still pivotal. They need to balance the draw of new channels against delivering on success consistently. Email provides that sustained ROI.
For businesses, they try to balance the need of engaging with consumers through new channels but also keeping their businesses going by delivering success against their goals. That’s where email has delivered consistently.
Sam Holding, Head of International, SparkPost
The Importance of the Customer Perspective
Why does email have a sustained ROI? Ultimately, it is because of consumer preferences, Sam argues. Every marketing strategy must start with the customer perspective, and Sam believes this is something that more marketing leaders are coming to fully appreciate since the disruption of last year.
“To discount what the customer wants would leave you pretty exposed,” said Sam. “What most businesses are seeing is that their customers want a more holistic experience.” Email plays a central role in tying that experience together.
The challenge, however, is ensuring the business is able to operate out of its siloes so it can deliver such holistic experiences. This takes effort, but it’s where marketing expertise from outside the company could help. Marketing leaders need to identify where efficiencies can be made so that they can deliver more for their consumers across the operation.
A lot of businesses believe they collaborate effectively, Sam argued. But he has seen that people don’t actually collaborate like they think they do. There is plenty of opportunity to unlock untold advantage within the organisation by optimising internal processes and ensuring every team understands where customers are coming from and what they expect.
Understanding how you can communicate value to consumers, and establishing the right cadence for communicating with consumers, is difficult but vital for future success in digital marketing.
Head of International, SparkPost
While we hear plenty about the amount of innovation companies have committed to over the past year, it’s also worth pointing out that in some areas people have been reluctant to rock the boat. They have merely been reacting to events, rather than doing the proactive business planning we usually expect to see. Sam says this is now beginning to change. Marketing leaders are once again looking for partners that will not only help them get to where they were before the pandemic, but to take them beyond.
Returning to the subject of customer-centricity, we then turned our attention to GDPR and how marketers have become more considerate since its introduction. As any marketer will tell you, getting into customer inboxes is difficult for a business. It isn’t just because of changes to privacy and consent that followed in the wake of GDPR. It’s also because of the technology that people use, with email service providers like Gmail being particularly good at filtering emails. In practice, this means a marketer’s emails may not reach their customers’ primary inboxes. Businesses have had to become more considerate and act on the side of consumers as a result.
Clearly, a holistic, customer-centric approach to business will be key to operating in the future, especially following the pandemic. But making necessary investments to reach customers could be the next challenge.
The Cost of Inaction
So far in our conversation, we’d established that a focus on customer perspectives will play a pivotal role in the success of future marketing strategies. Next, Sam addressed the issue of how to make the right investments.
For all businesses, they need to understand the value of a potential solution. Unfortunately, a solution’s impact on resource isn’t always tangible. But having that kind of information to hand is an absolute necessity. Information is power, and it gives people the confidence to move forward with new ventures.
For Sam, the cost of inaction is simply too high. He feels that now, as vaccination rollouts continue to push the world back to some semblance of normality, business leaders are emerging from lockdowns with a laser-focus on being clear about where they spend their money. But they also understand that not investing will cost them dearly in the long run. These kind of ‘smart learnings’ from the pandemic disruption are helping businesses to either negate future loss or create new value by investing wisely today.
Ultimately, we’re about to see a new age of innovation – and email marketing will play a pivotal role in keeping brands and customers engaged with one another. We’ll see more people try to break out their siloes and use tools in smarter ways. They’ll look at how to innovate with cheap but rich data sources, such as email, by utilising a smarter use of analytics to enhance efficiencies. And they’ll look to unlock more value across the entire business. SparkPost is helping to drive this kind of thinking forward.