Art by Numbers: email is actually more effective than social media

It’s easy to see social media as the hipper, switched-on sibling of the humble email. But regarding the lowly inbox as yesterday’s technology is a big mistake, says Michael Nabarro

Innovative social media strategies generate loads of discussion, whilst email marketing gets shunted to one side. Social media is a formidable engagement tool, but email marketing is actually 40 times more effective at acquiring customers than social media. Not only is it more effective at getting audiences through your checkout, when they do make a purchase, the average order value is 17 per cent higher.

Arts marketers are well aware of email’s cost-saving advantage over print and are good at using it as a quick response tool. But email has two crucial advantages over print and social that are often overlooked — to the detriment of audience engagement.

The first crucial advantage is the freedom it provides to tailor messages to different audience segments. You can alter the subject line, the time you send it, the regularity of your emails, the length of the content, the subject of the content, its tone of voice, its design, its call-to-actions, the segments within the email lists you’re sending to – and that’s only half of it.

The second crucial advantage of email is that you can track its effect and see exactly how someone has interacted with it, then react based on this information.

The sheer number of variables that can be changed in emails can be overwhelming. The golden rule is to start any campaign by segmenting your email list into groups of similar people, based on their booking data, demographic information and attendance history.

There are a million ways to slice up data but a simple and effective segmentation strategy begins with finding your frequent attenders – those who attend more than three times per year. These are your most loyal audience members so the content of emails can be much friendlier in tone, and it’s safe to assume that you can email them more regularly.

Read: How to segment your audience

Within this group you should think about refining your segmentation further by breaking frequent attenders into two or three smaller groups, based on factors including demographic data such as age, booking behaviour and communication history. One brilliant example is Virgin Media, which emailed an offer to my 30-something colleague with the subject line ‘Ooh…would you take a gander at that!’ At the same time, they emailed his mother with the subject line ‘Mrs Griffiths, we’ve got some special offers for you,’ knowing that a more formal tone would more likely have appeal for an older demographic.

Alternatively, you could refine your frequent attender segment based on how they respond to your communications. If you email your frequent attenders every week, after a few months you’ll have enough data to refine your communications strategy even further. For example, a weekly email will be too much for some of your audiences and you’ll know this because they’ll never (or hardly ever) open your emails. For them, you should reduce the frequency of communication to see if this has any effect on their level of engagement.

Read: Could you staff’s social profiles damage your public image?

Those who are opening your emails each time, and who regularly click on links, are telling you that your email frequency is hitting that ‘just right’ sweet spot. Hopefully after a bit of tweaking and testing, you’ll have two different communication frequencies which work well for both groups of frequent attenders and be able to optimise their engagement.

The marker of a successful email strategy will be different depending on your goals. However, you shouldn’t always judge the success of your emails based on whether or not your recipient books tickets. Instead, think of emails as a way of building up a long term relationship with your audiences – especially those who are engaged with your organisation at a very low level.

With a solid segmentation strategy in place, you’ll be well on the way to an email marketing strategy that yields good results. But make sure you don’t fall down at the last hurdle. It’s all very well and good writing relevant content in a tone that suits your audience segment at the right frequency, but if they read emails on their mobile and your template isn’t mobile optimised, then you’ve just wasted your time. Instead, consider having a mobile template made – it’s a one-off cost and one that will yield better results time and again.

It’s also worth considering reallocating time spent updating social media channels to your email marketing strategy. If email marketing is 40 times more effective than social media, imagine the impact your emails could have if you weighted the time you spend on email versus social accordingly. The increased engagement and sales will soon make this time well spent.