The Long and Short of B2B Email Marketing

July 6, 2024
8 min read
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Email is alive and kicking, but most of us do it wrong most of the time. Getting the long and short of B2B Email Marketing right is key. Ask good questions, make long-term plans, and have patience. It works when done right.

The problem with email marketing

In 2010, Sheryl Sandberg, former COO at Facebook claimed that “Email is dead”.

In 2014, Slack was perceived as the “Email killer”.

Since the first marketing email was sent in 1978, people haven’t stopped announcing its death. Almost half a century later, email is still not dead. One could argue it’s very much alive. And works wonderfully, too:

More than four billion people use email worldwide, and four in five consumers prefer email over any form of communication. Plus, 95% of marketers believe email marketing has an excellent ROI.

  • 40% of B2B marketers said email newsletters are the most critical aspect for success of their content marketing plan. (Content Marketing Institute, 2017)
  • Email marketing produces 174% more conversions than social media. (Campaign Monitor)
  • A good email ROI rate can average between 3600% to 4200% (Mailercloud)

Hidden behind the channel’s endurance, resilience and outstanding results, a big problem lurks unnoticed: Most of us do it wrong. I say “us” because, even though we’ve been doing email marketing for almost twenty years, crafting campaigns that make the channel helpful for both long and short term strategies is still a challenge.

The Long and Short of It Strikes Again

Back in 2013, Peter Field and Les Binet published their legendary paper stating that long term advertising strategies showed much more efficiency than short term ones. You may already know this, so let’s sum it up. Long story short (pun intended):

Short term is purely tactical and great for activation. It targets specific segments, usually warm leads mid-funnel, and is easier to measure with performance marketing tools.

However, short term campaigns lose effectiveness soon and the impact in audience perception and sales go back to square one fast.

Though long term campaigns take more time to show results, these not only strengthen sales and advertising performance, but also boost the short term coordinated campaign performance.

Campaigns evoking emotion have a higher probability of creating memories and work best when addressing your entire target audience.

Memory building is essential in B2B because (as we stated in previous issues) only 5% of your potential customers are actively looking to purchase.

You need to build mental availability for the remaining 95% so your brand comes to mind when the time is right.

  • Conclusions from the objective analysis are solid:
  • Long-term investment in advertising delivers double the profit of a short-term approach
  • Brands which target the whole market achieve 3 times as many large business effects than those that focus on existing customers
  • Emotional advertising is twice as efficient as rational advertising, and delivers twice the profit

The study even concludes that balancing your budget 50/50 to work the long and short respectively delivers the best results. For B2B. For B2C consumer products it’s 60/40.

If the evidence is out there, why do we seem to focus too much on the short term alone?

“Only 24% of B2B marketers we spoke to run campaigns for more than six months. Somewhat bizarrely, half of those surveyed measure the results of their campaigns for less time than the business’s average sales cycle.”

David van Schaick - MarketingWeek

All marketing is just marketing

When we discuss this issue with clients or colleagues, we often see the same counter-argument: “This only matters for large consumer brands”, or “it only applies to large, mainstream advertising”.

They’re wrong. Advertising, branding, positioning, product, merchandising, activation, TV, radio, podcasts, digital: It’s all the same thing. There’s still Four Ps in Marketing, remember?

This reveals an underlying problem with marketing in our industry.

Performance incentives are looking for short term KPIs, so we tend to focus efforts on the bottom of the funnel. Nobody gets a bonus for something that will happen in five years, and that you cannot technically -or easily- attribute to a particular action.

Uncertain markets – and we’ve been in one for the past 15 years – lack patience. And the lack of patience makes the market uncertain.

We over-use promotions and activation narrative in order to get results we can share with the board so Annoying Alex on Finance can give us a break and, perhaps, we can enjoy our three-day yearly vacation with our phones turned off.

This makes technical marketing in general, and email in particular, disjointed from the greater scheme of things. It’s less risky for our stress levels and job safety. And less effective.

In other words, we confuse tactics with strategy.

This happens across all channels, and most definitely with email. We tend to think of email marketing as a conversion driver, not a memory-building one. It can and should be both.

“Category entry points (CEPs) are the cues that category buyers use to access their memories when faced with a buying situation”

Prof. Jenni Romaniuk, Ehrenberg-Bass Institute

Getting the basics right:
Segment and conquer

Counter-intuitively enough, in order to bark at the right tree, we need to focus our long-term attention on customers out of market. This requires understanding our Category Entry Points (CEPs, or fancy for “customer needs”) and categorizing our audiences accordingly.

Segments are extremely important in B2B and often neglected, due to lack of enriched data or simply because we tend to embrace campaigns as something we only send once or twice a month just with product updates and company news.

Here are some examples we see often:

Delivering the same narrative to different customers

Sending the same email to a new lead and a long-term customer can send a confusing or irrelevant message to at least one of them, and will dilute the impact of your narrative. Partners, distributors, first timers, large buyers, leads, they’re all different.

Our creative approach is data and information driven instead of brand driven

Focusing solely on promotions, new products, specs, discounts, or clearances is likely to boost short-term sales but won’t do much for brand loyalty (or, more realistic, and much less dramatic, awareness) and memory. Do not neglect emotion and narrative. Stories still matter.

Forgetting the power of tailored nurturing automation

Another opportunity missed. Automated workflows allow you to send personalized content at the right time, based on user behavior and preferences. It can guide customers along the different stages of their journey. For example, after a potential customer downloads a whitepaper, an automated email sequence can follow up with additional resources, case studies, and testimonials, building that mental availability and trust. Remember that B2B clients cannot be pushed down the funnel. B2C is about creating a need. We’re selling to people that become in-market when the time is right.

Failing to leverage the value of returning customers

Repeat customers are more likely to convert and tend to spend more than new ones. Sending personalized offers or loyalty rewards to returning customers can encourage repeat purchases, and follow-up emails after a purchase can provide upsell opportunities, further increasing customer lifetime value, as well as some valuable feedback.

Forget the standard questions

Ask your favorite “Marketing Expert Extraordinaire and Friendly Customized AI/GPT Agent” what you need to do to self-assess your email marketing performance. Go and do the same by googling the top three or four results for “b2b email marketing tips”. You’ll get the same mix of bullshit and platitudes on both: A long list of KPIs followed by vague deliverability advice and a set of tools that will magically transform your results into sales.

B2B is different. And your business is unique. We promise. Instead, try to ask the right questions:

  • How can we reach our out of market audience with email?
  • Are we delivering value, free of charge, so our customers can improve their life and business results? What’s in it for them?
  • Is our message memorable? Can we do something more to differentiate it?
  • Do we actually know how long it takes for them to convert, on average?
  • Do we know the average lifetime value so we can plan a long term acquisition strategy with a realistic budget?
  • Is our email post-click experience tailored, so when a prospect is finally ready to be in-market we can make it as easy as possible for them to convert? This applies to on and offline marketing.

Some practical advice, in case it comes handy

A good place to start is:

  • Understand your Category Entry Points through The W’s Framework so you can better segment your audience.
  • Plan your email marketing campaigns for the next twelve months. Seeing it all in one place will help you keep a balanced mix of client activation and brand storytelling.
  • Split your reports. Consolidate performance data separately. Conversion driven campaigns are pretty clear. Just look into good old open rate, click rate, clicks to open rate, and email-attributed sales. Long-term strategies are harder to track, but once you have six months or more into it, patterns should start surfacing.
  • Tackle all the stages of the buying cycle and all your audiences with truly tailored campaigns. Have separate approaches for existing or former customers, dealers or distributors, prospects, press, etc.

The evidence is out there. Mixing the long and the short pays off, and email is a fantastic, cheap, performant and familiar channel to explore this.

You can only enter a virtuous sales circle if you put enough effort into the inputs without obsessing over the outputs. Get the strategy together, the team aligned, do the hard work first and, in the words of a great 90s poet, have a little patience.

*We like our TL;DRs in forty two words.

Tagged: B2B · Email marketing · insights

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