Email is continuing to perform strongly for marketers even though many companies are spending far too little time on optimisation (compared to design and content) of their email campaigns, according to the '2013 Email Marketing Industry Census' from Econsultancy and Adestra. This article is copyright 2013 The Best Customer Guide.

The report examined new and changing trends within the email channel, as well as its integration with other areas of marketing and key business functions, finding that despite the channel's ongoing ability to deliver a good return on investment, only 39% of in-house marketers rated the performance of their companies' campaigns as "excellent" or "good" while 15% admitted that their campaigns are "poor".

More than one quarter (27%) of respondents state that they spend no time at all internally on optimising their campaigns, a figure that has increased from 21% in 2008. Even for those that do optimise, few are spending significant amounts of time on this. Just 19% of responding companies spend more than two hours a week on optimisation, compared to 62% who dedicate the same amount of time to design and content.

According to the research, email remains very strong for return on investment, directly and indirectly driving a large chunk of sales. Two thirds (66%) of in-house marketers rate email as delivering "excellent" or "good" ROI.

This positive attitude toward its effectiveness is reflected in the proportion of respondents reporting significant sales from the channel. More than half (55%) of companies have more than 10% of their sales coming from email.

"Seven years of Email Census data show that email continues to be a key channel for marketers, continuing to drive sales and delivering strong ROI for businesses. But many companies are still procrastinating when it comes to best practice and optimisation," said Econsultancy's research director, Linus Gregoriadis. "Too many businesses are still only planning to make improvements to their email marketing efforts, rather than taking the plunge and putting best practice into action. Email marketers are often overly focused on the aesthetic qualities or their email campaigns rather than improving their impact on the bottom line."

Among the report's other key findings:

  • The most commonly cited barriers to effective email marketing have changed over the years, from "lack of skills and training" in 2007 (42%), to "quality of the email database" in 2013 (50%). Half (50%) of marketers state that the quality of their email database is a major barrier to effective email marketing. However, only 49% carry out any regular list cleansing and just 22% are carrying out advanced segmentation.
  • Those companies that test are far more likely to report a good ROI from email. Of those that test regularly, 74% report having an "excellent" or "good" ROI, compared to just 37% that do not test.
  • Companies are realising the importance of mobile, but are yet to achieve best practice. Although 33% still do not know what proportion of their emails are read on mobile devices (significantly down from 48% last year), 23% state that over 30% of their emails are now read on mobile devices, compared to just 9% last year. Despite this, only a minority of companies are adapting to this change. A quarter of respondents optimise email for mobile devices, and just 6% state that their mobile marketing is "well integrated" with their overall email marketing activity.
  • Integration remains an issue generally for companies, who continue to have problems when it comes to integrating their email activity with other areas of the business. Respondents most commonly cited "disconnected systems and technologies" as the principal barrier to integrating email, and "further integration" was the area most frequently cited when respondents were asked what they would like to do with email that they can't currently do.
  • Agencies appear to be ahead of the curve when it comes to listing both "mobile friendly emails" (31% for agencies, vs. 24% for companies) and "delivering relevant communications" (28% vs. 21%) as priority for email in 2013.

"For the first time this year we asked marketers to rate their email marketing performance and the results were rather shocking," concluded Henry Hyder-Smith, managing director and co-founder for Adestra. "Almost two thirds of respondents (60%) admit to poor or average performance. It seems remarkable that marketers have been so open and self-deprecating. If it was an end of year exam, marketers would be failing badly. However, on a positive note, it does open up lots of areas for improvement."

The full Email Marketing Industry Census Report 2013 has been made available for download from Econsultancy's web site - click here (pay-per-view, or free to Silver subscribers or above).