4 ways to improve email marketing using data

These days everything can be tracked, quantified and catalogued, making meaningful data one of the most precious resources a business can have. For the email marketing side of the house, that data is becoming less a nice option to have and more a crucial part of an effective advertising strategy.

Marketers seem to be recognizing that shift, as Winterberry Group forecast earlier this year that U.S. marketing executives will spend $11.5 billion on data and related solutions in 2015. Aaron Beach, senior data scientist at SendGrid, believes this indicates a significant shift toward a data-driven marketing culture.

"This is only the beginning," he said. "Within the next couple of years we're going to see marketers invest more and more money into data and related technologies."

But with so much information at their disposal, which data should email marketers prioritize and how should it shape their strategy? Beach shared some thoughts on how they can cut to the heart of the data and get the most out of email campaigns.

1) Track what's working. Engagement and conversion data should be the first priority for email marketers. That includes information on opens, clicks, purchases, etc. This can be done in two ways: Either include a single tracking pixel with a URL that is triggered when the email is opened, or redirect click-throughs from your email to the website through your email delivery platform.

2) What isn't working is just as important. Just as you need to know who likes the content you're sending out, it's pivotal that you understand who does not. Other data like bounce-back rates, unsubscribes and spam complaints will help give you the full picture. "Good email deliverability comes from knowing how to send the right message, to the right person, at the right time, with the right frequency," Beach said. "Data helps prevent spam complaints that could have marketers cleaning up their sending reputation for a long time."

3) Know the real value of engagement. For some time there has been an assumption that the most engaged email recipients are interacting just two or three times more than those that are less engaged. In fact, Winterberry's report indicates that could be a damaging outlook for many marketers. "This assumption directly leads to bad sending strategies," he said. "The truth is, the top 10 percent of engaged recipients are 100 times more likely to engage in your email marketing campaign. By recognizing this, marketers will see that sending strategies can't be one-size-fits-all."

4) Use what you know to personalize. Data is pointless if you don't know how to put it to use, and Beach suggested that responsive formatting and personalization are two of the biggest ways email marketers can use data to improve their content. He recommended catering to phones, tablets and desktops as indicated by your audience, while emphasizing that targeting message content as much as possible can improve open rates by as much as 20 percent.

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