Email fights back!


A recent article from digital marketing company eConsultancy highlighted the resurgence of digest emails as a key channel for companies communicating with their customers.

In a world where social media is supposedly king, it is interesting to see that good old email is making a comeback. This is happening not only in the commercial world but also, it seems, inside organisations as comms professionals are rediscovering the benefits of content-rich emails packaging up crucial corporate messages for a busy, increasingly distracted workforce.

In this article, we look at why these types of emails are becoming popular again and how best to harness this channel for truly effective internal communications.


A retro trend?

In his recent blog post for eConsultancy, Ben Davis noted that we are currently seeing “a retro trend for daily and weekly digest emails”, citing offerings from the publishing houses behind the FT, Guardian and New York Times as great examples of this method of reaching out to subscribers.

These periodic emails typically aggregate and highlight a selection of recent news and information and provide links to the underlying stories contained on the website.  According to Davis, one of the main reasons behind this renaissance is the commercial need for paywall-model publications to entice in new subscribers – and such “shop-window publishing” is proving pretty successful at achieving this.

But from the recipient’s perspective, digest emails are also proving a hit – for a number of reasons:

And it’s not just the publishing companies who are using digest emails to stay front-of-mind with their customers. All manner of organisations – from supermarkets to niche retailers, charities to sports teams – are seeing the massive benefits for sales, repeat visits and social endorsement that providing readers with a regular summary of news and information can bring. In fact, the Email Marketing Industry Census 2014 confirmed that email is still the corporate marketers’ no.1 promotional channel for delivering ROI.


Combatting information overload

But what about within organisations? Many of the reasons digest emails are so successful in the outside world equally apply inside companies.

Despite ongoing advances in technology and automation, information workers are increasingly over-worked and time-poor and there’s a definite sense of information overload.

And far from solving these problems, the much trumpeted arrival of enterprise social networks (ESNs) – social media for business – has in many cases exacerbated the issue by adding another set of information sources and another stream of updates to be monitored and responded to.

Indeed, in a recent survey Exploring the Use of Email for Internal Communications barely a quarter of respondents felt that ESNs would replace email as the main internal digital “push” channel. Whilst face-to-face communications are still viewed as being the most effective method of employee engagement, the survey confirmed that email is the preferred way of electronically delivering the more important company information in a timely and consistent manner.


In-the-know

So employees are simply far too busy to read and absorb everything that is aimed at them. And with myriad messages and channels competing for their attention there is a very real danger that crucial information will get missed.

Email digests are a great way of aggregating information from all these different internal and external sources – rather than people having to religiously follow every channel themselves. And not only do such emails help keep employees in-the-know, but they also encourage adoption of those other channels by highlighting the content – and benefits – contained therein.

Like their external counterparts, internal email digests are increasingly mobile-friendly, allowing organisations to reach out and engage with people wherever they are, via whichever device they prefer to use.

Emails are highly targetable, enabling communicators to easily aim specific types of message at the relevant people, departments, locations or some other employee demographic.

And whilst enterprise social might not be edging out email any time soon, some email tools now provide staff with the ability to “like”, share and comment on the stories they are sent. Not only does this make email a more two-way channel, but it helps introduce the concept of social into an organisation’s communication mix, laying the foundation for a more digitally collaborative future.

Finally, most email systems will also provide the ability to measure the performance of messages. With metrics for open rates, click-throughs and user interaction, communicators can easily determine aspects such as the popularity of various different topics, employee activity and developing trends.


Top tips for effective email

So what form should your digest emails take in order to be most effective?

Beginning with the content, one of the main aims is to better engage your audiences with key corporate messages, driving traffic to your intranet and other internal resources. So you need to ensure the wording you use in your email is as compelling and enticing as possible. Make sure the titles or headlines for your stories are both concise and self-explanatory and that the summary text contains enough information (but no more) to enable the reader to understand the nature and scope of the underlying story and encourage them to click through.

Similarly your subject line will have a major impact on whether your email is opened:

Design-wise, keep your layouts clean and un-cluttered with lots of white space. And whilst aiming to keep things simple, a fun and engaging design that helps represents the organisation and its culture will not only draw readers in but will reinforce company values and vision as well.

Planning and Timing – digest emails are of course just one part of your overall communications strategy, so make sure they are sent at a time that complements rather than distracts from other messages and channels and is appropriate for your various audiences. And for regular digests, such as a “Weekly Update”, stick to the same delivery slot each time so that people come to expect (and even look out for) your email.

Email is a highly-targetable tool giving you a commanding level of control and enabling you to reach very specific audiences with very specific messages. The better email systems will allow you to personalise your messages with individual salutations and other personal information (including the subject line). Some systems will even enable the recipients to pick and choose the types of information they want to receive.

Measuring the success of your email campaigns and activity is crucial. Define your objectives beforehand and establish what you are going to measure and how you will be measuring it (for example, by using Microsoft Exchange’s email logs or the analytics function in applications such as Newsweaver or Mailchimp). Then analyse your results carefully and adapt your tactics next time round (see more information on the importance of measurement in internal communications).

Finally, you should enshrine your overall approach to using email for internal comms in a formal policy, a governance document that clearly defines the rules of engagement, roles, permissions and responsibilities.


Building and reinforcing

Like their colleagues in Marketing, Sales and PR, there is a growing acknowledgement amongst internal comms professionals that, done properly, digest emails sent out on a regular basis will be a hit with their target audiences.

Not only that, but communicators are also seeing how such emails can help reinforce important corporate messages, forge a closer sense of community and build long-term employee engagement