Below is an executive summary of the B2B Email Marketing Report. Further analysis can be found on Circle Research’s blog – B2B email marketing trends – and the full report is available to buy (free to B2B Marketing Members) here.


Email remains critical for B2B marketers

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Despite significant challenges from the likes of social media and inbox overload, email continues to be a critical weapon in the armoury of B2B marketers, according to this Benchmarking Report from B2B Marketing, developed in association with Circle Research.

Two hundred and fifty client-side marketers were polled for the research, which was conducted in February 2012. According to the results, 70 per cent of B2B marketers still regard email as either ‘critical’ or ‘very important’ while only four per cent regard it as ‘not very important’.

Correspondingly, email is used by B2B marketers to achieve a number of different objectives although ‘lead generation/nurturing’ was the most popular, both in terms of overall use (78 per cent) and highest priority usage (37 per cent). Surprisingly, ‘enhancing/building brand’ was second most popular in terms of overall objectives, despite the fact that email is not generally regarded as primarily a brand-focused channel.

Biggest priorities for email marketing

However, while B2B brands continue to rely heavily on email for most objectives, and despite the fact that email is an established and therefore well-understood channel, marketers are still failing to totally integrate it with other activities. Only 17 per cent of respondents said their email marketing was ‘completely integrated’. This suggests that email marketing is still being conducted in silos, and therefore may not be benefiting from the halo effect that can come from integration with other media in a concerted campaign.

Data is key to success

When it comes to increasing effectiveness of email marketing, content is the most important element, according to respondents, with ‘subject matter’ and ‘subject line’ being cited most often by respondents as one of the top three influencing factors (by 55 per cent and 40 per cent respectively).

However, the role of data in ensuring email effectiveness was also underlined by the response to this question, with respondents identifying it as the most powerful single factor in terms of influence on performance. In contrast, use of personalisation and time/date were viewed as less important to the effectiveness of email marketing, while the influence of visuals was negligible, despite all the issues around image blocking.

A well-established channel

Although email may be a mature channel in B2B, investment in it will continue to rise, according to the results of this survey. Fifty three per cent of respondents expect to increase their investment in email marketing over the next 12 months, while 42 per cent expect investment to remain constant – only a small minority anticipate a decrease in spend. However, increases in spend may only be modest: Only 13 per cent said they would increase investment ‘significantly’, while 40 per cent would increase email spend ‘slightly’.

This can be said to confirm the status of email as a mature channel, the usage of which is unlikely to change dramatically in the coming months. This is also reflected in the response to questions about workload and time investment in email, although with marginally more respondents expecting workload to increase slightly (47 per cent).

Automation on the rise

The vendor landscape for email marketing platforms/email service providers (ESP) is hugely fragmented, with over 40 different vendors listed by respondents, but only one (Dotmailer) able to secure more than five per cent of total market share.

The areas of least satisfaction for B2B marketers with their ESPs was ‘integration with other systems’ (where they were rated as good or excellent by only 37 per cent on average) and ‘customer service’ (rated as good or excellent by 56 per cent).

Surprisingly, over half of respondents (54 per cent) claimed their solution included automation functionality, despite the fact that automation services were only listed by 12 per cent of vendors. This suggests that most users of automation services are using the more limited automation services available from traditional ESPs, rather than the more sophisticated functionality available from the specialist vendors. But it does underline a growing awareness and understanding of automation, and the potential that it offers.

ROI proves elusive

Despite the extremely high level of measurability available on email marketing campaigns, only one in ten B2B marketers are able to measure ROI on all of their email activity. Forty three per cent of respondents say they can only measure ROI ‘some of the time’ or ‘rarely or not at all’. This suggests that, in some instances, rather than use email because it is measurable and therefore effective, marketers are using it because it is cheap, easy and quick.

For those marketers who can measure ROI on email marketing activity, 41 per cent describe it as ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ while a similar figure (42 per cent) regard it as average.

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