Email marketing has long reigned as the leading marketing channel for reaching customers across industries, and recent research indicates it will continue to do so.

A report from the Data & Marketing Association (DMA) shows that, between summer 2018 and 2019, email performance in the UK and EU has improved strongly against all major KPIs, including return on investment (ROI), with 51% of campaigns seeing an increase. (Only 24% said ROI decreased, while average email showed a big year-over-year increase, going from £32.28 to £42.24).

With email still such a critical element of a marketer’s arsenal, a regular analysis on goals, tactics and issues, and how these differ across sectors, is worthy of attention.

B2B and B2C email converge on automation

According to our latest research at Validity International into the current state of play in email marketing, B2B marketers’ primary goal for an email marketing programme is to communicate with subscribers, whilst B2C marketers’ top objective is to increase revenue.

This makes sense given that B2B buying cycles are often much longer, and keeping subscribers engaged between transaction points is harder as a result. This creates a further challenge for B2B marketers, however, because emails that are for communication purposes only generate lower open rates than those that are explicitly trying to increase revenue opportunities.

What then can B2B marketers learn from their B2C counterparts to improve their programme performance and boost their bottom line?

While there are clearly different approaches taken by B2B and B2C marketers when implementing their campaigns, it’s interesting to note that from an email perspective, the two have been showing signs of converging. For instance, when it comes to technology, many businesses now use a white-labelled version of one of the familiar Mailbox Providers (MBPs) for their corporate email requirements.

In fact, in the US, around 60% of mid-sized businesses and around 90% of start-ups use Gmail. It’s well known that this MBP places a premium on wanting to see active and engaged email subscribers, meaning traditional B2C tactics for driving better deliverability and engagement are becoming increasingly relevant for B2B senders too. Interestingly, Gmail’s bulk sender guidelines recommend that active opt-in should be used as the basis for all forms of email marketing.

When it comes to engagement, one page B2B marketers can take from the B2C playbook is the use of email triggers and automation. A recent analysis by Bluecore considered the relationship between triggered email effectiveness and Average Order Value (AOV), and found that both open and click-through rates for browse abandonment, basket abandonment, and price decrease emails all go up as AOV increases. This works in favour of B2B marketers where higher AOVs are the norm, and they would do well to harness this for their programmes.

B2B needs to make CRM data quality a priority

B2C email marketers understand the importance of good data quality. Poor data has a major negative impact on sender reputation, making deliverability much tougher as a result. Validity’s benchmark report shows that average Unknown User rates for best-in-class senders are less than 1%.

By comparison, B2B is often a minefield of dirty data with missing fields, duplicate leads, and customer details that may as well have fossilised.

According to recent research by Experian Data Quality, the average business estimates that 22% of its contact data is inaccurate. A staggering 38% of marketers believe that inadequate contact data hinders them from getting the best from their marketing automation resources. When it comes to B2B, CMOs and marketing managers need to learn from their B2C counterparts and make CRM data quality their top priority.

Taking a marketing-first approach to privacy

From a legal standpoint, the bar has traditionally been set lower for B2B than for B2C, however, the arrival of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May 2018 has introduced much change.

For instance, if an individual can be identified via their corporate email address – a common occurrence given the standard firstname.lastname@companyname format – then GDPR requirements may need to be considered, introducing new considerations for B2B marketers by making them subject to the same data protection principles that apply to data subjects’ personal information – greater transparency, for example.

This is not solely a UK issue, of course. California’s new Consumer Privacy Act is almost here, becoming effective on 01st January, 2020. In Brazil, the new LGPD legislation is now less than 12 months away, (August 15th, 2020) while in Australia updates to privacy legislation are also in progress. This legislation should be seen as an opportunity, rather than a burden, however. Marketo produced a post-GDPR report that identified “two tribes of marketing” (Legal First vs Marketing First) based on the approach they took to implementing GDPR. The report found that 72% of the businesses who exceed their organisational targets took a marketing-first approach to GDPR.

As mentioned at the beginning of this piece, despite GDPR being initially seen as a blockade for email marketing programmes, 12 months down the line email marketers are starting to see real benefits, with key email metrics (deliverability, opens and clicks) having all increased substantially since May 2018, while complaints and unsubscribes have decreased.

Demonstrating value

One area where B2B consistently performs below that of B2C is in demonstrating programme value. According to the DMA’s 2019 Marketer Email Tracker, only 48% of B2B senders are confident calculating programme return on investment (ROI), compared with 71% for B2C. B2C programmes typically generate lower returns, yet B2B marketers often struggle with longer lead times and operate without a clear line of sight between the initial email and ROI. What’s more, smaller programme scales also mean established best practices – such as testing – are often less effective.

In many ways, the email marketing landscape, propelled by the inbox placement rules of the top MBPs and wider international privacy legislation is already pushing the email marketing programmes of B2B and B2C companies closer together. Forward-thinking B2B email marketers should take note of this, and realise that, as the situation changes, they’d be wise to look over the fence at their B2C counterparts and shift their goals and strategies accordingly.