Global email users are expected to number 2.7 billion this year. No wonder the channel remains a favorite among marketers.

Email consistently has been a powerful outreach method through which brands (no matter their size or industry) can build strong relationships with consumers, relay important company information, and push key sales objectives and opportunities.

Moreover, email is evolving as a marketing technique in response to other digital channels, such as native advertising and social media. Nearly a third of retailers consider integrating email with other digital campaigns to be a top priority for 2016, according to The 2016 Yesmail Channel Report from Yes Lifecycle Marketing.

The report also indicates that marketers still have a great deal to learn about email marketing before they take on cross-channel integration.

Brands should focus on three key areas to prepare for future email integration opportunities. After all, 2016 is already well underway, and companies not already doing the following must adjust quickly or risk falling further behind.

1. Go Back to Basics

Before tackling any other digital outreach efforts, marketers must get back to the basics of email marketing.

Securing consumers' email addresses is something all brands should already have mastered, but many still miss out on simple opportunities to do so.

Almost half of retailers do not collect email addresses via social media or in store, and over two-thirds do not collect email addresses when consumers download or interact with their mobile app. Similarly, 17% of retailers fail to secure site visitors' email addresses.

Retailers must focus on securing more email addresses whether at point-of-sale, on social, or during website browsing─and via other sources. Developing a personalized online experience that's seamless between channels is nearly impossible to do without doing that.

Marketers can use various technologies and customer touchpoints to secure more email addresses.

For example, marketers can prompt users on social platforms to share their email addresses by offering a simple call-to-action. Likewise, marketers can obtain the email addresses of their website visitors by providing a coupon that can only be accessed after subscribing to a company e-newsletter or a banner ad. Consumers are already accustomed to such requests and will likely oblige in exchange of right offer or incentive.

To collect the most shopper email addresses, marketers should make use of every channel that's a part of their digital marketing program. Each avenue─social media, mobile, online, or in store─will help retailers reach different audience members and create a bigger database of potential shoppers.

2. Prioritize Personalization

To position email as an effective channel for driving sales, retailers must next improve the personalization of their outreach efforts.

Although personalization is hardly new, it remains an area where brands struggle, according to the report. In fact, 10% of brands still do not personalize their emails in any way. More specifically, less than half of retailers use recipients' names to personalize emails, and 39% do not customize email subject lines. Strategies like these present easy ways for brands to stand out and connect with subscribers.

Beyond this first impression, marketers can personalize all aspects of an email's copy to better engage consumers, which 64% of brands have yet to do. For instance, over two-thirds of brands do not personalize the products or services featured in an email, and 75% do not personalize an email offering.

As marketers improve the relevance of their email campaigns, they will begin to see more engaged and loyal subscribers. When consumers feel valued, their loyalty for a brand is likely to increase. To create that kind of personalized digital experience, marketers must harness shopper information. That can start with something as simple as a subscriber's name and evolve to incorporating data points like purchase history and demographic data.

Personalizing every last detail of an email can be overwhelming, so brands should start with the information they have on hand. For example, if retailers have a subscriber's name but no purchase history, personalizing with the former is a great place to start.

Retailers can incorporate more points of personalization as they learn more about their subscribers over time.

3. Make the Most of Social

One of the most important email integration opportunities for retailers is with social media. Currently, 40% of retailers do not integrate email with social media, although almost 90% have a presence on a social media platform.

Social is a logical extension of any retailer's existing digital outreach efforts. It provides a massive user base and also offers myriad options for coordination and integration with email.

For example, brands can include social share buttons in email copy, dynamic social feeds in the body of a message, or track how customers share email promotions on social networks to generate sales and new subscribers.

As retailers get better at blending social and email, they can even begin to encourage subscribers to do some of the channel integration for them.

For example, marketers can entice consumers to share a promotional offer from email to social with the promise of a discount. Likewise, when ready, marketers can invest in tools that measure cross-channel attribution efforts and quantify each channel's effectiveness with metrics like revenue and new subscribers acquired.

* * *

A digital marketing strategy with multiple channels is a great goal, but retailers must first possess a solid understanding of the basics, such as securing email addresses and personalizing content. When they do, long-term e-commerce success via email will follow.

Integration is an exciting opportunity for retail marketers, and it's a challenge that brands should prepare for immediately. Cross-channel integration is vital to customer satisfaction and brand growth.

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Three Things Email Marketers Should Do to Stay Competitive

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image of Ivy Shtereva

Ivy Shtereva is senior marketing manager at Yesmail, where she is responsible for multichannel strategy and implementation across the email, database, Web, and direct marketing channels. She also authors Yesmail's quarterly benchmark reports.

LinkedIn: Ivy Shtereva