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Livin' Off the Wall: More About Email

  |  October 9, 2001   |  Comments

Email is experiencing a renaissance. Sort of like Michael Jackson. It isn't working as well as it used to, but everyone's talking about it again.

OK, last week I promised I was going to get back to the matter of advertising in the digital marketing space, and so I am. Still isn't easy for any of us, God knows, but as I've heard so often said in movies or written in "quote of the day" calendars, "Life is for the living."

The main topic covered recently by my ClickZ colleagues has been email marketing. Tom Hespos's installments for the last two weeks have dealt with the possible ineffectiveness of email and how marketers might build lists that actually yield results. Debbie Weil argued email's primary function is to keep us connected. Rebecca Lieb wrote last week about the notion of timing one's email drops (I liked the Chicago song title, as well), an idea that has long been used in traditional advertising and one that I've touched on a few times in reference to graphic asset Webvertising, called "flighting." I'd never thought of it in relation to email, but it is an excellent idea. There have been stories about spamming, targeting, and rich media as it should be used in email.

Email is experiencing a renaissance. Sort of like Michael Jackson. It isn't working as well as it used to, but everyone's talking about it again.

I think one of the main reasons for this, in light of the economic downturn, is knee-jerk enthusiasm for realizing immediate revenue. There's the supposition that email is better targeted and more effective than other pitches. Email marketing is the new panacea of digital media marketing.

With good reason. In the past, email has demonstrated, on average, better performance than its banner-inspired siblings. Whereas banners (like the other Jackson siblings) haven't really changed much, email (like Michael) has gotten weirder and weirder without getting more relevant.

Either subject lines lean heavily on chicanery, such as "RE: the information you requested," or "Long time no see" or -- stranger yet -- emails disguise the originator address as your own email address. Tom points out that most emails are just getting deleted these days. I suggest that this is a direct result of lack of relevance or a reliance on annoying tactics, such as packing the message with rich media content that chokes an inbox, particularly on a dial-up connection.

I conducted my own email experiment recently.

I sent 1,300 unsolicited emails to random addresses collected through various means (not my personal address book) for a less-than-mainstream product. The mailing was sent in two batches (600, then 700) on the same Thursday.

The 600 sent in the afternoon, near the end of a workday, saw a 4.3 percent click-through rate. Not a single sale was made. The 700 sent later in the evening got no click-throughs at all.

This was far from scientific, but I have surmised two things (neither of which may be true):

  • Random spam isn't great for generating sales unless you are willing to do extremely large volumes of it. Even then, results are far from guaranteed.

  • An email that finds its way into inboxes when users are connected and have their email managers open is more likely to be responded to than one that arrives at night.
Email marketing is undoubtedly here to stay. Just last week, IDC reported that the estimated number of worldwide email mailboxes is expected to increase at a 138 percent growth rate, from 505 million in 2000 to 1.2 billion in 2005. That's a lot of inboxes, and when it comes to junk mail, as direct marketers know, it is often simply a numbers game.

There is every reason to believe that spam will proliferate along with the number of inboxes.

eMarketer reported last week that the number of unsolicited messages will rise to 75.6 billion by 2003. That's a lot of spam. A whole lot of spam.

As the old saying goes, if you throw enough s___ against the wall, some of it is bound to stick.

I don't know about you, but I've had my fill of Michael Jackson. And I certainly don't need anyone throwing any more of that four-letter word beginning with "s" (Hint: the rest is "p-a-m") in my direction.

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Jim Meskauskas Jim Meskauskas has had a long career in both traditional and interactive media. He was most recently the Chief Internet Strategist at Mediasmith Inc., where he worked with a range of clients -- from BabyCenter and CBS MarketWatch to Eidos Interactive, Roxio, and LuckySurf. He has also been in media at Hawk Media, Left Field, and USWeb/CKS. He is a founding board member of the Society for Internet Advancement San Francisco, where he oversaw communications. Jim is now developing an independent media consultancy called Media Darwin.

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