It's budget season, so I've been talking with clients about their plans and objectives for the coming year. What's struck me most is how far direct marketers have come in understanding online marketing in general and e-mail in particular. The following three changes show how our industry is maturing.
Consumer Value Proposition
The first, and perhaps the most exciting, trend is marketers accepting the need to focus on recipients' expectations and requirements from company communications, on the value proposition for the recipient. This speaks to a critical difference between online and traditional direct marketing. Many fundamental aspects of online marketing flow from this one insight. The value of permission, list hygiene, segmentation, relevance, timeliness, and profiles all become obvious when one realizes in the online world the consumer is control. To be successful marketers, you must embrace this fact.
Print direct marketing was always about what a company wanted to say, when, and how often. What consumers wanted was never a consideration beyond how communications affected conversion rates. This attitude translated online into wording privacy policies and opt-in forms to be as vague as possible so "we can do whatever we like." Messaging frequency was based on quarterly sales objectives regardless of recipient preference. It was seen in approaching segmentation by trying to figure out how many recipients we can blast without getting blocked.
Now marketers are really taking a recipient-centric approach and focusing on the user experience. They are setting, meeting, and exceeding users expectations. They work to understand which recipients are interested in the content they provide, which ones are not, and why. Consideration is given to information overload and inbox flooding. This year, I'm seeing a lot more of the latter and a lot less of the former. That's a good thing for users and a recipe for success for marketers.
The second positive trend is a focus on multiple media and integration between those media. Businesses are always looking for the next great marketing tool, platform, or channel, but this is a much more nuanced understanding. Companies are looking beyond mainstream direct response media (print, e-mail, Web banners, etc.) to emerging channels, including SMS, blogs, podcasts, and RSS.
More crucial, companies are looking at how these channels will complement and integrate with existing communications rather than just seeking the next big thing. They're looking at which consumers will utilize these channels and how. From this, they can determine what messaging will be appropriate and effective in these channels. Currently, it's about baby steps, identifying and testing likely emerging channels. In future it will be about integration to maximize ROI (define) and enhance the user experience.
The final change is a significant increase in interdisciplinary and cross-organizational programs. In large enterprises, departments and business units can be extremely proprietary, competitive, even combative. High-level efforts at integration have grown out of a focus on the user experience, the understanding that recipients neither know nor care about an organization's internal silos and fiefdoms.
This change is manifesting in many ways, including programs to ensure consistent, one-voice communications, company-wide preference management, and multidepartment messaging. The end result is more streamlined messaging that better leverages an organization's knowledge about customers and prospects. In turn, this leads to better campaigns and higher ROI for the organization and an improved user experience for recipients.
Issues of deliverability, measurement, list hygiene, and growth remain, but this year they seem to be less of a focus. There's an implicit understanding that they'll continue to be challenges but the focus must be on delivering effective and valuable communications for the company and the recipients. And that's how it should be.
Until next time,
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Derek Harding is the CEO and founder of Innovyx Inc., a member of the Omnicom Group and the first e-mail service provider to be wholly owned by a full-service marketing agency. A British expatriate living in Seattle, WA, Derek is a technologist by background who has been working in online marketing on both sides of the Atlantic for the last 10 years.