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Social Marketing May Just Cure E-mail Marketers

  |  August 18, 2010   |  Comments

Social marketing has changed customer expectations and set the stage for deeper subscriber engagement. E-mail marketers who want to succeed need to step up.

Social marketing may just be the best thing to happen to e-mail marketers yet. No, the irony of that statement isn't lost on me. Social marketing is just the latest in the long line of things that are supposed to be killing e-mail marketing. Spam was first, but didn't succeed. Then came RSS, blogs, social networks, and even youth. E-mail remains a very viable marketing channel.

Viable, but not invincible. E-mail marketing is on high alert to remain healthy – and social marketing is calling that to our attention. The "doctor" – personified in our own intelligence, response data trends, and cautions from our deliverability consultants – has been telling us for years that unless we change our lifestyle and approach, we will churn our file, depress sender reputation and inbox placement rates, and lose the ability to engage with subscribers over e-mail. In fact, despite improvements in infrastructure, advanced data integration, and improved transparency for sender reputation, e-mail marketing messages get blocked by spam filters at nearly the same rate as five years ago. About 20 percent of legitimate e-mail marketing around the globe never reaches the inbox, according to my company's global benchmark report issued earlier this year. I believe this is due to the fact that e-mail messages are not becoming more relevant, despite the technology that automates much of it. That points the finger directly at marketers' content and contact strategies.

It's hard to change old habits when we feel healthy. For marketers doing only the simple math, all those generic broadcast e-mail messages still generate a lot of revenue – despite the fact that most subscribers delete most messages unread. The fact that response is from a smaller and smaller subset of subscribers gets lost in the glee over the quick results and high ROI (define).

Marketers know there is a better way to connect with subscribers, and we know we have access to simple segmentation and data management to create more compelling subscriber experiences. We just don't.

This is partly because it's more work and not trivial in terms of time, knowledge, access to data, or budget. It can be exhausting to be the e-mail marketer. There are high expectations, a low budget, and minimal support. But mostly, businesses don't bother to fix what seems to be only a little bit broken.

Along comes social marketing. The buzz is all about conversations, individual opinions, and the wisdom of crowds. Customers and prospects are empowered to participate in public chatter about our brands – with or without us. They are emboldened by this direct access and enjoy projecting their voice. So much so, that they now disdain to engage or participate in any marketing-created content that isn't a trusted, enjoyable, and rewarding experience.

Like so much of our e-mail marketing.

Ouch. Now we start to feel the pain as we watch response rates stagnate and witness fewer customers willing to give up their primary e-mail address. We see sender reputation fluctuate and complaints (clicks on the Report Spam button) rise. We start to think that maybe there really is some urgency to engage subscribers.

Social marketing has changed customer expectations and set the stage for deeper subscriber engagement – and e-mail marketers who want to succeed in the long term are stepping up. E-mail messages win when they provide helpful, relevant, and interactive content. The other stuff gets ignored from fatigue or swept away via new inbox management tools provided by mailbox providers. (Read about the ultra-managed inbox in my previous column.)

I think this wake up call is great news for e-mail marketers – and subscribers. The socially connected Internet makes it imperative that we give our e-mail programs a quick physical check up.

  1. Are we fully respecting permission grants? Is it clear what will happen when someone provides an e-mail address? Is there a good reason to provide my primary e-mail address?
  2. Do we refrain from sharing files internally? Do we only send what was promised, at the right frequency?
  3. Do subscribers have control over content or frequency?
  4. Is the e-mail broadcast system stable and reliable, with smart throttling, bounce, and complaint processing rules?
  5. Do we control what goes out via our domain and IP addresses, or if we have to share, at least know the other senders are of similar reputation?
  6. Are content and offers customized based on subscriber profile and behavior?
  7. Does the unsubscribe function work properly (as in, "Yes, I've checked it personally in the past 30 days")?
  8. Is our sender reputation high – and consistent?
  9. Do we have the discipline to remove subscribers who are inactive (no opens, clicks, or conversions from the e-mail program in the past 12 months - or sooner, depending on your business)?

There is nothing more frustrating than to have a doctor tell us, "If only you'd addressed this years ago." Don't let that happen to your e-mail program. Keep it strong and viable – by sending the kind of e-mail messages that connect with subscribers and earn their way to the inbox, every time.

How has the pressure from the socially connected marketplace influenced your e-mail marketing approach and success? Let me know what you think and please share any ideas or comments below.

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Stephanie Miller

Stephanie Miller is a partner with brand and marketing technology strategy firm TopRight Partners, which helps customers use the technology they have today to do the marketing they want to do today and tomorrow. She is a relentless customer advocate and a champion for marketers creating memorable customer experiences. A digital marketing and CRM expert, she helps sophisticated marketers balance the right mix of people, process, and technology to optimize a data-driven content marketing strategy. She speaks and writes regularly and leads several industry-wide initiatives. Feedback and column ideas most welcome, to smiller AT toprightpartners DOT com or @stephanieSAM.

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