Every email marketer should have a strong understanding of how email works, including how it is delivered, how it is displayed, privacy practices, and direct marketing fundamentals.
Some years ago, OK many years ago, I joined a custom publishing agency. My first week was one of deep orientation. During that week I was taken through the details of the publishing process. I was taught about the print process: the different types of printers, paper, and printing techniques; color processes, CMYK and spot color; collation, distribution, and the postal system. I was taught about copy writing, editing, layout and proofing, and all the other steps that go into creating the final product. In short I got a five-day backgrounder on how the underlying technologies and processes of the industry worked and how they impacted our work.
What I've come to realize is that in today's digital marketing world, it's very rare that an email marketer gets this kind of background. And I don't mean in print, I mean in email. I commonly come across email marketers who don't know how the channel that is the basis of our livelihood works. Here then are my top five things that every email marketer should know.
1. How Email Is Delivered
I believe every email marketer should know how this works, how their message actually gets delivered, from the basics of mail servers and DNS through to the SMTP (Simple Mail Transport Protocol) transport and delivery of email.
It may seem technical and irrelevant to marketers, but this is important knowledge because it has a significant impact in a wide range of areas. Spam filtering depends on and impacts this process. To understand blocking and filtering, the difference between an RBL and a URIBL means understanding this process. To understand what bounce codes and responses mean and how they impact your delivery requires understanding of this process.
2. How Email Is Displayed
HTML (hypertext markup language) is the language of email. The HTML dialect for email is different to that for websites. The capabilities and limitations in regards to email are important and becoming more so. The growth of mobile and adoption of mobile-first and responsive designs change how our messages look and why. Every email marketer should understand what can and can't be done, what should and should not be done, why content displays differently on different platforms, and how responsive design works.
3. Basic Statistics
Email is a data-driven medium. Unfortunately, all too often email marketers come from non-mathematical backgrounds and never learned these basics. We receive a deluge of data about our programs and campaigns. What often surprises me, though, is how little that data gets used. Top-line metrics such as delivery, open, and click rates are compared month on month but often there's little more than that.
Simply knowing what makes a test good and a result statistically significant is invaluable. Effective use of the available data can make the difference between a good program and a great one.
4. Privacy and Security
As I wrote back in February, email marketers are handling a growing quantity of data and increasingly make essential decisions about collection, storage, transfer, and use of that data. Every email marketer needs to be up on both privacy and security and how it impacts what we do every single day.
There is often a significant disconnect between the policy and the practice of data privacy and security. Understanding the fundamentals, the whys, and wherefores removes that disconnect and enables email marketers to make smart decisions even when the privacy group is not around.
5. Direct Marketing Fundamentals
Email marketers come from a range of backgrounds and email is such an effective channel that it seems oftentimes we can get away with ignoring marketing fundamentals and still get great return on investment (ROI). But even though it's a unique channel, email marketing is still direct marketing and the fundamentals are important.
The four Ps of Product, Price, Place, and Promotion and the three Ms of Market, Message, and Medium are still very relevant foundations to effective marketing in the age of the fragmented customer journey, the mobile consumer, and cross-channel messaging.
I want to be clear that I'm not saying email marketers should know how to write a mail server, be HTML coding wizards, or Ph.D. statisticians. We are doing data-driven marketing with email and an understanding of the fundamental aspects of data, marketing, and email are important. Without these fundamentals we're in no position to have serious discussions about the subtleties and nuances of email strategies and tactics. Instead, we'll be continually rehashing the same conversations and readdressing the same misconceptions.
So that's my list - what's yours? What would you add to, or remove from, the list of things every email marketer should know?
Until next time.
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Derek is the managing director of J-Labs, Javelin Marketing Group's technology skunkworks, a role that draws on his 20 years of experience and leadership in the fields of marketing and technology. A British expatriate based in Seattle, Washington, Derek is perhaps better known as the founder and technologist behind Innovyx, one of the first email service providers later acquired by the Omnicom Group. An industry veteran and thought-leader, Derek is a regular expert author, contributor, conference speaker, and takes an active role in a number of industry and trade groups.
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