6 Reflections on Connections 2011

I recently spoke at ExactTarget’s Connections conference in Indianapolis and it was quite the event. Over 3,000 digital marketing professionals painted the town (orange), networked, strategized, and talked shop. By talked shop, I mean ate, drank, and saw Katy Perry.

Conferences like this are a great gauge for what real email marketing practitioners are concerned about and focused on. My takeaways from conferences like this often provide me what I interpret to be as the pulse of email marketing. Without further ado, my six reflections from a busy few days in Indianapolis:

  1. The marketers running the day-to-day email programs have a very different view than their bosses. Their bosses (and, of course, this goes well beyond email marketing) are focused on the future of the channel, integration, and the broader view of how email fits in the marketing landscape and their own company/career.

    The email marketing managers have a hard time seeing (or being exposed to) anything outside of the campaign juggernaut that takes up all of their time. They are generally frustrated and more than anything need further support, whether it is in resources, partners, or budget. They also know they likely won’t get it. This is why I truly believe most email marketing managers live on a digital marketing island. For more of their plight, read my previous column.

  2. Email, as a channel, is evolving from a static push to a more dynamic messaging platform. Of course, it has taken over a decade but over the years I have noticed email pros staying away from more hard-hitting and advanced email topics like segmentation and deliverability. At Connections, the content was diverse and deep but attendees didn’t just hit the front-end beginner sessions. Through my conservations with dozens of folks there, many marketers yearn for more. More innovation, more organizational support, more strategic focus, yet…
  3. Email, for many companies, is still a blocking and tackling marketing medium. While new bells and whistles have arrived on the email scene, email is carried on the shoulders of Sisyphus with its never-ending need (and success) of the next campaign. This, along with the relative ease of generating ROI from even a marginal program, ultimately prevents the majority of email programs from taking the leap and becoming an overachieving marketing channel rather than its current state of underachieving. Humbly, email gets the message to the people and often not a whole lot more.
  4. Mobile was treated as more than a topic to “keep an eye on.” You could tell email marketers needed help in determining what and how exactly they needed to adapt for mobile. As consumers become more tied to their smartphones and smartphones become even more sophisticated, paying attention to mobile trends, challenges, and innovations becomes increasingly important as does ensuring your emails render appropriately on your subscribers’ mobile devices. Most companies are still flat-footed in terms of mobile acquisition and creative as they relate to their email program. A major opportunity for all.
  5. Social media in general seems to be the hot topic at several events these days, but many of you may be surprised at how front and center it was at an “email conference.” First, it should be noted that ExactTarget certainly is becoming more of a holistic digital messaging platform provider, and secondly, that most attendees consider themselves digital marketers in general and not necessarily tied to one channel. Much talk at the conference from presenters and attendees alike confirmed the “give” aspect of the email-social relationship that we see time and time again, but the idea that social can also give to email was brought to greater light.

    Digital marketers that are on the cutting edge of digital messaging are realizing more and more that leveraging bonds they form with their fans and followers on social channels can be turned into a deeper relationship by prompting them to subscribe to the brand’s email channel, something discussed in detail at Connections and covered in my company’s new white paper, “Email Acquisition 2.0.”

  6. Twitter is awesome for absentee conference learnings but doesn’t replace the in-person experience and what some consider networking, other consider meeting new friends. At Connections, email marketers let their guards down and had fun while ensuring they came away with meaty learnings to report back home. It doesn’t hurt that the people in the email marketing industry are some of the nicest people I have ever met. Do yourself a favor and seek your industry peers out when you can. There is a lot more behind the Twitter handle almost without exception. If you are interested, check out the hashtag #ET11 for tweets and insight from the conference as broadcasted on Twitter.

Did you attend? What was your takeaway? Missed it but think you know the pulse of email marketing? Please chime in.

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