Back-to-School Column

Students all over the United States are heading back to school this week. As a member of the working world, I wish I could join them. Instead, I’m taking this opportunity to write my own back-to-school column.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

The highlight had to be the ClickZ Email Strategies summer conference, held a few weeks ago in Chicago. (OK, admit it — we all fudged a little on those school essays. Maybe this wasn’t the most exciting event of the summer. But workwise, it’s right up there.) I met some readers, which helps me better understand what information you’re looking for in these columns. I came across some great case studies, one of which will appear in this space in the next few weeks. And I was able to learn more about issues you all face every day. Some thoughts:

  • The audience, not surprisingly, has become much more sophisticated in the past couple of years. When I first started attending Internet-related conferences, it seemed email was often overlooked. It wasn’t as exciting as, say, flashy Web sites. This past conference had quite the buzz. It’s encouraging to see the industry takes email marketing more seriously.

  • Along these lines, I’d like to relate an anecdote. I asked several participants if and how they were benefiting from the conference. One woman replied she was learning new information, but it was valuable to find out about things she already knew. Why? She replied the advantages were two-fold: First, the conference helped confirm she was on the right track. Second, she could take the information back to her company and say, “See? The experts are saying we’re doing the right things.”
  • What do you get when you mix several hundred marketers and a couple of spam cops? A highly entertaining session. I won’t cover everything here, but I’ll bring up one point. One audience member compared sending unsolicited commercial email messages to advertising on television. You turn on the TV and there they are. He thought Internet users should receive commercial messages as part of the cost of having an email account.

    I think his analogy is flawed. On television, viewers decide which programs to watch. If you want to watch only public television and never see a commercial, you can. If you don’t want to see adult commercials, you don’t subscribe to the Playboy channel. Consumers should have the same choice with commercial email. Sign up for an adult email newsletter, expect to see porn ads in it. Register at a business Web site, expect the site will send you messages now and then (assuming it’s spelled out in its privacy policy). But just because a consumer has an email account doesn’t give you the right to send that consumer unsolicited commercial messages.

  • I began my panel by mentioning I’m a journalist, not a marketer. My degrees are in mathematics (bachelor’s) and journalism (master’s). Most of my work is writing for computer magazines. I was corrected by one participant, who told me to face the fact I’m now a marketer. Hmm. Can you be a marketer and never do any marketing?

(Light) Summer Reading

Now seems like a good time to point out some case studies you may have missed over the past few months. If you didn’t do all the summer reading you intended, I recommend you go back and look at these three case studies: “HTML Always Outperforms Text? Don’t Stake Your Career on It,” “Converting Nibbles Into Bites,” and “Waking Hibernating Email Addressees.”

Term Paper

My fall project is to put together a book proposal. ClickZ’s editors and I are tossing around the idea of an email case studies book. I’d like your input. Is this something you might find valuable? Any thoughts how you’d like to see it done, such as grouping case studies by topic? What types of case studies would you want to see?

Homework

I get many, many messages from readers. I try to reply to all of them, but because of the growing volume, it’s become impossible to do so. I’d like to reiterate I do read every message. Really. So please, keep the feedback coming!

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