Over the past six years, I’ve written over 70 columns imparting my views, wisdom, and, at times, frustration around the issues that have affected the growth of e-mail as a viable channel in the ever-changing communications world. Like you, I’ve read numerous columns written by my ClickZ colleagues addressing issues of the day and providing a range of tips, tricks, and insight to better leverage this channel.
For many years I had a front row seat as e-mail rose while heading one of the industry’s leading e-mail communications firms. Having left that post some six months ago, the location of my seat has changed, and with it my perspective on what’s critical to e-mail as part of an integrated communications strategy.
You’ll find no rants or raves in this column, nor threats of dire consequence. This year represents a watershed moment for all of us in the communications business. My advice to those who are truly interested in success in the years ahead is to heed these parameters:
- Outsource smartly. Some people still believe effective e-mail deployment and execution can be accomplished with internal IT staff and deploying on your own servers. Not a chance. The last thing you want to worry about these days are the technical underpinnings of the infrastructure that deploys interactive messaging.
Instead, use that time to leverage the capabilities available to you to increase customer acquisition and retention and to upsell. Stop listening to IT folks who claim they’re the only ones on Earth who can build what you need. Great technology is in the market. Establish a demanding list of features and functionality, then find a vendor that can serve your needs.
- Demand great customer service. In the old days, e-mail provider customer service was measured by the speed and flawless nature of message delivery. We all remember how painful it was when mistakes were made, campaign delivery lagged, or IP addresses were blocked. We took partners to task for lack of service. We created huge service level agreements with all types of penalty grids for violations.
Customer service must to be much more these days. If your provider isn’t proactively offering tangible insight into your campaigns and how to improve effectiveness, it’s time to start asking why not. Stop thinking about e-mail as print production or direct mail blasts. Your provider and the people who work for the company must provide value-added insight as part of their agreement to serve you.
- Forget huge data warehouses. I know a lot of you are in the midst of building data warehouses and staffing analytic teams to crunch numbers, run profiles, build models, and conduct trend analysis. While all this activity may have been productive in recent years, historical analysis with no a real-time decision engine is a total waste of time. How much more evidence do you need that consumers tune out irrelevant messaging in all media? For those who continue to blast away and call it a strategy, ’07 is your waterloo.
- No pushing. The rise of the Web, and e-mail as its primary communications channel, hasn’t been lost on a wide array of would-be e-mail providers. You see them everywhere: database organizations, research companies, and print houses are all racing to provide customers with some ability to push e-mail. They mistakenly equate e-mail delivery with every other type of delivery. It’s a commodity, a box to check. When e-mail delivery is relegated to the same level as direct mail production, you may as well throw your money down the drain. I see a lot of this these days.
Push at your peril. E-mail isn’t broadcast or direct mail. It provides an opportunity to engage customers in a meaningful dialogue. Treat it like print production or piecework, and you’ll greatly dilute its potential value. You’ll probably do your company and brand serious harm in the process.
- Stop calling it creative. Having been in the media and marketing business for nearly 30 years (ouch), I remember creative campaigns, creative agencies, and creative directors. We must now abolish the age-old definitions of creative and campaigns. Interactive is a new communications platform, and marketers must first build dialogues with customers. It’s all about messaging.
The difference between messaging and creative is profound. Messaging is meant to engage customers much longer than the time spent turning a magazine page or hearing a :30 spot on TV or radio. We have the opportunity to engage customers on a level that drives them to make a purchase or an inquiry leading to a purchase. You need only look at search’s incredible growth to realize the Internet can engage customers in transactional activity. It takes more thinking to construct a dialogue. It takes even more thinking to create exciting, relevant dialogue. Many folks have yet to prove they can aid marketers in taking dialogues to a level of measurable improvement in sales and profits. Traditional agencies are too caught up in the creative award business to focus on building trackability and accountability into bottom-line messaging strategies.
- Integrate the front and back of the house. Be incredibly concerned about the back of the house and integrating it with ongoing customer dialogue. It’s insulting to market your products and services and promise superior customer service, when your CRM (define) solution isn’t fully integrated with marketing and upselling capabilities. Customers are less tolerant of this disconnect. We’ve been talking for years about integrating those disparate databases and providing a 360-degree view of the customer. But we’ve yet to see this properly executed. Customers will opt out of organizations that don’t fix these problems. Irrelevance is the spam of this era.
- Care for your customers. Really think about their needs and how your company can help them in whatever way possible. If we continue to think about customers in terms of numbers within a spreadsheet, we miss the opportunity to build incredible relationships and profits. Customers want to do business with organizations that demonstrate an ability to be sensitive to their needs.
While we’re at it, make sure your needs are served by the partners you select to assist you in leveraging the incredible technology available in the marketplace. If they aren’t, you aren’t doing your best to grow your business.
Dare mighty things this year.
Until next time,
Al is off this week. Today’s column ran earlier on ClickZ.
Want more e-mail marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our e-mail columns, organized by topic.