E-Mail Is a Direct Response Medium

In a recent WebTrends survey of online retailers, 63 percent said they rely on activity-based metrics, such as click-throughs and page views, to judge the success or failure of their e-mail initiatives. That’s good. However, 27 percent weren’t consistently measuring their results quantitatively. That’s bad.

Tracking and reporting are two of the beauties of e-mail. Add in a Web analytics package that can track e-mail traffic separately from other traffic, and you have a direct response marketer’s dream. You can see what prospects are doing at each step of the process, then optimize your e-mail, landing pages, Web site, and order process accordingly.

So why aren’t more e-mail marketers taking advantage of this? And how can you position your company to use e-mail to its fullest direct response potential?

A lot has to do with the team that manages online marketing. Many people in the industry view online marketing as a great tool for awareness. Often, this is because they don’t have a strong background in direct response.

The difference is telling. Offline magazine ads are what I think of as traditional awareness marketing. I remember being amazed at one of my first jobs when I looked at the money we spent on magazine ads with absolutely no reporting on results. It was just whant you did; it was believed to boost overall results and help reinforce direct mail campaigns. You placed ads in magazines that appealed to your target audience and hoped they contributed to the three to five times a person needs to see a message before it truly sinks in. “I know half my advertising is wasted. I just don’t know which half.” –John WanamakerI finally learned to embrace this adage, and I even came to enjoy working with my creative team on magazine ads. There was much more freedom with it than with direct mail. Results didn’t drive the creative, it was all about what you liked and what you thought might work.

Fast-forward to 2006. Many organizations and agencies treat e-mail and online marketing more like magazine advertising than direct response marketing. Instead of using results to guide creative, they rely on personal instincts. This isn’t always wrong, but often it just doesn’t make sense.

The key to direct response marketing is taking the lead from your prospects. You base creative on what’s working, regardless of how you personally feel about it. So if an e-mail is doing pretty well, a direct response marketer would do an A/B split and start testing things to see if she could lift response. Someone treating e-mail like an awareness tool would make changes based on her personal thoughts. One example is changing an image not because another image showed a lift in response, but because the marketer was tired of it.

It’s important to remember in some cases, we marketers aren’t prospects. What appeals to us may be very different than what appeals to those prospects. Smart direct response marketers go with the latter.

That’s direct response marketing’s lesson. I can take my best guess at what a 25-year-old male who collects bobble heads needs to see and hear to buy one more. But I won’t really know until I do some testing and get 25-year-old bobble head collectors to tell me, via their responses to my various tests, what it takes to get them to buy. That’s where tracking and reporting comes in. That’s why quantitative results are important. And that’s why e-mail is a great direct response vehicle.

Many online marketers view direct response marketing as old fashioned. The idea of meticulously testing things seems quaint. They want to focus on what’s cool and new and of the moment, not work on technology that’s been around a while.

Some of this is changing with the advent of multivariate testing. Multivariate testing is like A/B split testing on steroids. Rather than just A versus B, you can test a number of different variables at once, mixing them in almost endless combinations to come up with the combination that produces the highest response rate. It’s not something to try without the help of a trained professional. But it is something to consider if you’re looking to rapidly improve results.

Don’t underestimate the power of e-mail as a direct response marketing channel. Study up on or refresh your knowledge of direct response marketing, then apply what you learn to e-mail campaigns. Let me know how it goes.



Want more e-mail marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our e-mail columns, organized by topic.

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