E-mail: Time for a Makeover

E-mail marketing’s been around a long while, relatively speaking, insofar as online marketing is concerned. It was a white-hot topic two or three years ago, but talk has largely shifted to sexier forms of online marketing: search, video, and all that is Web 2.0.

If you’ve allowed the e-mail component of your online marketing strategy to become, well, like part of the furniture, it’s time to bring in e-mail’s equivalent of a stylist for a fresh look and fresh ideas. E-mail’s role is changing, the technology is advancing, and its horizons are broadening. Everyone who attended our e-mail forum in New York this week was positively turbocharged with new ideas that expanded notions of what e-mail can accomplish now and in the future.

Future E-mail Trends

In an inspiring keynote, Jeanniey Mullen challenged marketers to “think about using e-mail differently and more dynamically.” Her talk stressed multichannel integration, such as new technologies that integrate search, e-mail, and cookies and enable marketers to dispatch messages to subscribers based on search terms they used to reach a specific page on their sites. “When you think about search, somebody making a purchase, think about e-mail,” she urged.

Such sophistication isn’t easy to achieve, nor does it come cheap. E-mail will be a “harder job,” Mullen warned, but well worth it. Consider these stats: E-mail delivered an ROI (define) of over $57 for every dollar spent on the channel in 2005, according to the Direct Marketing Association, a figure very closely supported by Ogilvy research. Consumers who buy products advertised in e-mail spend 138 percent more than typical non e-mail readers, according to a Forrester report released this year. “E-mail definitely delivers…If you provide an e-mail address to a company, you indicate you are a high-propensity purchaser,” is how she summed it up.

Bye-Bye Browser

Even if you’re not ready to invest in the latest technological bells and whistles, it’s time to seriously reevaluate e-mail creative — if not rebuild it from the ground up. There’s only a 50 percent likelihood your e-mail marketing messages are rendering correctly in the myriad e-mail clients and browsers out there, according to Greg Cangialosi of Blue Sky Factory. And that figure will get worse before it gets better.

By 2009, 60 percent of e-mail messages will be read outside of the inbox, predicts Mullen, citing handheld devices, messages sent within social networking platforms, and RSS feeds. That’s not far off, and the trend is already well underway. What can you do right now? She suggests a new link in all outbound messages: “To view this on your BlackBerry or handheld device, click here.”

For business-to-business (B2B) marketers particularly, this advice cannot be ignored.

Lists: Quality vs. Quantity

Any e-mail program requires lists — that’s a no-brainer. Yet best practices in compiling and maintaining good lists have changed radically from what were acceptable practices just a few short years ago.

One conference delegate posed his problem to a panel of experts: He was tasked by his employer to build a list of 10,000 addresses in six months. What did they recommend as the fastest means of achieving that goal?

Several of the panelist abstained from providing a direct response. Stefan Pollard parried the question with a question: “What is the truth of the goal? What do 10,000 names really mean to you? Building a list of 10,000 names is not a goal. What value you are adding? You can offer quality content and something of value to the recipient, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to generate ROI.”

And most of the presenters rejected outright the very notion of buying or renting lists, a practice in such decline that most legitimate vendors in the space have closed shop or shifted their business focus. “If somebody is trying to rent you an e-mail list, run the other way,” was SubscriberMail’s Jordan Ayan’s blunt advice.

It’s gratifying to hear consensus on the practice we at ClickZ have been advocating for years; opt-in is the only way to go. Giving your e-mail address to a company says you have a strong partiality to purchasing. Mullen observed that opt-in is also an expression of trust and interest in a brand as well as an invitation for further dialogue. She’s advising companies to consider opt-in a critical component of all marketing campaigns. “Bribe your media planners and buyers! Integrating e-mail opt-in capture with all forms of media will be a must by the middle of 2008.”

Who Does E-Mail Best?

An interesting wrap-up to the day was a question from a marketer who wanted to know which companies and brands are doing the best overall e-mail marketing campaigns. In short, what lists should marketers opt in to to inform and shape their own campaigns?

Herewith, the list of e-mail marketing’s most respected by our expert panel of e-mail marketers:

  • Apple’s iTunes. Its transactional e-mail receipts contain three “if you liked this, you’ll also like” recommendations, an approach that turns a cost center into a profit center.
  • Expedia and Target. These companies understand they’re collecting information about customers and leveraging that data on customer to build more dynamic messaging that’s totally customized to the customer profile. This makes you want to transact more.
  • Barnes & Noble. It does a good job bringing you into the retail outlets as well as online.
  • Backcountry. It’s good at integrating Web 2.0.
  • Boutique hotels chains such as Kimpton and W Hotels.
  • What are you waiting for? Opt in…and learn!

    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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