Email Marketing Glossary: So, What Is It?

More glossary requests arrive every day, and lately we find ourselves responding to a lot of questions about email marketing. No big surprise there, since email marketing has become the hottest game in town, this years Furby.

But how, weve been asked by puzzled readers, does one determine what constitutes a smart email marketing program? After all, many of us react with disdain to the mountains of spam in our daily mailboxes. If thats email marketing, why would anyone concerned with protecting their brand want to partake?

At the other extreme is the salesperson who wrote that she has been sending privately addressed, but bulk mailed, emails to key customers for years. If thats email marketing, she writes, whats all the hype about!?!

So, lets start to dig in a bit. Strictly speaking, any marketing message sent by email is email marketing, but there are many gradations and tactics within that broad category. In fact, there are as many variables of email marketing as there are of direct mail or any other form of direct response marketing.

On a spectrum from one-to-one to undifferentiated mass communication, you can devise an email marketing strategy to cover just about every point. When a firm or individual represents itself as qualified to manage your email marketing program (from either a buyer or a seller position) do you know what they are really offering? Without asking a lot of questions, you may be surprised.

Do you want someone to manage internal email lists (perhaps active client lists, or maybe prospect lists built from other mailings or trade show attendees) and get bulk mailings out to them on a schedule? That is one specific email marketing application that is widely used and often outsourced.

If you want to reach new prospects, you may be looking to an email marketing outfit to supply you with a list (opt-in, opt-out or neither) to which they will facilitate emailings. These same firms may also be an ideal channel to sell your internal lists for other email uses, depending upon what sorts of lists they typically sell and at what price points.

Its obvious that those two applications are quite different, and would play very different roles in a companys marketing plan, or in the case of an ad-funded media business, in the role of the sales partner.

How you handle those various applications, how you determine which variations make sense in your companys strategy, and how you determine with whom to partner, are all decisions that can only be made intelligently when you start by thinking about the results you expect and the impact you want to make.

When we set out to find an email marketing solution, we have to understand that the term refers to as many different activities, with as many different potential outcomes, as we would find if we were to think of our local postal service as a marketing strategy.

Email is simply the vehicle by which the various messages are delivered, just as snail mail is only a delivery mechanism. To really understand how to best utilize the tactic, think first about intended audience, core message, relationship with recipient, action sought and all the subgoals that go into any smart marketing decision.

When considered in that light, email marketing is a wonderful resource. Next week, more about how to determine which approach makes sense for you.

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