Five Myths About Email Marketing

A lot of conventional wisdom has come down the pipe about email marketing, and it seems almost everyone is an email expert.

We’ve come to agree that email principles are based on a collection of sound concepts from the disciplines of direct marketing and customer relationship management. But where do you draw the line between traditional and new media?

It’s time to challenge the numerous preconceived ideas that many marketers have taken as gospel.

Myth No. 1: Email marketing is the electronic version of direct mail.

Truth: Don’t let yourself be swayed by your direct mail agency. Email requires expertise.

Traditional agencies are pressed to claim that email, due to its theoretical similarities to offline media, is simply an extension of that media. Suddenly, to the novice eye, email marketing is just the electronic version of direct mail.

Not so fast! The reality is that email marketing offers unique advantages that in traditional print media are not cost justifiable or are simply impossible. Most agencies are incapable of creating content cost effectively or quickly enough to meet your daily or weekly deadlines. They are often unable to handle the quick response due to their lack of systems and procedures. The large number of test variables and data elements available to them are often overwhelming. Therefore, the practical implications in terms of strategic planning, technology, reporting, analysis, and tactical execution are significant and should be managed by discipline experts.

Myth No. 2: Email is a powerful messaging vehicle.

Truth: Don’t turn email into a loud radio. It’s about encouraging and facilitating a dialogue.

How could anyone resist? Here is a new form of push marketing. It is far less expensive than traditional media, 10 times faster to implement, and known to generate a higher response than its alternatives. No wonder marketers aggressively leverage it to push their marketing message as frequently as humanly possible.

But the real challenge is to allow “true” communication to take place. No relationship can exist without two-way communication. To avoid declining response rates, marketers must learn new skills and deploy new technologies in creating a dialogue. They want to hear back from their customers and intentionally open the gates to questions, comments, and suggestions. It requires technology, staffing, protocols, and detailed processes to manage the incoming flow of information. In the end, engaging customers in a dialogue is far more rewarding than broadcasting, and it is necessary for building long-lasting brand value.

Myth No. 3: Email is a successful standalone communication tool.

Truth: Email will be only as effective as its integration with other media.

Most email campaigns today are run as isolated marketing initiatives. Companies hire email marketing firms to run their email strategies because traditional agencies are unable to provide the quality of service and necessary technology that email pure-plays provide. The problem is an unbroken sequence of communications that do not capitalize on the sum of the parts. The outcome is a confused and possibly dissatisfied customer, victim of your unorganized and untimely messages. Sure the creative may look the same, but production schedules rarely match, and the integration of media is an afterthought.

Companies end up with separate information “islands” that offer a limited view of the customer interaction. They have difficulties connecting data sources, integrating campaign results, and analyzing consumer behavior across a multilayer of campaigns. It’s about time marketers secure coherent customer profiles and deliver compelling cross-media messages.

Myth No. 4: Low-cost email allows you to communicate relentlessly and maintain customer mind share.

Truth: One strike and you’re out. Empower customers, and talk to them wisely.

We know all too well that our best customers can fire us in a single click. Email is so cost effective that marketers are tempted to pull out programs killed during last year’s budget cuts. To avoid burning out customers and scoring single- or double-digit unsubscribe rates, consider customer preferences, and carefully plan the frequency with which you communicate to various customer segments.

Savvy marketers empower customers by asking them what content they want to receive, when they want to receive it, how often, and in what format. Then they define business rules, implement them corporation-wide, and prioritize communications (electronic, print, or telephone) accordingly. It’s a simple rule: Prioritize or your customers will. And you may not end up on their priority list.

Myth No. 5: Use standard metrics like click-through to measure campaign performance.

Truth: CFOs don’t care about click-through rates (CTRs). Stockholders don’t care about short-term profits. Use conversion and customer-satisfaction data to make the right decisions.

Click-through, like Web traffic, has never been a good indicator of performance. Chances are that your short-term revenue forecast and long-term profitability are made up of more tangible, quantifiable data. A more accurate measure of the success of a campaign is sales or leads conversion. Some people just want customers who click. You (and probably your CFO) want customers who buy.

But stay away from short-term objectives that may force you to overcommunicate at the expense of long-term customer value. Create a customer satisfaction index and regularly track results via focus groups or online surveys. Ignoring customer satisfaction is always a deadly mistake in business. And believe me, your competitors know it. So will you be the diner? Or the dinner?

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