Is E-Mail an Art or a Science?

A question at the Responsys user conference I spoke at last week was whether I thought email was an art or a science. Unfortunately, I ran out of time and couldn’t provide my opinion.

A few days later, the same question came up during a call with Pivotal Veracity. We were discussing teachings Pivotal Veracity is currently assembling on the use of forms and search boxes within an email. (These will be compiled and put into a report, which I’ll cover next column.) During the conversation, I was interested to hear the report will focus on the science of email. My initial responses to the findings came straight from the art aspect.

So, is email an art or a science?

Before you decide, there are a few facts you should consider. According to Forrester Research:

  • 95 percent of companies use or are planning to use email as a marketing tool this year.

  • The average company sends 23 million email messages per year.
  • The average company will lose 30 percent of its email subscriber list per year.
  • The number of people who sign up for an email list for the first time has been flat for the last three years.

Other industry experts have this to add:

  • According to Quris, 40 percent of email subscribers will go “out of their way” to patronize a company whose email programs they like.

  • E-mail’s ROI (define) index is 70 percent higher than any other direct-response marketing vehicle, according to the Direct Marketing Association.
  • eMarketer reports over 147 million people in the U.S. use email almost every day.
  • Ninety percent of users will use email to engage in and determine the value of a relationship with a company, reports JupiterResearch.

Digest these facts about the state of the industry, then look at the two points of view below and consider how they affect your opinion.

E-Mail Is an Art

Navigating through the inbox, getting your offer clicked on, battling competitive messages, and keeping readers with you as they move from email to landing page to point of sale clearly makes email an art.

Many experts will tell you it’s not about the law of averages or percentages of response. It’s about creating a brand and a powerful relationship with the consumer. Take the new IBM server campaign, for example. The site is a direct extension of the TV ads and is further emphasized with an extension of the brand into email. The entire campaign speaks to its audience in one voice throughout all messaging channels.

This type of email must be extremely successful. How can it fail when the recipient has already been exposed, and hopefully drawn in, to the comprehensive campaign prior to receiving the message? Attention to the brand consistency, creative imagery, and messaging in the email should triumph over all else.

E-Mail Is a Science

One simple statement sums up this point of view: If they can’t see it, they can’t act on it.

Yes, email is one of many digital channels used to influence customers. And, yes, visual appeal must be strong. But in the end, if you can’t receive or read the email, if you never even asked for the email, what good is it?

A well-known consumer packaged goods client recently launched a program using email. The email’s intent was to drive recipients to a landing page where they’d register for an ongoing program. The first email performed below forecast and expectations. After some review, decisions were made to revise the subject line, update layout, and modify delivery timing. All were scientific decisions based on real data received from the first campaign.

The non-responder effort performed unbelievably well. Results were more than five times higher than forecast. The client was thrilled.

Relying on the power of the brand or the creative on this campaign would have generated a failure. Optimizing the program based on hard data generated tremendous success.

Choosing one side over another can be a difficult decision. But if pushed to decide, which would you choose?

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

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