The Three Levels of E-mail Perception

Think you understand how to discuss e-mail? Think again. E-mail has somehow become one of the simplest elements to execute but the most complex to justify, explain, or successfully engage in. Over the past few months, I’ve noticed three distinct levels of clarity in how e-mail is perceived within organizations. Today, I’ll share those levels and see if you find the same trend.

Let’s focus on open rates, a seemingly simple concept.

If you’re at level one in your organization, you’re responsible for day-to-day efforts in getting e-mail out the door. You care a lot about open rates. It’s how you cross- check yourself against competitors, justify effective deliverability, and validate targeting and segmentation. It’s also a key testing metric.

If you’re at level two, you’re responsible for more than tactics; you oversee the interactive department or general direct marketing initiatives. Open rates mean something totally different to you: branding’s impact and power and the channel’s cost justification. You want to know e-mail’s effect on lead generation, qualification, and effective closure. If someone tells you the open rate was 5 percent higher this month than last, it’s like telling you the temperature outside is 3 degrees higher today than the same day last month. Who cares?

If you’re at level three in your organization, you lead all marketing, and possibly advertising efforts. Open rates mean very little to you unless they’re positioned in a manner that justifies significant business impact. Think of it this way: your e-mail database is 25 percent of your entire marketing database, a mere percentage of the people who patronize your company.

Your e-mail campaign gets a 50 percent open rate, a huge news for the level-one person. But that’s only 12.5 percent of the marketing community. Of that, even if 25 percent of those people click on an offer, it only affects 3 percent of your marketing database, even less of the total audience.

From that view, e-mail looks fairly grim. But position this information correctly, and you can make a big impact. Think about rephrasing the news this way:

“Statistics show we can expect our active e-mail list to increase its purchase size by 139 percent this year. This month, we increased our open rate by 5 percent, which in turn should drive incremental sales by 1 percent (the percentage of the overall marketing database the 5 percent accounts for). If we increase funding for e-mail, we can achieve that level of business growth and advocacy, at a minimum, every month.”

Say it that way and all of a sudden, e-mail is a key part of the plan.

These days, understanding how to build the best e-mail campaign isn’t enough. Understanding how to position and discuss it is a critical element of success for our industry. I’m curious to see how this will continue to evolve.

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