There are currently two big shifts going on in the direct marketing world that affect email marketers: the decline of direct mail and the rise of social media.The Decline of Direct Mail
The current recession has accelerated the shift to digital media and marketing. Recently, Borrell Associates predicted that advertising revenue from direct mail is expected to plunge 39% by 2013. Email was singled out as the key beneficiary of direct mail's decline.
We've seen this shift already playing out among some of our clients. Catalog and direct mail departments are getting smaller, while email marketing teams are growing. In some cases, direct mail folks are being moved over to the email marketing side. In at least one case I've heard, catalog folks were shockingly being put in charge of the email team because of their seniority at the company, which strikes me as rewarding failure.
While there are certainly macro forces at work behind direct mail's decline and is value in retaining workers with long-term experience with your brand, it's vital to recognize that direct mail experts lack many skills necessary to be successful at email marketing.
1. Designing an email involves knowing how inbox providers render CSS and HTML, dealing with situations where images aren't enabled, and designing for preview panes and mobile devices.
2. Running an email program involves much more segmentation. "Batch and blast" is a recipe for subscriber revolt and delivery disaster.
3. Email subscribers can more easily punish marketers that abuse their time with irrelevant messages by hitting the "report spam" button. Annoy enough subscribers and you will be blocked by ISPs and have difficulties delivering your messages to even those subscribers who want them.
4. The success of a direct mail campaign is determined by a very different set of metrics than that used to measure the success of an email campaign.
A direct mail approach to email marketing can ruin your program, so make sure that any transfers are properly educated and play a secondary role until they're fully up to speed. Conferences, webinars, vendor education programs, industry publications and blogs play a critical role in the continuing education of email marketers. Make sure that even your seasoned email experts are given the time and budget to keep up to date with the ever-changing email landscape.The Rise of Social Media
I was initially dismayed by StrongMail's recent survey
showing that 36% of survey respondents stated that the direct marketing department owns social media. Twenty-nine percent said the responsibility is owned by multiple departments, 9% said social media is owned by the public relations department, and only 5% have a dedicated social media department.
I was concerned because direct marketing (which includes email marketing) excels at promotional marketing -- precisely the messaging that people don't want on social networks, according to ExactTarget's Channel Preference Survey.
If marketers use social media solely to push promotions, then they'll be squandering the strength of that channel, which is community engagement.
However, after thinking about this a bit more, I'm seeing this as a positive development. The retailers that I track have definitely been taking a broader approach to their messaging, promoting educational content, how-to videos, social networks and other content, in addition to traditional sales and product promotions. In that light, having email marketers have a hand in controlling social media makes more sense.
That said, as companies get more experience with social media, the channel becomes more mature and marketing budgets rebound during the recovery, I wouldn't be surprised to see more companies taking a cross-departmental approach with a small dedicated social media department taking the lead. Direct marketing's hold on social media will likely be temporary.