1. Adult pays about $27 for a Bag-of-Dirt (literally, a bag of dirt; you can't make this stuff up.).
2. Theme park cast member secretly places a number of "gems" in said Bag-of-Dirt.
3. Kid dumps Bag-of-Dirt into "Gold Panning Tray" and sifts through the dirt to uncover a number of different colored "gems."
4. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Now, no one was surprised to find the gems and not even the youngest of the group believed they were worth much, but, man, did they love these "gems." Each time a new one was discovered, a child emitted a shriek of joy, placed the gem in the bag and moved on.
I couldn't help but think that email marketers are often treated like "kids" when looking at new technology, new communication channels and new services offerings to help them uncover new "gems" within their email programs. Can't you just see it? Technology vendors and service providers show up with a new "Bag-of-Dirt" filled with a number of supposed "gems" and leave the email marketer to sift through the mess and figure out what, if any, of the stuff is valuable.
As innovation within our space continues at a frantic pace (new technology around rich media, the social inbox, etc.), it is critical to know what you are looking for in the email marketing "Bag-of-Solutions." Take a look at the five areas below. If the "gems" you are investing in are not driving one or more of these areas you need to keep sifting, or you risk being distracted by Fool's Gold.
Four Key Criteria for Evaluating any New Email Marketing Solution
Relevance: For years touted as the wholly grail of email marketing, and too many communications remain one too many today. Relevance can be achieved by enhancing the data gathered about an email subscriber at subscription, leveraging click-stream tracking data from Web analytics solutions, enriching profile information with third party data and on and on and on. The bottom line is, the main advantage email has over other marketing channels is its ability to leverage data to drive dynamic offers, content and experiences. If you have not optimized your email programs to be truly relevant, stop sifting now and stay focused here. Enhancing relevance will provide the best return on your email marketing investment.
Deliverability: According to Goodmail and Pivotal Veracity's new report, "Email Delivery Benchmarks," 20% of legitimate marketing email was routed to spam or blocked in the first quarter of 2009. The challenge of email delivery has not gone away, and email marketers that take their eye off this ball will regret it as their reputation and email success metrics are impacted negatively. Delivery into the recipient inbox and the customer experience with that message are critical to program success.
What tools has your organization invested in to ensure that email is delivered into the inbox? What quality control processes do you have in place to catch issues before they become real business-impacting problems? Do not get distracted by the "eye candy" so often included in the "Bag-of-Solutions." Delivery is not sexy, but it is key to program success.
Triggered communication: Automation is the ultimate goal for many of the email marketers I meet. I've mentioned before that relevance is the main advantage email has over other direct marketing channels. Adding automation to these relevant communications creates efficiencies within an organization and enhances the overall recipient experience.
Taking a closer look at triggered messaging opportunities typically allows the email marketer to access automated communications from a number of disparate business systems, e.g. ecommerce, CRM, etc. The more of these messages email marketing controls, the greater your overall impact on the business. Trust me when I say it's worth sifting through your organization to find automation opportunities.
Social media integration: When it comes to email technology vendors and service provides serving up "shiny new gems" for marketers, we have no equal. Remember the fuss over rich media in email (oops, forgot about deliverability)? Or the commotion over RSS (oops, forgot that consumers need to adopt the technology)? Social media is NOT another one of these distractions.
The development of the social Web is already changing how people behave online. The social inbox will soon be a reality, and the one place for consumers to email, IM, share and collaborate in real time with peers, friends and brands. So far, email has been the most preferred way to share content online. It will remain at the forefront of social behavior on the Web as long as email marketers invest in programs and technology that encourage recipients to become brand advocates. This is not an area to ignore or address after your competition has gained a significant lead.
My kids loved sifting through the bags of dirt and finding fake gems. That's the beauty of being a kid, you just are immediately enamored with almost any new experience. Unfortunately, as email marketers, we need to look seriously at the investment opportunities in front of us and assign resources accordingly.
Before you and your teams get focused on a shiny new toy, ask yourself how it helps take you forward in relevance, delivery, automation or social marketing. If you cannot point to a big gain in one of these categories, keep sifting until you find something that does.