Email Marketing: Warts and All
It may just be that I'm too sensitive, but it seems there's been an increase in the number of articles berating email marketing. I have no problem with people pointing out issues with email or highlighting changes in the online market. Things are changing and marketers absolutely need to adapt.
But I object to the spread of misleading information for the sake of grabbing headlines. Email marketing has become marketing's favorite whipping boy. Headlines that criticize email or point to its demise go viral. Headlines focused on the strengths of email go nowhere.
If you are reading this, I'll assume you work in email and you're aware of the benefits it provides as a marketing channel. I could drone on about the high ROI, the ability to deliver highly targeted content, the incredible power of the channel to drive purchases and increase purchase intent. While all this is true, we also need to take a candid look at some of the challenges facing our industry:
1) Spam has been labeled an "email problem." Look around the Internet and you'll see spam everywhere. It lives on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and it has lived for years in out mailboxes. The problem l is that the barriers to sending spam are too low. Email is cheap and it's easy to send. Moreover, since email does not live on a single platform (as with Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube), there is no central place to shut it off.
As such, spam has become ALL of our problem. ISPs like Yahoo, Hotmail and Gmail don't give a **** about what CAN-SPAM says, and I applaud them for that. They want to protect consumers from spam. And like a mother who yanks her child away from a hot stove, these professionals are trying to protect this industry. Say "thank you" when they block your messages and learn from the experience.
2) High ROI. ROI is the sacred cow of the email industry. It's what makes email great, right? Email's ROI is large only because the denominator is so small. Sending email is cheap which means that just about anyone can send email (no matter how bad) and still make money. Why do spammers send spam? Because they can make a lot of money sending it. The mark of a good email marketer is not in the ability to demonstrate high ROI, it is in the ability to demonstrate increased customer lifetime value.
3) Consumers' expectation of email is increasing. Your competition in the inbox and your competition in the marketplace are completely different. In the market, you compete with companies with similar businesses. In the inbox, you compete with every company that sends email that's relevant to your consumers. You're competing for their time, and there are some companies that do a really, really good job. Consumers want to receive messages that are tailored to them and show you care about their business. They'll forgive you if you are off-target every now and then, but if it's clear you aren't even trying, they'll tune you out.
4) Everyone thinks they're an email expert. Everyone uses email and most believe their personal experience makes them an expert in the field. Your boss, your CEO and just about everyone else in your organization has an opinion of how email should work. But this is like claiming that their daily commute to work has prepared them to compete on weekends with Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. There are amateurs and there are professionals. Your job is to prove yourself as a professional. How? Demonstrate knowledge of the complexity of email measurement. Don't settle for ROI, look at LTV. Test ideas and when your boss says no, test anyway (just make sure to use small test cells and make sure the naysayers get placed in the control test cell). You'll sleep better at night and earn more respect by making improvements than by following orders in the long run. And, if you get in trouble...
5) There is a shortage of experienced talent in the industry. Experienced email marketers are in short supply. While I listen to friends in other industries talk about the shortage of jobs, I constantly have industry colleagues asking for help finding experienced email marketers. Companies are looking for people that "get it" and the shortage is one of the reasons we see good companies sending bad email. It's not that the people running those programs are stupid (as some have suggested recently), but that those people have been thrown into a role without proper training, experience, or guidance. Fortunately, more than any industry I have ever seen, experienced email marketers are very generous with their time and knowledge. They want to help new email marketers learn the ropes. If you're new, seek them out and ask for help. You'll be pleasantly surprised.