I just got home from the Email Insider Summit in Park City, Utah after acting as the programming chairperson and MC for the event. While it would be challenging for me to provide a comprehensive recap, I wanted to touch on a few things that stood out.
Walking away, it is clear that despite skeptics, email is alive, well, and growing. One need look no further than the $2 billion-dollar annual revenue reported by Groupon and the fact that much of the company's success has come as the direct result of its email efforts. But if that's not enough, consider that HautLook is driving 70% of its revenue and traffic through the email channel. Hayley Osher, the self-proclaimed "cougar of email marketing," shared that HauteLook subscribers have come to anticipate the delivery of their morning offers. She hears about it from customers wondering what happened when their emails don't arrive on time.
Then there was the presentation by Mike Bloxham from the Center for Media Design at Ball State University. He shared information collected by shadowing consumers and recording which media they are exposed to in 20-second increments throughout the day. According to Bloxham, live television (not television played back through a DVR or online) is still the 800-pound gorilla in media; the vast majority of media exposure still comes through live television. Yet, he sees email as the connective tissue in the media mix based on the ubiquity of its use, the amount of time people use email throughout the day, and the ability for marketers to proactively communicate with their customers through the medium. He encouraged marketers to focus not only on how email can integrate with social and mobile platforms, but how it can be integrated with traditional media as well.
But not all the news was positive. According to Judy Loschen of Epsilon, email click-through rates are on the decline. Over the past year, average click-through rates dropped 14% between Q3 2009 and Q3 2010 from 6.2% to 5.4%. Her explanation built on information from Merkle's Rich Fleck, who shared that while email communications with family and friends is decreasing, the number of permission-based emails people subscribe to is still on the rise. In the end, the reason for the decrease in click-through rates may be simply because there is more and more competition in the inbox.
So, should we rejoice or panic? Neither!
Remember, average is still average. Increased competition simply means you need to raise the level of your marketing -- and there are plenty of ways to do so.
Even the ISPs are trying to help. Tami Forman of ReturnPath led a panel of ISP representatives that shed light on how they determine what does and does not make it to the inbox. One representative noted, "If we put you in the spam folder, there is a reason," only to go on and share that ISPs are ranking the reputation of consumers as well as senders. As it turns out, some email users are more reliable than others when it comes to hitting the spam button. It's no longer simply a matter of the number of people that hit the spam button, but WHO hits it. If reliable consumers mark you as spam, you likely have a problem that needs addressing!
In the end, the thing that stood out most to me was that we are actually on the right path. There was a lot of content geared toward how to improve, but just as many people talked about how to drive these improvements throughout our organizations. We know email isn't the shiny new object. As one panelist shared, "One day my CEO got an iPhone -- and suddenly I was given budget for an app." That doesn't happen in email marketing anymore.
Because executives don't go to cocktail parties and brag about improvements to their email marketing programs. They need to do the things that the popular culture is latching onto or risk taking substantial heat for missing the boat on emerging technologies.
Thus, driving improvements in email means we need to do a better job navigating internal politics. As David Bronson shared, "you need to build alliances with your peers and stakeholders in other channels. Figure out how you can help them succeed. If you go straight to the top and ask senior management to push through your agenda, it probably won't happen."
Last but not least was my favorite quote from the conference. During his opening keynote, Tony Bombacino, CMO of Restaurants.com, also encouraged summit attendees to be transformation agents in their organizations, but warned against attempting to bite off too much at one time. "We need to move from ‘all or nothing' to ‘all or something.' Don't let perfection get in the way of progress," he said.
Very true. Thanks, Tony!
P.S. - I also want to acknowledge a few people for their help programming the conference. First, David Baker, who served as the programming chairperson for the last five Email Insider Summits, was very helpful along the way. My respect and appreciation for his talent continues to grow. Second, my thanks go to Anna Yeaman of StyleCampaign, Eric Kirby of Connection Engine, and Fred Tabsharani of Port25, all of whom worked tirelessly to put together a well-rounded show. Thanks, all!