For nearly 10 years, I have been exhorting my fellow email marketers to take their email programs up the proverbial notch in search of greatness, not to mention greater ROI.
Receiving the first Stefan Pollard Email Marketer of the Year Award at the recent Email Evolution Conference was a tremendous honor and thrill, and not just because Stefan was my friend and colleague.
In my view, this recognition confers responsibility to reach out to all email marketers and industry participants and urge them to use their collective energy, skills and interests to raise the profile and perception of email marketing.
Email: Bruised, Not Broken
Gary Vaynerchuk (@garyvee), who followed me on the eec podium for his captivating keynote speech, echoed my wish that we marketers work together to help the email industry move closer to greatness.
"Email is not dead," he declared. "It's just we all [marketers] broke it.
I wouldn't go that far. Email marketing is bruised, maybe, thanks to the deliberate or ignorant actions of a small percentage of marketers. But it's not broken -- not yet, anyway.
If it were, email wouldn't still be the channel that delivers the highest return, nor would we be seeing the level of innovation happening in the inbox by ISPs and others.
Still, I do believe that longer-term email risks becoming the digital equivalent of the telemarketing and broadcast-fax industries, where a lack of permission and respect for consumers essentially destroyed the channels.
A Job for Everyone
Every one of us in the email industry can help keep this from happening. To borrow President Kennedy's exhortation in his 1961 inaugural address: "Ask not what email marketing can do for you. Ask what you can do for email marketing."
1. Industry thought leaders: Take this responsibility seriously and point the way toward higher performance for email, helping fellow marketers take their email programs to a higher level.
I implore my colleagues to quit bickering over email minutiae and negative topics and instead focus on email's strengths and effectiveness. Use your leadership and experience to mentor other email marketers to carry the torch and contribute to industry conversation.
2. Experienced email marketers: Get out of your office or cubicle and share your success stories. Spread the word of the powerful results you are generating from email marketing programs that respect the channel rather than drive it into the ground.
Speak on Webinars, panels and presentations at conferences and publish case studies. You not only benefit the industry by sharing your wealth of knowledge and experience -- but also boost your own career and build your personal brand.
3. Beginning marketers: Email is not digital direct mail. It has its own rules and expectations. Deceptive practices and heedless frequency can hurt your own program and damage the channel for others.
Your job is to understand that and educate yourself if nobody at your company is willing to help. Explore the vast online resources on email marketing and insist that your company offer you training and education at professional conferences.
4. Vendors: ESPs, other vendors and professional organizations need to work together at an even greater level to shore up trust in the channel and push standards and a code of ethics.
Go ahead and compete fiercely behind the scenes, but work together in public to do what's right for consumers and the email industry.
Time to Strive for Greatness
We're at a critical point in email history, with marketing budgets and consumer relevance on the bubble. Let's make 2011 the year we finally stop arguing over things like single versus double opt-in -- and perhaps instead agree on permission as a core foundation.
I understand the pressures at companies to grow lists and revenue, but email marketers have to start thinking beyond their own needs and take responsibility for how their practices affect the vitality of the industry as a whole.
It's time to strive for greatness, to show the folks in the C-suite and our cousins in social, mobile and other channels how the greatest marketing channel sets the standard for both consumer respect and ROI.
Let's prove Gary Vaynerchuk wrong: Email is bruised, not broken, and marketers are the ones who are leading the healing.
Until next time, take it up a notch.