Email Marketing Is NOT Owned Media

When looking at your brand's marketing efforts, it can be helpful to look at the media channels you're active in as paid, rented, owned or earned.

Paid media include ads on TV, radio and billboards;
Rented media include your social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter;
Owned media include your websites, blogs and mobile apps;
and Earned media include PR and word of mouth efforts, as well as content that is forwarded, shared, retweeted and liked.

In trying to assert the superiority of email marketing over social, some have asked, "Why would you pour money into building a social presence on a platform that you don't truly own, that you don't control, and that can change without warning and without your input? By investing in email marketing, you are building an email list that you own."

While there's no doubt that social is a rented media, I wholly disagree that email marketing is an owned channel. It's an earned channel. It's earned through relevancy.

We earn the right to communicate with subscribers by first obtaining permission to email them -- and then at least meeting their expectations by sending relevant messages at the right time and at a cadence that's acceptable to them. We earn the right by listening to their opens, clicks, browsing, purchases and other interactions and responding with segmented emails, dynamic content and triggered messages. We also listen by collecting expressed preferences and engaging in progressive profiling.

Study after study shows that when we don't listen and respond appropriately, relevance diminishes and email frequency becomes "too much." Those are always the top two reasons that subscribers leave our lists, either via the unsubscribe link or the "report spam" button, depending in part on how much trust we've established.

We also earn the right to reach subscribers by playing by the rules established by ISPs, which are the true owners of the email channel. When marketers fail to obtain adequate permission or don't honor opt-outs in a timely fashion, ISPs are there to provide their users with a never-fail "report spam" button.

Mistreat enough individual subscribers, and ISP step in to protect their users. If your bounce rate exceeds 5% or your spam complaints are over 0.3%, then you're likely to see your emails blocked. You're also likely to run into serious deliverability problems if more than half your email list hasn't opened or clicked in 12 or more months.

When subscribers go inactive for an extended period of time, they're generally telling us that they're no longer interested in our messages, that they've abandoned their email account, or perhaps that they'd prefer to engage with us through a different channel. If we don't respect what these subscribers are telling us, then ISPs take away our right to message all of our subscribers on their email network.

For the past couple of years, I have predicted that we'd see more reactivation campaigns. I've been very pleased that a number of our clients have undertaken re-permissioning programs lately to attempt to reactivate subscribers that have been inactive for a year or more. All these efforts have resulted in healthier lists with better deliverability and higher engagement with little to no revenue loss -- or, in some cases, an increase in revenue from improved deliverability.

Rather than dropping non-responders from your email list entirely, we recommend putting them into "cold storage," a separate unmailed list where they stay until they purchase again. This approach can make re-permissioning a little easier to swallow.

Fresh back from Responsys' annual user conference, whose theme was "The New School of Marketing," I can't help but think of the question of email as either owned or earned as a litmus test for whether you're an old-school marketer that thinks of email as similar to direct mail or whether you're a new-school marketer that sees email as aligned with social and mobile. Are you old school or new school? Is email owned or earned? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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2 comments about "Email Marketing Is NOT Owned Media ".
  1. Janet Roberts from Content by Janet Roberts , March 2, 2011 at 12:30 p.m.

    Chad, I think email marketing is a hybrid of owned and earned media. I agree that marketers have to earn entrance to the inbox and must respect their subscribers from one end of the relationship to the other.

    However, email also is owned media in the sense that marketers control the tools that create and manage the messages. How well they control those tools, for good or for evil, determines whether they get the chance to earn the inbox or respect.

  2. Chad White from Salesforce Marketing Cloud , March 2, 2011 at 3:06 p.m.

    Hi, Janet. It's definitely a bit of a hybrid. But I believe that thinking of it as earned puts you in the right mindset to make better decisions.