Email At The 'Grown-Ups' Table

Email started to become widely available in 1993, when services like AOL started to connect their proprietary email systems with the Internet. Not long after that, email marketing began taking shape. Which means that email marketing is approximately 18 years old.

Thinking about email marketing in this context can be useful. Email is at its prime, marked by yet another resurgence as the result of smartphones. These devices have made email more accessible and are driving increased email utilization across every age group. Even teens, whose lack of email use has served evidence that email would go away someday soon, are likely to use email frequently if they own their own smartphone.

In short, email has made it through the awkward adolescent years.  Look at human development, and the teenage years are full of challenges: peer pressure, insecurity, trying to figure out what you want to be when you grow up. Sure, there were a few bumps and bruises along the way, but email has come out the other end stronger and ready to take on adult responsibilities.

This concept took hold at the Email Insider Summit on Captiva Island, Fla. The conversations there seemed rooted in a confidence I haven't seen in a long time. We talked about the importance of content, and how email can act as a barometer for brands to determine which messages resonate in-market. Arthur Middleton Hughes, vice president of The Database Marketing Institute, Ltd., showed attendees how to determine lifetime value and how to apply that knowledge across marketing activities. We talked innovation and the integration of email with television.

Not once did I hear complaints about email not getting the respect it deserves. Instead, I heard conversations about how email marketers are earning respect within their organizations.

But with this newfound confidence comes responsibility. As I have been thinking about this topic, I have come up with a number of ways email marketers can demonstrate they now belong at the "grown-up" table:

·     Articulate value. When email marketers talk about email as a "cost-effective medium with high ROI," others hear this as "email is cheap and easy." Remove this phrase from your vocabulary and replace it with conversations about value. How can email drive incremental revenue? How is your program providing insights into the heart and soul of your target market? For that matter, how can email help you identify who your company's actual target market is, and what they want from your brand? Email allows you to do these things very well -- tactics that are valuable to any CMO or CEO, regardless of industry.

·     Focus on lifetime value. As I mentioned, Arthur Hughes did a fantastic job talking about how to determine the lifetime value of a customer through email, and the impact this can have on other marketing efforts. How much should you be willing to spend on acquiring a new customer? Based on those costs, what acquisition channels are available to your organization? Do yourself a favor and study his presentation.

·     Share insights. Every company is looking for additional insights into what motivates its customers. A well-constructed email can provide that information. It isn't about your open rate or click-through rate, it is about what people are clicking on, who is clicking on it, and when they are doing so. All of these tell you something about the motivations of your customer base. We recently did work on a program that we determined had a sub-optimal segmentation approach. The new segmentation schema has significant implications for the client's promotional strategy, with insights that transcend email and extend to all promotional efforts.

·     Maintain respect for your elders. Around the eighth grade, adolescents often begin to believe they are smarter than their parents. However, their perspective tends to change when they move out as young adults to face the world on their own for the first time. I understand this as the transition from intelligence and wisdom. 

We can learn a lot from people in more established channels like direct mail and television. Television remains the 800-lb gorilla when it comes to branding and brand exposure. More people have made a purchase as the direct result of direct mail (yes, catalogs) than any other direct marketing channel (including email). Find ways to collaborate with veterans in these disciplines to hone your branding, messaging, and testing skills.

I am more excited than ever about this industry. Email has evolved into more than just newsletters and promotions. Now it is about value -- and not value as an isolated channel, but as a means to driving revenue while simultaneously unlocking insights that impact the rest of the business. Those are the conversations I want to be part of, and the ones that you should be aspiring to have within your organization.

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3 comments about "Email At The 'Grown-Ups' Table ".
  1. Jordan Cohen from Pontiflex , May 25, 2011 at 1:02 p.m.

    It WAS an especially great EIS Morgan... congrats again...

    Along the lines of what you're saying, I thought that Jon Treiber from RevTrax made an especially poignant comment during my panel that probably got lost in the shuffle: He challenged the audience and the industry to think of "what else can brands do with email?" ... to think about various use cases beyond what most brands are using email for today (ie, DR, DR, DR).

    I'm not sure that email is at the grown-ups table just yet, but, like you said, the conversations we're starting to have (as well as ISP developments like the recently upgraded Yahoo Mail) are making me feel optimistic that we're getting close.

    Respectfully,

    -Jordan Cohen

  2. Morgan Stewart from Trendline Interactive , May 25, 2011 at 1:24 p.m.

    Agree. Jon was one of many that made great observations. The encouraging thing was the consistency of really good, thought-provoking challenges like that.

    To your point, "Are we at the grown-ups table or not?" I can think of arguments on both sides. Curious what others think?

  3. Rita Allenrallen@freshaddress.com from FreshAddress, Inc. , May 25, 2011 at 2:31 p.m.

    Hey Morgan...thanks for your involvement in a thoughtful conference and I truly believe that email has earned a seat at the table and can be utilized in creative and effective ways by numerous branding methods. As a cost effective communication tool, email has provided an opportunity for marketers to immediately cut through the noise and offer advance notice, pointing to upcoming postal mailings (as well as TV, Radio spots and publications). A proven retention tool, means of educating, and vehicle to promote brand offerings, email is the great planner...as are most seated at the grown up table.