Fix the Image Problem

One of the takeaways at this year's Ad:tech, for me at any rate, is that the e-mail marketing industry needs a public relations manager. The demonization of e-mail as a marketing channel by the press over the last few years, and the confusion surrounding Can-Spam, has blinded many marketers to the overwhelming data showing the superiority of e-mail in driving traffic to their company's sites. Marketers and pundits point to the declining open rates and deliverability problems (real issues) while ignoring the fact that because of e-mail's low cost, it has the second highest return on investment (ROI) of any direct marketing medium, according to the DMA.

In this column, I have written a number of articles showing the direct correlation between e-mail marketing messages being sent and subsequent jumps in site traffic of 300 percent and over. Examination of the click stream data through services such has Hitwise continuously reinforce the fact that the top drivers of traffic to a site continue to be driven by e-mail marketing, not search or banner ads. And yet marketers and agencies attend conferences on improving their affiliate networks and their search standings while ignoring the research and education they would need to build a safe, legitimate e-mail marketing channel. They have given up the battle before it's even started.

And who can blame them? The argument has been one-sided: Constant bombardment of negative press by outlets such as The New York Times, stories of companies such as Kraft being sued because of the efforts of rogue affiliates, high-profile lawsuits by companies such as Microsoft against self described high volume e-mailers like Scott Richter, and the blacklisting of legitimate IP addresses by vigilante anti-e-mail fanatics is a public relations nightmare for the legitimate e-mail marketing industry. It is time for the industry to fight back.

There are organizations such as the E-mail Service Providers Coalition that could be the standard bearers for such a campaign, however currently their efforts seem aimed at self-policing and the development of best industry practices. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) has never been good at promoting the industry outside of the banner ad realm. And the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) seems to be dealing with its own identity issues as it manages leadership changes and the incorporation of Association for Interactive Marketing (AIM) into the parent organization. In my opinion, all of these industry groups are letting their constituents down by conceding the battle to the press and public opinion.

We need a new organization - one whose sole mission is education and promotion of the e-mail marketing channel to marketers, agencies, and the general public. If this doesn't happen, we will continue to see examples of something I experienced directly a year ago. I did a case study on a product clearly showing that due to their e-mail marketing of a new promotion, they had dramatically increased the brand's market share to second place in their category. When I proudly presented the data to the client's agency, they were not happy. The agency was convinced that e-mail would hurt the brand's equity and were against the use of e-mail. They had only gone forward with the campaign at the company's insistence and the last thing they wanted to present to the client was information on the success of the e-mail promotion.

So my question is: Is anyone looking at the data? The promise of Internet marketing was that it opened the possibility of marketing-as-science. It seems lately that as Internet marketers we seem to have lost sight of that image.

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