Changing With the Times

At last week's Campaign Digital Conference in London, I started thinking about the current global market and e-mail challenges. It got me thinking about an article I had read on global warming and the changes it's creating for animal populations; seeing a parallel I wondered "Is a similar thing happening in our space? Is e-mail being affected too?"

Case in point: I encountered the site of a former client that had decided to use an in-house e-mail marketing system. The registration form had this notice: "We have been blocked by AOL from sending e-mail to AOL Customers. If you have an AOL e-mail address you will not receive the confirmation message to activate your account." This left consumers two options. They could discontinue the process or they could call the service center to get an activation code. Can you imagine the impact this has on consumer perception, company reputation and the hard costs associated with filling consumers' code requests? With AOL representing more than 22 percent of the company database, this is potentially damaging.

We recently rented a third-party list that performed better than an in-house list that had consistently yielded high response rates. I've never seen such a strong performance from such a straightforward approach. It might have been good strategy or good program design. But a third-party list doesn't generally perform that well and it was hard to explain.

I don't actually believe we are being affected by global warming, but something strange is happening. Are these odd occurrences the effect of CAN SPAM? Perhaps it is because consumers today are more aware of e-mail. Or maybe we can attribute it to the overprotection of corporations, ISPs and their consumers. Nonetheless, the anomalies can't be rationalized in many cases.

So what do these anomalies tell us as marketers? What will be the effect on our programs, our clients' interactions with our programs? How will we manage e-mail marketing responsibly?

Most e-mail marketers are watching their 20 to 40 percent open rates and five to 10 percent click-through rates, and are worried about list attrition. Meanwhile, they're hearing about deliverability issues, CAN SPAM, FCC and other proposed legislations that may affect their programs. The complexity required to run e-mail marketing has risen so dramatically in the last two years that most e-mail marketers are struggling to keep up.

I believe these changes are modifying the way we run our programs, who we work with as partners, and how we justify the cost and value of e-mail. When I think of the multi-modality of our world, I wonder if this trickle-down effect will force e-mail marketers to get smarter in how they provide device-specific communications. I wonder if they'll focus on that versus the persuasion of the low cost of e-mail.

It's hard to say. So instead I'll leave you to ponder this: With the heightened consumer awareness of e-mail marketing, what is the trickle-down effect on your organization's approach to e-mail and your customers' perception of you? And how has the role of e-mail marketing changed in your organization?

When you come up with those answers, I think you'll find the answer for the best way to invest in this channel in the future.