Strategic Takeaways From The Email Insider Summit

It can be dangerous to go high atop a mountain with a bunch of e-mail marketers, a few of whom just might take the fast route down. But we had no major injuries; we brought together a bunch of really good thinkers; and I think we put together one of the better events of the year. Why? Well, I'm biased, but there is a place for case studies and for service and technology providers to provide insight into their successes, failures and solutions. But there is also a place for networking discussions around the real issues we don't broadcast publicly--to understand the context of the problems we face in this channel and how others perceive these issues; how to deal with them; and most important, how to tap into experts who can give their view of the world. That was the essence and theme of the Summit.

We focused on the issues we face as e-mail marketers, with the understanding that there is no one right answer that fixes all. From my jaded world of interactive agencies, here are a few things I took away from the three days:

1. There's still a disconnect between the value of e-mail to the business and the value of e-mail to the consumer. We saw presentations about segmentation and how self-select and self-profiling programs are driving communications, how registration processes are prompting specific content, and how marketers generally are looking at segmentation. What kept coming to my mind was how the business interprets consumer preferences, and the trade-off between the marketing goals of a business and the consumer's need for content--and ultimately, how that view evolves over time. Hopefully we'll explore more in-depth views of segmentation in the future, with details on how programs have evolved from simple segmentation to advanced segmentation, and then, how to evolve your view based on performance within each.

2. Acquisition is still misunderstood. If you acquire consumers through an e-mail list, does that make them more apt to engage with you longer term, since this is their so-called chosen channel? I'd like to see the influence of "lead incubation" programs and how they bridge the acquisition process past "sent e-mail = sale." Once they do convert, which source is providing the best customer over time (one driven through search, media, site or e-mail?) We are at the point where we have a great¬ "tenure" of consumers on our databases, but few marketers are measuring longevity to source of acquisition in terms of lifetime value.

3. Multimodality is the future. Bill Nussey of Silverpop and Brent Hill of FeedBurner led a great discussion on RSS and set the table for many future discussions on content distribution as the key--and the channel as the enabler. Personally, I want to see more about the interrelationship between RSS and e-mail. Not "and/or", "but and/some." We will strive to understand the value of RSS to the e-mail channel and vice versa. Content delivery will take on a new form in the next few years. If we don't understand the influence of each delivery mode, we won't have a proxy for how these fit into the mix.

4. Deliverability and user experience finally meet. It was nice to see the deliverability service providers combine their message with that of user experience. It's not just about "it got there," it's about "What experience did they help enable, and how did different ISPs' rendering or image blocking affect this?" We clearly know what consumers get, when they get it, and what causes messages to be filtered and the images blocked. When I hear the deliverability people talk about designing to the ISP, I get excited.

Lots more to take from this event, but the discussions were widespread, the issues were contextual and the solutions were met with a grain of reality. When you get a lot of bright people together with the same mission, it reminds me of one of my favorite sayings, "If you think you're smarter than the person across from you, you are comparing yourself to the wrong person."

If you were at the event and have key takeaways you want to share, please post those to the E-mail Insider blog.

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