Email Focus: Method, Not Madness

Success will require a series of new approaches

The mood going into 2006 could best be described as cautious optimism. There was general anxiety over consumer backlash with regard to the increased misuse of e-mail. Organizations were concerned about the degradation to their brands driven by poor e-mail marketing practices, and there was ample curiosity about alternative communication channels such as mobile marketing and RSS. What keeps attitudes toward e-mail on an even keel is the acceptance that the channel is not going away - rather, it is reliable, if not a star performer, for most businesses.

In 2007, e-mail will continue to be the leading marketing channel for ROI. According to the Direct Marketing Association, the average return on every dollar spent on e-mail is $57.25. The channel seems to be gaining traction on several fronts, and JupiterResearch expects the marketing spend on e-mail to exceed $1.1 billion by 2010.

E-mail continues to generate a lot of buzz, and virtually every interactive and traditional advertising or direct marketing organization is building up its e-mail marketing capabilities. The industry is recognizing that e-mail is the bridge to its vision of Web 2.0. Without a system, and the expertise to work within the channel directly, it will lose control and flexibility in its offerings. Here are the top trends for 2007:

>>Mission: Performance Marketing. The buzzwords in e-mail marketing will shift from "relevant communications" to "performance marketing." Notwithstanding the importance of creating good reasons to communicate with consumers through e-mail, organizations will be forced to justify this extra effort through increased performance. The new focus will be on key performance indicators and how e-mail returns value to the business. Service providers, consultants, and strategists will use proven methods rather than theoretical test-and-learn approaches. The industry has learned much about consumer e-mail behavior, and these key lessons, along with improved reporting systems, will allow agencies to put more pressure on each business unit to produce and be accountable.

>>Theme: Custom Experiences. Organizations are looking at the importance of contextual reasons to communicate with their consumers. Current reports strongly indicate a shift in the way companies leverage introduction communication programs, and how they integrate messaging into site or behavioral events and optimize e-mail programs. If performance marketing is the mission, the theme of increased customization of high-value interactions will drive organizations to identify these events and capitalize on them. The industry also will see a shift from broadcast programs to triggered or behavior-driven communications, and it will put an increased value on giving users more control over their relationship with the brand.

>>Method: Multiplex View of the Consumer. Communication methods will be driven by consumers' need to use many devices to manage information. Forrester Research predicts that 70 percent of mobile advertising revenues will be driven through messaging-based advertising, but whether this pans out remains to be seen. Optimizing communication programs and consumer preferences will be the catalyst for delivering SMS, MMS, SMTP, and RSS feeds on remote devices. More organizations will pour resources into communication programs that leverage how each channel serves the information exchange with their customers. Consumers will not be viewed as a monolith; their preferences and needs extend far beyond their Hotmail or Outlook e-mail profiles. The cost advantages of new channels will present brands with more opportunities to expose consumers to information relative to their personal interests and their social need to consume and share information with their "glocalized" networks.

David Baker is vice president of e-mail solutions for Avenue A/Razorfish. (David.Baker@avenuea-razorfish.com)