Last month at the Email Evolution Conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., Engauge Chairman Stan Rapp gave a keynote that got a lot of people in the crowd pumped up -- myself included. His punch line: "Email is the tightest link ever forged between buyer and seller. Email is the heartbeat of the Internet. Emailers, you don't know how good you are!"
I agree, but not only because of those awkward moments where we avoid a direct answer about our profession at social functions -- those times when saying "I am an email marketer" feels like we may as well tell people we sell used cars. The bigger problem is the voice, or lack thereof, that email marketers have within larger marketing organizations.
It's not only that we don't know how good we are, but also that our peers don't understand the value of what we do. Rapp drilled this point home when he compared the amount spent on TV ads during the Super Bowl to what is spent on email marketing in an entire year. It wasn't pretty. There is a huge disconnect when email marketing earns 1/185th of what traditional advertising does in a year, yet we have the highest average ROI in town. According to Rapp, "it's criminal!"
So, why don't we get it? Why don't we know how good we are? Why don't our peers have a better appreciation for what we do? Let me suggest the following reasons:
1) Deliverability. Spam is the Achilles heel of the email channel. There is no hiding it. It is a big, highly visible issue. Yet, every time we bring up deliverability in conversations about email marketing, we highlight our weakness. A couple weeks ago I made a statement in an interview that we focus too much on deliverability. As you might imagine, it triggered quite a debate. My point has nothing to do with the importance of deliverability. My point was about correcting the perception of email as a valuable marketing tool.
Deliverability discussions generally focus on one of two areas.: 1) things we can't do -- which diminishes the credibility of the channel; and 2) technical issues that have nothing to do with marketing. Discussions of technical wizardry and "close personal relationships with ISPs" leads people to mistakenly believe that technology or back-room deals will compensate for poor strategy. It won't.
Our peers and supervisors are marketers. With this audience we need to focus on one simple thing: good marketing = good deliverability. If you have messages your subscribers want to receive, then deliverability professionals can get the messages to the inbox. Email is the only marketing channel I am aware of that has a built-in "stupid marketing" filter. You can put tasteless ads on TV or radio. The USPS will deliver direct mail no matter how poorly executed or targeted. BUT, you can't deliver email that annoys your customers -- at least not for very long. So, let's talk about good marketing.
2) Confusion about the core strength of email. There is a short-term mentality that surrounds email. When someone wants to squeeze a few extra bucks out of a marketing campaign, whom do they turn to? "Oh yeah, and then let's blast an email to our list!" Because it does not take long to design and send an email message, it often thought of as a quick hit.
Email lives at the center of a conflict between things that are urgent and things that are important. In a recent interview, I asked an email manager at a Fortune 500 retailer, "How often are you asked to execute something in email that you believe is detrimental to the long-term success of the program?" The answer: "Probably three or four times a week!" As ambassadors for the channel, we need to help our peers understand that email's strength lies in its ability to deliver highly targeted messages to subscribers and to increase lifetime value -- creating the link, creating trust, between buyer and seller. Though email can be delivered quickly and have an immediate impact, that does not mean speed of execution is email's core strength.
In fact, speed and urgency run counter to email's core strength. Building lifetime value takes time, planning, and thoughtful consideration. There is nothing urgent or last minute about it. "Lifetime" implies patience and meaningfulness. We need to constantly remind our peers that email only thrives when important messages are prioritized over urgent messages.
3) We aren't the new toy. In the past month, half of all Email Insider articles have mentioned social media. True, we can learn from the rise of social media. True, the adoption of social media has been staggering. But email isn't going anywhere and it works. We know what the challenges are and we can address them. Social media still has a lot of growing pains to overcome. So, before we look too longingly at what might be in the future, look at the real success email is having today.
- Email businesses are thriving despite the weak economy. (ReturnPath blog )
- Companies are investing more in email. (MarketingSherpa chart)
- Permission email leaves a positive impression on most subscribers. (Epsilon chart)
- Email use is widely adopted, and even among teens email use is on par social networks. (Pew Internet Chart )
- Email drives more Web site traffic than other marketing channels (ExactTarget blog )
When Rapp, the person who founded one of the world's most successful direct marketing agencies nearly 45 years ago, says, "Email is the tightest link ever forged between buyer and seller. Email is the heart beat of the Internet. Emailers, you don't know how good you are!" -- do we believe him? If the answer is yes, then how do we communicate it to those around us more effectively?
I've offered some of my thoughts, starting with the idea of emphasizing the strengths of the channel. Now it's your turn.