The Executive Knowledge Gap

The recession has a put a spotlight on email marketing, with executives suddenly intensely interested in what their email marketing staff are doing.

In some cases, this spotlight hasn't been entirely positive. Executives seems to have a significant knowledge gap about email marketing best practices. This gap, combined with the extreme urgency to generate as much revenue as soon as possible, has led to some surreal internal discussions and counterproductive directives.

Direct-Mail Thinking Being Applied to Email

Some executives are trying to apply old direct-mail attitudes and principles to email marketing. For instance, management at one retailer was against launching a preference center, saying that they're too complicated. The email marketer who was pushing for it responded, "Too complicated for whom?" Preference centers are a best practice that increase subscriber satisfaction through more relevant, targeted messages -- and more and more consumers are expecting them. You can fight against changing consumer expectations -- or you can embrace them and create more positive consumer experiences.

Another major retailer is dealing with the growing success of email and the declining success of its catalog operations by putting its catalog folks in charge of email. Besides the appearance of rewarding failure, the catalog folks lack the email-specific knowledge needed to maximize the channel. Direct mail and email are wildly different in many factors, from design, reputation and permission.

An email marketer at another retailer had to convince management that the company was doing the right thing by removing subscribers who complained from its email list. Management wanted to continue emailing those folks against their wishes, not realizing that doing so would have gotten the company blacklisted and run its email program into the ground.

Not Putting Their Money Where Their Mouth Is

Other retailers are starving the golden goose, cutting the budget for email marketing while asking much more from it. A majority of retailers (88%) listed email as a high priority for the year, largely to retain customers, according to's "State of Retailing Online 2009: Marketing Report." But only a much smaller percentage plan to spend more on email, and there are some that are clearly cutting back.

At one major retailer, management decided to save money by reducing the email marketing staff by two. Soon after, another staff member left. So during a time when many of its competitors are increasing staff and investments in email, this retailer has lost a lot of talent and program momentum.

At another retailer, the travel and education budget has been slashed to almost nothing. Considering the educational and networking value of conferences in our fast-moving industry, locking employees within your company's four walls is likely to insulate them from new ideas.

Those in Need of Educating

The email industry has struggled continually to educate marketers new to the medium, but it seems that this recession has brought to light a new constituency that marketers have neglected: their bosses. This is probably another sign of how poorly email marketing is integrated into other departments.

Have you experienced or heard of other cases of management inadvertently working against their email program's best interests? How have you successfully explained best practices to senior executives?



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