What Should the Email Industry Talk About In 2010?

As we launch into 2010, I'd like to break away from the usual round of predictions and must-do lists. Let's talk instead about what we need to do in order to help advance the industry in this decade.


In my regular Email Insider columns, I try to suggest ways to improve individual email marketing results but also to help email gain the recognition it deserves within your company and in the larger business world.

Sometimes, this means emailers themselves need to treat the channel with more respect. This led to my argument earlier last year that marketers should stop saying  "blast" when referring to an email campaign, newsletter or message.

A few commenters in other forums thought that discussion was a waste of time, given the many challenges email faces today from rising volume, the impact of social media, spam filters and the like.



Yes, we have bigger fish to fry. But I also believe that casual references like this keep email sequestered in management minds as a non-strategic, low-cost marketing channel.

I hope I've shown through my columns that email not only drives revenue but also contributes to solving business challenges and meeting growth goals throughout the company, far beyond the marketing department.

However, management won't see this (and more importantly, grant the budget resources to make it happen) as long as we keep thinking in "blast" mode.

Moving Beyond the Arguments

To change that mindset, we as professional email marketers need to work out a set of generally shared perceptions that change our approach to email.

This can create the rising tide that lifts the email boat at more companies, which can lead to greater respect for email.

But what are those issues? I can't think of a single issue on which 100% of emailers agree, except perhaps that "email works." Heck, we can't even agree on the fundamental notion that you need consent before you start emailing someone.

In the last few years, many in the industry have argued over a basic set of issues at conferences, on blogs, in online communities and on discussion lists. As much as anybody, I'm probably guilty of starting or continuing some of these passionate debates:

  • Double opt-in versus single opt-in
  • Pre-checked versus unchecked opt-in boxes on registration pages
  • The open rate's value
  • Should you retain inactives or remove them?
  • Where to put the unsubscribe link?
  • Is unsolicited email OK for B2B?
  • Image-heavy emails are bad. 

It's easy and fun to debate these tactical issues with the smartest people in this industry. However, it is time to move forward, to channel our collective voices and reach some consensus.

So, What are the Strategic Industry Issues?

If the industry were to hire a lobbyist or strategic PR firm, on which topics would they tell us to focus our conversations? My guess is we'd have some core message platforms whose focus would differ based on the target audiences, such as:

  • Consumers/Email recipients
  • ISPs
  • Lawmakers
  • Marketers
  • Corporate management. 

Corporate management is probably our most important audience. These folks control the resources we so desperately need -- but are also the first ones to say "Just send more email."

If we can change corporate managers' mindset, they will in turn hold their email marketers accountable for maximizing the ROI from email.

Therefore, we should focus our energies and conversations on the issues that will help make email marketing a communications channel that both recipients and senders value:

  • Overmailing: The biggest threat to email's future, in my opinion, comes from marketers and/or their managers who think that simply sending more email, rather than more relevant email, is the best route to achieve business goals.
  • Permission/Trust/Spam: Yes, spam-filtering technologies have reduced the amount of spam that goes into most consumer inboxes. However, phishing and unsolicited emails of any type drag down the channel's viability.
  • Email's Role: Maybe I hope for too much from email, but when I look at my inbox full of "Free Shipping/20% Off" messages, I wonder if email has become the "e-discount" channel. Whatever happened to email's promise as a "one-to-one" medium? Email is the Swiss Army knife of marketing communications, but many marketers don't use all the email tools.
  • Corporate Respect: Lack of resources is the main reason that most marketers haven't taken their email program to the highest level. Until email gains management respect, the channel will generally be under-allocated. I know one company where email marketing drives more than one-third of company revenues, yet no one works full time on email marketing.

What's Next?

What are your hot-button issues for 2010? Do you agree with any that I've suggested? Or, are there more critical topics?

If we can reach a consensus on even one, we can use it to help email advance as both a marketing channel and a business tool. Keep the conversation going by adding your comments below and via Twitter, email forums, blogs and conferences.

Until next time, take it up a notch! And happy New Year -- 2010 is going to be a great year for email marketing.

9 comments about "What Should the Email Industry Talk About In 2010?".
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  1. Terry Nugent from MMS, January 14, 2010 at 2:39 p.m.

    I think the issues in 2010 will be in large part similar to 2009-delliverability, open rate (although it is a compromised metric), and click through rate/ROI/results. All of these are more and more challenging.

    The future of filtering on the B2B and B2C side is of intense interest. Will the move to reputation liberate email marketers from de facto censorship of the English language and enable the use of popular copy such as free, opportunity, etc.? Will use of videos etc. be more viable?

    A major concern is viability of the medium-will text supplant email? Probably not, but as mobile gains share it is a concern.

    Looming in the background is the legislative/regulatory front. Will the federal government revisit CAN-SPAM?

  2. Ellie Johnston from Brandojo, January 14, 2010 at 5:13 p.m.

    Well, at Brandojo, we are looking to promote the use of email via third-party list owners to help brands reach-out to new and current consumers quickly and effectively. Just how powerful this kind of pay for performance email advertising can be may surprise brand managers once they see the metrics.

    It is not that you have to instantly sell people your product or turn them into "leads". Broadcast email is a great way to earn new social media fans or members too.

    You touched on some key points as well. For sure over mailing or untargeted mailing is ruining it for us all. To be a good "trust agent" markters must do their due deligence before they hit the "send" button.

    I look forward to better mailing practices and the integration of real-time fraud prevention software. I think this will help brands feel more at ease with direct email marketing.

  3. Ian Mccollum from Razorfish, January 14, 2010 at 6:34 p.m.

    I'd like to see a move away from the list mentality and focus on the customer/client database. As more systems are consolidated across the enterprise the concept of a list becomes a hinderance. I cannot quantify the hours I have spent trying to discover how a particular person made it onto "the email list."

    Systemically in a larger enterprise eliminating the "email list" solves many data synchronization issues. With the list mentality each group in the organization has their own list, but to the recipient they are all the same company. What is going to happen when the recipient unsubscribes after seeing an email from group A? Group B is going to keep on mailing, ignoring the unsubscribe request from the recipients' perspective. It becomes a challenge to track what list is the most current, where preferences are stored and to track permission and engagement.

    Marketing Managers who think of "the email list" are not focusing on the larger picture that every address in that list is a customer, prospect or contact in the larger enterprise database. If they go back a few steps in their list management process they may be able to see patterns in the larger data set that begin to make sense for segmentation and content targeting.

    The email team at any company spends quite a bit of time managing lists, defining processes for updating data and building feeds to maintain their lists. If the entire organization is operating from one database/warehouse then all those list management tasks either go away or become segmentation and query validation steps. There wont be a need for 5-10 steps in their process for importing data, validating data, and testing data since the database used to run segmentation is the same database being used for deployment. The email marketing team can then spend their time building out more, smaller, targeted or automated mailings that are tailored to the recipients past actions or likely future action.

    My ideal 2010 would never include the request "bump this list up against that list" or "bump this list up against the unsub list." There won't even be an unsub list; there will only be customer records that have an opt out flag set and those records will never be included in any segmentation query.

    This, of course, will lead us into discussions of email delivery platforms that fully integrate with CRM or MRM platforms…

  4. Chad White from Litmus, January 15, 2010 at 11:34 a.m.

    Terry, for what it's worth, here's my take on your questions:

    1. Content filtering--particularly in the B2C world--largely went out of use years ago. Do not be afraid to use "free shipping" and other phrases/words in your subject lines and emails. The retailers I track certainly don't shy away from such words and according to Pivotal Veracity, retailers enjoy very good deliverability compared to other verticals.

    2. As iPhones and Android-powered phones gain marketshare, I think the more likely scenario will be that email begins to supplant SMS communications, although SMS will certainly not go away any time soon, if ever.

    3. The government definitely won't revisit CAN-SPAM. Besides, ISP policies already do much more to limit spam than CAN-SPAM does.

  5. Jonathan Mirow from BroadbandVideo, Inc., January 15, 2010 at 1:47 p.m.

    What Should the Email Industry Talk About In 2010? Video.

  6. Dylan Boyd from R/GA Ventures, January 15, 2010 at 11:22 p.m.

    As a marketer (inbound or outbound), mobile, advertiser or email marketer there are 5 things that you should be starting to think about if you are not already. I trust that most of you are now realizing we are in the awkward teen years of the mobile decade. It’s not the year of mobile, as I am sure we were hear people champion in posts and articles this year, but the middle stage of starting to really have a mobile network that provides data and connections everywhere (insert ATT/Sprint/Verizon/TMobile jab here…you know you just did subconsciously), user base, UI/UE thoughts and design, and a consumer economy that now needs always to be tethered to the latest news, deals, friend updates, and apps. We have been as a society pushing adoption forward of new medias and repurposing old medias in ways and to devices that we are all scurrying to grasp. Don’t feel alone as you read this as we are all part of this testing and learning process.

    So what are you doing, planning or thinking about as to how you are going to respond in regards to your marketing? Have you laid out some tests? Thought of some ideas? Reviewed your own data to help you make educated guesses? You have to start somewhere and looking at your own reporting is a place to start in order to find the seeds to plant and grow your ideation.

    I am fortunate to work with a team and some clients that are actively embracing, testing, learning, and understanding how to approach this next phase in the evolution of marketing. And even though I often write about email here, it is not all about email. Not a shock to some of you I hope.

    The 5 Things that I think are worth your attention and thought are the following:
    place, device, location, action and intent

    The full run down on my thoughts is here

  7. Jay Goss from Mogreet, January 17, 2010 at 8:28 p.m.

    Another thing the email industry might want to "talk" about it expanding to mobile. While the minority can receive email on their smartphones, 80%+ don't. And while SMS is a decided step in the wrong direction (160 characters doesn't quite cut it), MMS is ostensibly perfect. Text 'mogreet' to see this in action. A video message (accompanied by a text message without character constraint) arrives to the mobile phone's text message in-box.

  8. Jordan Kettner from Enquiro, January 17, 2010 at 11:45 p.m.

    Great post Loren,

    I really liked your four recommendations on where to focus our email efforts in 2010.

    You are right, it seems like companies often leave their email campaigns at the bottom of the list and people often forget how great the reward is. Email marketing does need a full time rep in some companies.

    Other channels like social media are getting way more exposure right now, but I think email marketing is far more important. With email, you have qualified lists of people who want to hear from you. Without over-emailing them, we need to think of more creative ways to use email marketing to contact them without making it the "e-discount" channel.

    It will be interesting to see what people can think of this year.

  9. Andrew Kordek from Trendline Interactive, January 18, 2010 at 11:04 p.m.


    Great post as always. I think the industry should not focus on one are in general on things to talk about. I feel as if some companies are in different stages in their email programs and therefor conversation or "thing" might be different for some. I honestly believe that at the end of 2010, we are still going to be talking about the same things only in a different way.

    Companies will evolve or regress in their programs depending on who is leading the charge in the organizations. To me, ESP's and companies involved in the industry should focus on what their clients want to focus on in discussing.

    There is no real answer here other than if email marketing is all about a dialogue, the email industry cannot be having a monologue on topics they want to discuss. It needs to be customer driven and the communication between folks needs to drive the conversation.

    Andrew Kordek
    "yea..I am on the client side"

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