Humanity For the Subscriber: Theme of the Email Insider Summit

What?! So I should be surprised that a conference of marketers ends up being about the customer?! Actually, I am a bit impressed! Here at the Email Insider Summit this week in Captiva Florida, always one of the MediaPost's best events, the energy is almost completely focused around the customer.

Of course it's all about the customer, this is marketing. But often marketers get caught up in the excitement about product releases. Their passion about their business and merchandise leads them to think that every customer is interested in every promotion or every message.

I can remember the not so long ago past when email marketers worried about how to add any and all data to their file and what would be the impact if they added not just more messages per week but more messages per day. These were not strategic, customer-centric questions. They were driven by a desire to soak the channel for as much revenue as possible.

"Never forget your direct marketer roots and remember how to get to know the customer," advised Ted Wham, VP, Database Marketing for Orbitz, in his opening keynote. He challenged us to use data more intelligently to first reach the inbox and then to improve response.

Several of the sessions this week were about how the technology has advanced to make something I call "automated relevancy" easier and more custom. We've been discussing data analysis and dynamic targeting as well as "set and forget" automation of evergreen triggered messages. We talked about how to add a slice of code to your links so you can track social sharing back to an email address (and act on the data). Email platforms are also bolting on analytics, integrated inbox placement reporting, advanced database query definitions and social marketing content management. That helps email marketers manage the program as a "hub" for both content/merchandizing as well as lifecycle marketing. When email marketing is the hub, it's also got a seat at the marketing planning table, which helps us get the resources and staff we need to optimize.

However, all the technology in the world does not a great email marketing program make.

It takes attitude, and something email design diva Lisa Harmon of Responsys called "humanity." Customers do matter - and it matters that we respect their input and choices.

"If someone fills in the form, you have to give them just what they ask for," said Amie Ray, Senior Manager, Direct Marketing, National Hockey League. "It's what's important to them, not just what is important to you and the brand."

Our job as marketers is to promote the choices, of course; To make them compelling and with immediate benefit. Inspiration comes from our teams, our colleagues and our subscribers. It's not always the data, but the tone and voice of the message that makes a program successful. During case studies from Under Armour, InterContinental Hotels, Orbitz, NBC Universal Olympics and Care Credit, we heard time and time again that it wasn't the content per se, it was the value, the perceived service element, the timing -- all these things we know make a difference to subscribers. All these things that are now easier than ever to incorporate into an email marketing program.

Email service provider Exact Target handed out buttons that declare, "Subscribers Rule." I agree. Rock on, email marketers!

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