Email Must Embrace Its Inner Lady Gaga

How is email marketing like Madonna?

Both are headliners, with staying power and strong track records. Both make millions and reinvent themselves constantly to adapt to changing tastes.

But they also have to compete for the spotlight with brash newcomers. Lady Gaga borrows from Madonna's repertoire. Similarly, social media, "apps" and mobile marketing are the shiny new toys that make email marketing look stodgy and "so Web 1.0."

Email marketing needs to remake itself from top to bottom -- not just how we do email marketing, but how we talk about it with others and the values we use to promote it.

It's time to reposition email marketing with key people like colleagues outside the marketing department and the C-suite executives who control the budget.

We have to find and communicate email's inner Lady Gaga -- the eye-popping, sexy qualities that keep email marketing a robust headliner year after year.



Let me be clear. This isn't the 947th article proclaiming email marketing isn't dead. In fact, this column could also be about search marketing, which has also fallen victim to shiny-toy syndrome and needs its own Lady Gaga reinvention.

No, this is about changing email marketing's image from the "boring old workhorse," as so many of us refer to it, into the hip, leading-edge revenue-generating machine that it has become for so many companies.

Not Your Father's Email Marketing

For years, email's backers in the industry have trotted out the annual DMA report showing email marketing has the highest ROI of any marketing channel.

However, naysayers and executives discount it because email is so "cheap" to produce and send. That's like dissing wines from Chile because they cost less to make than French wines.

Email marketers encourage this shortsighted thinking when they give their own programs the "same-old, same-old" treatment, not trying to stretch the boundaries.

We need to show that there's a new email in town.

Consider these three kinds of email messages:

• Broadcast (one to many)
• Segmented (one to small groups)
• Triggered (one to one)

Broadcast is the cheapest to do and the least sexy. Segmented emails raise hemlines a little by mixing in data to create more relevant emails. And yes, you can make buckets of money with these.

But to make email look like the rockstar it is, you have to incorporate behavior and data in triggered-based email programs:

• It's automated, so you need fewer people to run a full program. After setup, it runs virtually by itself, requiring just oversight and occasional tweaking.
• Triggered email is highly relevant, typically resulting in conversion rates many times greater than a company's broadcast email program.
• It generates huge revenue off a very low volume of emails, especially when you deploy a comprehensive series of pre- to post-purchase emails.

Email is a Content Technology Platform

Another cool thing about email marketing: While maybe not as sexy as an iPad app, it has become a content aggregator, pulling multiple technologies and types of content into a single platform.

As marketers struggle to adopt emerging tools, email easily incorporates many of these new channels or Web technologies:

• Social sharing (Share-to-social/SWYN)
• Social followers (Facebook Like/Fans, Twitter)
• Product recommendations
• Customer product reviews/Community comments
• Web behavior (browse and cart abandonment)

Search and social excel at the top of the marketing funnel, bringing in prospects from multiple channels. But email is the glue that binds these channel relationships together, converting prospects into customers and first-time buyers into repeat customers.

And speaking of emerging channels: According to a recent ( Nielsen study, email is far and away the leading activity on mobile devices.

Eight New Rules for Email in a Lady Gaga World

This repositioned email marketing needs new rules, including metrics and language. Consider these:

1. Never talk opens and clicks with other departments or the management suite. They don't or shouldn't care.

2. Talk loudly about revenues and cost savings.

3. Talk up the percentage of total company revenue that comes from email (assuming it's good). If you don't know, figure it out.

4. Don't talk about deliverability and rendering problems.

5. Remind executives that an email address is the core of most social and mobile relationships.

6. Show how a tiny percentage of email volume generates a massive amount of your email revenue via automated emails. (Hint to the C-Suite: Adding automation is like printing money.)

7. Cite strategic metrics that will wow executives, such as revenue per email, email revenue per worker hour, call center deferral rate, etc.

8. Document and communicate email revenue opportunities. As I write this, a client just emailed me to point out several missed opportunities she noticed when purchasing from another retailer, which could add up to millions of lost dollars.

At the same time that CMOs and executives invest in the shiny new toys of marketing without knowing what the payback will be, they probably are leaving tens of millions of dollars on the table simply by not implementing basic programs like recovering abandoned carts.

Repositioning email this way helps email strap on the blingy stilettos of a marketing rockstar and claim its rightful position in the company spotlight.

What are you doing in your company to make email sexy again?

Until next time, take it up a notch.

5 comments about "Email Must Embrace Its Inner Lady Gaga".
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  1. Harold Cabezas from Cabezas Communications, September 23, 2010 at 10:51 a.m.

    Thanks, Loren; well-written. Let's make email sexy!


  2. Rita from FreshAddress, Inc., September 23, 2010 at 11:03 a.m.

    "Hear! Hear!", Loren. A fun comparative. Having the correct updated email address is also of importance or the blingy stilettos might be delivered to someone's grandmother unintentionally.

  3. Roger Hilleboe from Post Modern Marketing, September 23, 2010 at 11:29 a.m.

    The problem with email, any email remains. It's just so easy and fun to delete thirty emails in five seconds first thing in the morning after scanning quickly to see if any are intra company, client, or vendor related. At home, its nearly the same although opening and reading an email from a liked brand is much more likely and the more fancy that email is, the more likely the home recipient is to respond.

  4. Loren McDonald from IBM Marketing Cloud, September 23, 2010 at 11:43 a.m.

    Roger, well the problem you mention with email is the problem with all communication channels. I rather doubt you read and click on the thousands of Tweets that flow your way everyday. Do you listen intently to every radio and TV ad.

    That said, email does have to step up to the challenge become much more personally relevant.

  5. Jordan Cohen from Pontiflex, September 24, 2010 at 3:40 p.m.

    Interesting article Loren -- been waiting for this one from you!

    I think what will really get the C-suite excited is if marketers find a way to position email as a shiny toy itself.

    American Express's webisode campaign with Jerry Seinfeld a few years ago really broke the mold and was a huge success, with email marketing front and center.

    Instead of being all about direct response, AmEx used email to deliver content that was exciting and anticipated by the people who signed up for it, ultimately promoting greater engagement with the brand. (And creating perhaps the most memorable email marketing campaign of all time).

    What email needs to attract more attention is an injection of creativity, AmEx-Superman-Seinfeld style. If our campaigns aren't regularly featured in books like Ad Age, we're always going to be the poorly funded, after-thought, red-headed stepchild of mktg & advertising.

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