Actually the debate is better stated: we know it's a great a direct marketing channel. Is it also a great brand-marketing channel? In fact, the idea that the Web, and e-mail, in particular is an important direct marketing medium is accepted without question in the interactive marketing community.
So I was curious to see how interactive marketing was treated among the hard-core direct marketers themselves. The answer is, based on the conversations I had and the signage I saw, e-mail is still barely a blip on the consciousness of this community.
Certainly there were strong e-mail vendors represented at the show, including DoubleClick, Digital Impact, SilverPop, Ironport, Yesmail, and ReturnPath. Yet within the vast space of the New Orleans Convention Center, these companies represented a small fraction of the booths dominated by traditional direct mail and print vendors.
More common was the small print on the signage of some of these companies announcing they also do "Alternative Media." In my world, alternative media is when you rent some college kid's forehead for a month, but not here.
Even the DMA's own signage signaled the prevailing attitude. The tag line was: "helping Direct Marketers and Interactive Marketers" as if these were two separate groups of people. One vendor I spoke with said, after I told him what I did: "E-mail...yeah, we should get involved with that before we miss the boat." I didn't have the heart to tell him the boat had left port a long time ago.
Bill Nussey, CEO of SilverPop summed it up this way: "The DMA is still thinking about e-mail as an advertising medium instead of what it is: a customer relationship medium." Bill predicts that e-mail and the DMA are going to be moving further and further apart from each other. "TV, print, and radio will become the medium where you expose your message to people and e-mail will become the place where you manage the relationship with your customer."
Michael Mayor, CEO of Netcreations, which was recently acquired by Return Path, sees things slightly different. For Michael, their have been dramatic changes from a year ago when folks where declaring the death of e-mail.
Today he sees a recovery in the industry with most of the companies experiencing 10 to 15 percent growth. "Can Spam is not an issue anymore. And people are even starting to talk about e-mail for acquisition again." Michael sees a growth in acquisition e-mail campaigns in the business-to-business space, but it is also starting again in the consumer sector again. "The key is receiving e-mails from a trusted source that you have agreed to accept offers from."
Matt Blumberg, CEO of ReturnPath, goes further: "Last week we had one of our clients speak to your team. The client said that return on dollars invested in Search Marketing is eight to one. For every dollar spent on search marketing, $8 dollars back. For e-mail marketing the return is 40 to one."
Mayor agrees: "There is a tendency for search marketers to look down on e-mail. But the fact is, the goal of search is to drive you to the site and get your e-mail address." For Mayor, there are two challenges facing e-mail marketers today: deliverability and growing their list.
When marketers stopped using e-mail as an acquisition tool, their list stagnated. They were using e-mail to maintain the relationship with customers that they had, but they were not growing their list. Search became the acquisition tool, but now cost of keyword search has priced many out of the market. The solution, according to Mayor, is e-mail as an acquisition tool, but only from a trusted source, with double opt-ins, and from a company that knows how to do it right. A company like....Netcreations!
Interestingly enough I sat behind Robert Wientzen, the recently retired CEO of the DMA on the plane back. He had a different perspective. When I told him I had just finished my MediaPost article about the show, he asked me what I said.
I told him I wrote that e-mail didn't seem to be high in the consciousness of the direct marketers. "Less this year than last, " he replied. "Now we know its limitations. It's not a hot topic. Responses are down." On another note, the DMA just released its response report that showed e-mail had the second highest ROI of all direct marketing channels, just behind telemarketing.
I'll continue my DMA review next week and talk about some of the specific solutions being offered.