Search and E-Mail: "Why Do We Have to Fight?"

Could search engine marketing really be going head to head with e-mail marketing? How sad it is to see two siblings cut from the same cloth fighting over scraps when there is ripe bounty awaiting both.

In Bill McCloskey's latest E-Mail Insider column ("E-Mail and the DMA," October 20, 2004), he intrigued me with his opening premise - finding out how the Direct Marketing Association currently treats e-mail. Does the DMA respect e-mail as a direct marketing medium? His conclusion: no, and certainly not enough.

What shocked me was the role that search engine marketing played in the analysis as McCloskey sought out the opinions of a number of CEOs of companies in the e-mail space. Are e-mail marketers really that concerned about search?

These siblings share a similar history.

First came e-mail marketing, which made a lot of sense to direct marketers. Terms like "list rental" and "cost per name" were familiar and easily applicable. E-mail grew more complex, especially as best practices emerged, but the basics made perfect sense.



Threats arose guised as spam and viruses, both of which have led some marketers to question whether the medium is right for their brand. Nonetheless, the sector continues to grow and mature, with a number of experienced e-mail marketing firms prospering.

Just as "spam" with a lowercase "s" became a household word, Google burst on the scene, popularizing paid search advertising after Overture proved the business model worked. Search was a newer advertising medium, but pricing models such as "cost-per-click" were gaining traction thanks to other forms of online advertising.

In the present day, search has its share of threats, namely click fraud (a form of competitive sabotage) and rising keyword prices (read: victim of its own success).

Despite this, the return on investment (ROI) still holds up for just about anyone doing the due diligence managing and analyzing performance, and when the ROI is subpar, there are almost always ways to improve it. Meanwhile, the search sector continues to grow and mature, with a number of search engines and SEM firms prospering.

With such similar histories, you'd think the two could work together, learn something from each other, and play nice. NetCreations CEO Michael Mayor tells McCloskey, "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."


I'm sure Mayor's only responding to attacks he's heard. Still, when both sides point fingers, the whole industry looks bad. Clients and others will quickly tire from this, and the only winner is the TV ad agency who will welcome back clients with roses and a five-course dinner. "Phyllis, you're better off with someone who has more experience," the TV agency will say.

As Jon Stewart now famously said to the hosts of CNN's Crossfire, "Why do we have to fight?"

We don't.

Pick an industry, any industry. Say you're, retailing online. The site offers the Wal-Mart Wire e-newsletter to shoppers who register. Wal-Mart can send this opt-in base sales and new product info.

Meanwhile, can run a search engine marketing campaign with natural search optimization for its main site, paid inclusion for some or all of its inventory, and sponsored keyword listings for 50,000 products and another 10,000 related terms.

All of this is meant to drive sales, when it comes to direct ROI purposes. However, some sophisticated marketers are measuring a much broader range of actions, including e-mail signups, referring friends, and adding products to the shopping cart (and thus, by simple math, cart abandonment).

Meanwhile, e-mail still holds its own, acquisition-wise. Wal-Mart can tap a company such as NetCreations to target entertainment junkies with an e-mail pitch for its lowest-price online DVD rental service. This is then augmented by a paid search buy for every DVD in its rental catalog, and amplified further by print ads in "Entertainment Weekly," PR, radio spots, online display ads, in-store ads, billboards, TV - the works.

Let's unite. E-mail marketers don't really want to say, "Instead of spending $250,000 on search, split that between search and e-mail." They should say, "With the $25 million ad budget for this DVD rental campaign, spend $250,000 on e-mail" (for starters).

There's room for both of us. Each side has its own "why our ROI's the best" figures, but instead of pitting them against each other, try asking the client for the ROI on the TV spot. Then it doesn't matter so much whether search yields 8x ROI and e-mail 40x ROI or search scores 20x ROI and e-mail 5x. All of that misses the bigger picture.

So think big.

To again quote Stewart on Crossfire, as for the infighting, "It's not so much that it's bad, as it's hurting America... So I wanted to come here today and say... Stop."

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