Last week Michael Mayor, a 20-year veteran of direct marketing and e-mail announced he was stepping down as Return Path's president and general manager of consumer, list, data, and research, a position he has held since his company, NetCreations was acquired by Return Path last year. Michael was president and COO of NetCreations and held that post since 1998 when he was employee number three. Since that time, Michael has been in the forefront of the movement towards responsible e-mail marketing, insisting on double opt-ins and consumer privacy. I sat down with Mayor this week to get his thoughts on the state of e-mail marketing as he steps down to contemplate his next vision:
Insider: Michael, I wonder if you could provide us with your perspective on the history of e-mail as a marketing tool.
Mayor: E-mail marketing began as a truly unique form of direct marketing not just because it was faster, cheaper, and more effective than direct mail, but because it was permission-based. This changed the dynamic between the marketer and consumer completely. Some marketers embraced it while others challenged it. Those marketers who embraced permission marketing and learned from it generally excelled at it because it forced them to have a relationship with the consumer before they actually pitched their product. This is how real-world relationships begin and consumers now expect that bond to some degree in all marketing.
Unfortunately, e-mail barely had gotten out of the gate before it was hit with the dot-bomb, a recession, two wars, spam, and legislation. That meant that e-mail had to grow up fast and many dedicated marketers, trade groups, and legislators had to scramble in order to keep it viable. Today, we owe a lot to them but the lion's share of gratitude should go to the pure-play e-mail companies and their clients.
Insider: You mention legislation. What is your opinion of Can Spam. Was it effective? Did it do enough?
Mayor: If you asked me "when was e-mail's darkest hour?" I'd have to say the fall of 2003 when it looked like California's SB187 was going to pass. Even companies like NetCreations would not have survived that law. Thankfully, we had some very determined marketers and legislators working together to push a more practical law, Can Spam, through.
However, I think there's a tendency for some people to judge Can Spam by the amount of spam that's in their in-box. It's too bad they can't get a quick glimpse of what their in-box would look like without it. Can Spam has, without question, helped curb unwanted e-mail in at least two very important ways. At the industry level there are clearly less, shall we say, "borderline" players in the space. At the marketer level, there has been a sea change in the way Do Not E-mail files are now the first priority - which means more efficiency and less unwanted e-mail.
More importantly, the law gave the consumer a template of what reputable commercial e-mail should look like. They may not know the specific message requirements but if you held spam next to a compliant message and asked them to chose the one from the respectable marketer, they'd have no trouble. Rising response rates tell me they know the difference and have no problem interacting with e-mail they trust.
Insider: So, where do we stand today? What's the state of e-mail marketing?
Mayor: I'd have to say that it has never been better. Yes, there are still a few bumps in the road but the difference between today and a couple of years ago is that we have the tools and expertise to smooth out those bumps. If your e-mail acquisition and retention program isn't humming, you're simply not taking advantage of the tools and expertise that's out there. Marketers can no longer blame the channel itself as they have in the past.
Insider: And the future?
Mayor: A recent study by e-marketer stated that 63 percent of those marketers polled plan to use e-mail to "retain customers and increase loyalty", 62 percent to "acquire new customers," and 59 percent to "create awareness of new product." So there you have it; the vast majority of marketers are using e-mail marketing for the "big 3" acquisition, retention, and branding.
However, I have always used a more grassroots barometer. I look to sign-up rates and the amount of people who wish to be added to e-mail lists. At ReturnPath/NetCreations, the massive number of consumers who sign-up everyday for offers and surveys, all without an incentive and double opt-in, has always been the big shining light to me. That tells me that consumers want to receive relevant marketing messages in a big way. There's the future of e-mail marketing.
Insider: Enough of e-mail's future. What is your future?
Mayor: I'm looking at several things. For me, it's really about finding another "story" more than anything else. I have to be excited about what the company does and how they do it before I go charging up the hill. In the meantime, I'm enjoying the time with my family and doing some e-mail marketing consulting just to stay sharp.