E-mail Focus: Do You See What I See?

E-mail is the Web’s main driver, and I can prove it

In 2003, I had a revelation that had all the impact of a religious conversion. Up until that time, my attention was focused on the “cutting edge” of interactive advertising — rich media and any new cool advertising widget that came down the pike. More mundane marketing channels, like e-mail, really didn’t capture my imagination.

But in 2003, based on a client request, I began to archive, analyze, and monitor the world of e-mail marketing. Soon I had the largest database of e-mail marketing messages ever collected, and I began comparing and charting the e-mails I collected against the Web site traffic data for the URLs those e-mails were driving traffic to.

According to a biography on the life of the physicist Richard Feynman, one night Feynman discovered a breakthrough insight and walked out and looked at the night sky.  As he looked skyward he thought to himself, “I’m the only person in the world to know what I now know.” My feeling back in 2003, on looking at the unmistakable correlation between e-mail traffic and Web site traffic, was the same: I’m seeing something that no one has seen before.

Clearly, companies have monitored the return on investment on their own e-mail campaigns. Some worked and some didn’t, within the narrow confines of their message, list, and market sector. But what I saw was a clear trend across hundreds of market sectors, thousands of brands, and hundreds of thousands of e-mail messages. Not only were e-mail marketing messages driving traffic, they were, in aggregate, the largest single catalyst of Web site traffic.

Naïvely, I believed that all you had to do was show people the data and they would immediately have the same revelation I did. What I faced instead were agencies advising their clients against e-mail for fear of destroying brand equity; brands that were clueless about the effectiveness of their own e-mail campaigns; and marketers using affiliate networks that were unaware they were doing e-mail marketing at all.

Add to this a media blitz of e-mail spam horror stories, and you had a “perfect storm” of negative feelings toward the e-mail marketing channel. The worst practices of a minority, albeit high-volume e-mail senders, were being used to brand an entire industry. It was as if every financial institution were being compared to the lowest loan shark or every business were no better than Enron. The baby was being thrown, unceremoniously, out with the bath water.

I saw a marketing channel that had problems, to be sure, but problems that were solvable through better technology. What technology couldn’t solve was the bad press and lack of marketer education — factors that threaten the e-mail marketing channel more directly than any Nigerian spam scam.

And so it was with great interest that I recently witnessed the launch of a new organization, The Email Experience Council (www.emailexperience. org). Dedicated to educating marketers and the public to the positive aspects of e-mail marketing, the Council comprises stakeholders in the e-mail marketing space: agencies, vendors, and pundits. At its launch, the Email Experience Council announced a yearlong, multicompany, all-volunteer e-mail project focused on helping a deserving nonprofit organization receive the expertise of the best minds in e-mail marketing. A series of case studies will be released throughout the year documenting every aspect of the project and will be available for download on the Council’s Web site.

The first case project will be to help the Ryan Andrew Kaiser Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to offering financial assistance to families of children with medical needs. The Email Experience Council member companies will work in tandem to build awareness of the Foundation, increase donations, and grow opt-ins to the Foundation’s e-mail newsletter, which will undergo a complete makeover.

Bill McCloskey is CEO, Email Data Source, Inc. (
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