The Next Frontier: E-mail

Graduating to E-mail 2.0

After so much "talking the talk" and too little "walking the walk," e-mail marketing is poised to achieve its fullest potential and get the credit it deserves, say industry experts. Soon we'll see marketers replacing one-off e-mails and "batch and blast" campaigns with dynamic content and more strategic thinking. But not only will e-mail be maximized as a marketing tool, it will become the foundation for other digital media and marketing efforts.

"E-mail is becoming the digital marketing backbone, with other digital channels being treated as offshoots of it," says Paul Beck, executive director of interactive, marketing, and advertising for OgilvyOne.  Beck notes that today's e-mail executives also handle mobile marketing and other new media.

"E-mail's going to be thought of as the content hub that extends conversations for people - through social networks, blogs, RSS," says Jeanniey Mullen, senior director of e-mail marketing at Ogilvy. "It will take one to five years to mature, but from our perspective, e-mail is reinventing itself. That's going to be the biggest change."

We'll also see more real-world implementation of multichannel integration. "Currently, e-mail has a disjointed nature to it," says John Rizzi, president and CEO of e-Dialog, a permission-based e-mail marketing solutions provider.

"Marketing sends campaign e-mails, while customer service sends confirmations and thank-yous, but neither department is aware of the other's [campaigns], nor do they have the metrics from each [effort]. But we [as an industry] are moving toward more integration of the two," Rizzi says. "Eventually, marketing will incorporate and control customer-service e-mails, and a customer-service call will generate an e-mail automatically when a person hangs up."

Despite all the buzz about online video, it won't do all the heavy lifting. "If you have the right audience and the right offer, streaming video works really well," Mullen says. "And if you talk to anyone who has done it, the results are a 1,000 percent increase.

"But many marketers are hesitant to use it because it only works in specific areas," she adds. "Disney used it for the pre-release of a video and got a 323 percent increase in sales compared to flash HTML. But if you can't receive it, the experience is so plain that it actually underperforms a typical HTML message, because the major creative is focused around that video. So I don't think it's going to blossom in the near future until the ISPs allow that kind of content to play."

In terms of best practices in e-mail marketing, the retail sector is improving. In a recent study of the sector, Email Data Source, Inc. looked at 355 different retail sites' e-mail marketing programs to see how they managed campaigns post-signup. The company compared the results to a similar study it conducted in 2005, says CEO Bill McCloskey. Last year, he says, "Only 27 percent of retailers had any kind of e-mail program in place." Today, 70 percent do.

On the other hand, almost 30 percent didn't send an e-mail notice once people signed up, so there's room for improvement. Conversely, about 40 percent of supermarket chains offer e-mail marketing programs; last year, grocers didn't even show up on Email Data Source's radar.

Challenges in the sector include a dearth of e-mail addresses in databases (marketers only average about 30 percent now, according to Ogilvy's Mullen). The industry should also lobby for adoption of deliverability testing prior to campaign rollouts, which has been proven to double response rates, and encourage an increase in budgets.

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