Commentary

Email Acquisition: Feedback From The Experts

To add to last week's article on email acquisition, I interviewed various experts in the field of email acquisition, lead generation and affiliate marketing. Thanks to the following for participating: Craig Swerdloff, vice president, Return Path; Lana McGilvray, vice president of marketing, Datran Media; Sarah Barber, vice president of acquisition services, Yesmail; and Jason Cohen, co-president, MediaWhiz Holdings.

Email marketing as a lead generation tool is a polarizing subject to many mainstream brands. Why do you think this is so?

Swerdloff: Media campaigns often fail to reach their desired audience or have the intended impact. With email marketing, failure to reach the right audience and/or through a proper permissioned list could end in spam complaints, unsubscribes, and damaged reputation with ISPs. Many marketers have experienced [these problems] firsthand and are therefore reasonably upset.

McGilvray: In short, the key barriers to entry are perception and need for education. In the vast majority of cases, any explanation of email acquisition necessarily involves educating the brand marketer on how to employ email as an interactive engagement tool to communicate and respond to audience needs in the most relevant and real-time way possible. When applied correctly, email is an interactive branding, CRM and acquisition channel, not a push marketing mechanism. To use it otherwise is to completely dilute the power of the medium. P&G gets this -- as [CEO] A.G. Lafley and others on his team are evangelizing the digital engagement concept.

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Barber: Email list rental has been around for about 10 years now, with varying degrees of how it has been used for marketing. Yes, many have abused the medium; and even with the introduction of the CAN-SPAM Act in 2003, this marketing tool still is looked upon in a bad light. Many mainstream marketers have trouble discerning between spam and legitimate email marketing, until they are shown there is a definite difference. The press around unsolicited email and just the word spam has tainted the jury pool, and thus has caused this polarization among marketers. They avoid it not from a bad personal experience using it for their own program, but rather subconsciously, from societal influences.

How has this opinion evolved over the past few years?

Cohen: Companies have been slowly returning to email as a marketing channel, but this time, they are more informed about the risks associated with working with the wrong partner. Choosing a compliant and responsible email marketing partner is now a large part of the decision process for advertisers who are delving into email marketing.

Barber: In 1999, email marketing was hot hot hot. Then, a bunch of people abused it with technologies that farmed email addresses, creating lists that turned into what is now officially spam. Those lists were then, in the cases of many compiled email list, co-mingled with legitimate opt-ins. CAN SPAM tried to clean that mess up but it was a poor attempt that ended up falling short of its original intention. Email marketing as a lead generation tool is still around today and has been tried and true for the loyal marketers. The key is having someone working on your program that knows the good from the bad to help protect your brand.

Swerdloff: There continues to be a shakeout in the email marketing industry that started with CAN SPAM in 2004. Many of the companies involved in less savory practices have been forced out by sheer economics, and those of us that remain take reputation metrics more seriously. There are at least three companies that measure reputation of third-party lists before testing them. The net effect is that those marketers still using the medium are having great success. Unfortunately for many of us, these same marketers are not sharing their success metrics, so industry opinion has probably not changed all that much.

Access to this transcript is available on my blog.

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