The Karma Of Email

Last week I wrote this article between demos at the ExactTarget users' group meeting. Today, as I'm writing this, I'm also at a trade show, but unlike last week where I was basking in Hoosier hospitality, this one is taking place right on my desktop in my office in New York: the eComXpo. EComXpo is a virtual trade show: I can log on. I can navigate the virtual booths. And I can engage potential customers and partners. But it is oh so impersonal. There is immediacy to the live experience. I can engage the prospect more deeply and personally. But there is a cost to that experience: the physical cost of transporting and housing myself and my booth. And there is a limit to the number of people I can physically engage with. There is limited space after all and some prospects might wonder off, frustrated that I'm engaged with another client.

The virtual trade show is much less expensive, and the number of people I can engage with at one time by multitasking means that I can potentially reach more people, at a cheaper cost. And the cost for that is a smaller close rate, because the personal interaction is missing. In the end, the virtual trade show might have a higher ROI, but with less customers to show for it at the end of the day.



This is one of the problems facing email. As we progressively move to less and less personal forms of communications -- from handwritten letter, to targeted direct mail appeal, to email blast --we gain reach and increased ROI, but face the danger of disengaging from our customers.

As we head into this holiday season, it might be good to look back at last year's data pulled from Return Path's Holiday Consumer Survey last January. The key finding is that consumers want to be treated as people, not a data point in a database. They rewarded those marketers with a track record of providing valuable and useful emails in the past, and ignored those that didn't, even when they recognized the brand and the email sender.

In fact, the only key influencer in driving open rates that gained any traction over the previous year's survey (51.2% vs 47.7% the year before) was past experience receiving relevant, useful emails. To put it more poetically, an email program's karma is what determines its success.

Other influencers such as Subject Line, Discounts, and Free Shipping were down significantly from the year before. Even the single most important influencer -- knowing and trusting the sender -- dropped nearly 5% over the previous year (55.9% vs 60.6%).

Knowing you and trusting you are not enough anymore. Past behavior is what drives future success.

How's your company's Email Karma?

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