Email: The Oatmeal Cookie Of Marketing?

I'm writing this article on the heels of the OMMA Global Conference in Hollywood, where I spent the past few days immersed in the belly of "the machine" with hundreds of marketers, industry pundits, media buyers and vendors discussing the current state and projected future of all things media and marketing-related. My major takeaways from the event are:

-    We are in the midst of great uncertainty and change across all media channels. Marketers and agencies are trying to figure out how to leverage emerging forms of media: social networking, online video, viral marketing, blogging, and mobile.  
-    Spending on various forms of new media advertising is continuing to grow while traditional media advertising spend is diminishing; however, very little of that spending is going to email.
-    Consumers want to interact with media when they want, where they want, and how they want. We will never be able to go back to the days of traditional media, where pushing messages to the consumer was the only game in town.
-    People don't come to OMMA to discuss or learn about email. I attended two breakout sessions focused on email, and the turnout and audience participation in both was less than I would have hoped for at an event with over 500 attendees. To add insult to injury, in most of the keynote presentations, when the requisite holistic multi-channel marketing campaign slide was shown -- you know the one, where the presenter shows how television, search, viral, online video, social networking, ad infinitum all combine to create a beautiful and successful marketing program -- email was conspicuously absent from the mix.



Does this mean marketers are no longer thinking about email, or that OMMA is not a good conference to attend if you want to learn more about email marketing? I think the answer lies somewhere in between.

Email has been around for a while now, and for many, it works well. The ROI is great and that's that. Marketers in new media are like kids in a candy store. Once they've sampled malt balls, they move on to taffy pulls. Email is like grandma's oatmeal cookies: reliably tasty, but easy to forget when you're sucking on a gobstopper.

So what do we do to generate interest in our sector?

For the past few years, it seems the buzzword for the email industry on a whole has been "relevance." Well, I believe we all need to heed that advice on a more personal level and work to make email more relevant to the people that matter most: executives, marketers, media buyers and planners, and email recipients.
What are some of the things we can do to step up our game, to move email marketing forward, and to stay relevant to these core constituents?

1. Executives: During a breakout session, panelist and Insider columnist David Baker said executives neither care nor want to know about procedural-based metrics such as opens, click-throughs, and conversions. They are concerned with more fundamental numbers: how much are we spending, and how much revenue are we generating in return?

If you are running an email program, it's your job to morph your metrics into information that's meaningful to the people that fund the program. To get a bigger portion of the increasing dollars spent on new media advertising, you have to make the case that the money spent will be worth the investment.

2. Marketers, Media Buyers & Planners: We as an industry need to work on making it easier for media buyers and planners to understand email and plug email into multi-channel campaigns. In a breakout session, one media planner voiced her frustration at the lack of high-level information and understanding of email within the marketing industry as a whole. We need to help marketers see email as an integrated component of large-scale marketing campaigns and not just a standalone direct-marketing channel.

3. Recipients: Here's where I think we have the greatest opportunity to improve. Most B2C email programs are still following the same direct-marketing script as catalog mailings: send out a generic message or promotion highlighting an offer or product that appeals to the widest base of recipients. By sending more relevant messages to fewer people, we may be inspiring a little more interest in the recipients, but this type of segmentation is basically the same thing as sending a targeted catalog in the mail; we are still following the traditional media approach of pushing messages to the consumer.

It's easy to get stuck in the rut of thinking email is a one-way street from the marketer to the recipient, but that doesn't have to be the case. There are so many ways we can open up the dialogue with our recipients to create a true two-way street, driving real engagement, interest, loyalty -- and results.

We've all been talking about strategies like activity-based messaging and personalization for quite some time now, but most programs are still following the batch and blast script. Let's take some action this year and supercharge our email programs. Please, share your ideas. How can we make 2008 the year we blow the lid off email marketing and give them something to talk about at the next OMMA Expo?!

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