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Why email marketing deserves more respect

G. Simms Jenkins
Why email marketing deserves more respect G. Simms Jenkins

Stan Rapp is among the all-time marketing greats. The founder of Rapp Collins (now rebranded RAPP), author of "Max-e-Marketing in the Net Future" and five other books, and now chairman of Engauge, Rapp is often described as the father of one-to-one marketing.

Rapp was the keynote speaker at the recent Email Experience Council's Email Evolution Conference. His talk generated countless tweets, blog posts, ovations, and renewed enthusiasm. Unfortunately, I could only witness his event via real-time updates on Twitter and blogs, but I immediately had the same reaction the audience did: This marketing icon is a huge email supporter and really gets it.

Rapp gets that your online messaging today consists of Twitter and Facebook as well as the email inbox. He fully embraces the simple and powerful differentiating aspect of email marketing -- that it is delivered to the people that ask for these offers, updates, and newsletters. This unprecedented by-request-only aspect is what separates email from its peers. In Rapp's view, it is the most powerful yet underutilized force in marketing today.

Rapp is someone I have admired for a long time, and we recently sat down at the Engauge office overlooking the Atlanta skyline to chat about direct marketing, its impact on interactive marketing, and email marketing's place in the rapidly changing business scene. The following is an excerpt of our discussion.

Jenkins: During your recent keynote, you said "the internet is the rocket booster that takes direct marketing to heights never thought possible in the 20th century." Can you expand on that?

Rapp: Direct marketing's advantages in the 20th century were all about being addressable and accountable at a time when mass marketing was bombarding the marketplace with a one-to-all approach. The internet has added affordable and accessible to the 21st century direct-marketing arsenal. The new role for advertising is to lead prospects via direct response to a relevant and direct experience on the internet where marketers can put direct marketing's "four As" to good use.

Jenkins: I think this notion of advertising as an opt-in generator has really resonated in the interactive and email marketing communities in particular. Why do so many marketers do a bad job of supporting the capture of more opt-ins?

Rapp: Habit and behind-the-times business school beliefs. The view of email is that it is commonplace and not worthy of serious budgeted dollars. It reminds me a lot of the early days of direct marketing that we faced at Rapp Collins. Everyone received mail in their mailbox and business mail was tagged with the derogatory term "junk mail." Now everyone sends and receives messages in their inbox, and commercial email is equated by some with spam.

Jenkins: So what can email marketers do to get more budget and credibility?

Rapp: In today's economic turmoil the new marketing mantra is "show me the ROI." Email, at 43-to-1 return on the dollar, is the undisputed ROI leader. Get it right, and the ROI speaks for you.

Jenkins: You said "the inbox is the beating heart of the internet, and email is the tightest link ever forged between buyer and seller." This resonated with me, as someone that runs an email-focused agency. Can you expand on this?

Rapp: No. 1, the tightest one-to-one link you can have is a relationship in which the consumer invites you to talk to them. The beating heart of the internet is the inbox. Its pulse pounds away as each of us clicks open and sends out our hourly emails.

No. 2, the arrival of broadband in a majority of U.S. households three years ago marked the beginning of the digital age for marketers. The value of an opt-in address reportedly is about $118 for knowledgeable marketers. Coke, for example, has more than 12 million reward program members, which it uses to gather info and deepen relationships. This means Coke has an asset worth more than $1.4 billion in its email opt-in database for MyCoke Rewards.

When asked what else email marketers are missing, Rapp added:

The place email marketers fail most consistently is in applying broad-scale multiple testing at every step of the process. Compared with the cost of testing in direct mail, there is almost no cost of testing for email. Email planners need to go beyond so-called A/B testing. In a digital world, it is a hangover from the limitations inherent in high-cost testing for direct mail.

Rapp recounted how a big-time advertising agency lost some email business when a boutique email agency came in and delivered a seven-times higher response rate due to its use of creative thinking and well-planned testing.

Jenkins: You call email marketers "the new Masters of the Universe." What do you mean by this?

Rapp: The internet is the center of the universe. It is central to our personal and business lives. Most marketers fall far short in both acquiring opt-in names and maximizing the value of conversation with opt-ins. The CMO who turns humdrum email performance into a goldmine of profitable revenue for the company can be tomorrow's Master of the Universe.

The email opt-in database is a new mass market that invites segmentation and targeting. If you have hundreds of thousands signed up you can build your pool of qualified, interested names with email addresses into the millions. If you have millions you can grow your opt-in pen pals to the tens of millions.

Jenkins: What are email's biggest challenges?

Rapp: Too many email marketers fail to apply the basics of direct response advertising to growing their most valuable marketing asset -- the people who share their email address. Every email marketer, first and foremost, is a direct marketer.

Another challenge is the great email paradox: The most is the least. Email, the most personal and productive form of marketing communication, gets less than $1 billion of the $185 billion poured into marketing communication channels. This is a vast misallocation of spending by marketers. It is an upside down mentality.

Jenkins: Having now keynoted the EEC event, what is your view of email marketers?

Rapp: I learned that although email marketers are underappreciated, they retain enormous pride in what they can and could accomplish. As the new kid on the block, email marketers have not been given a chance to flex their muscles. With an open mind to experimenting with new systems for optimizing email results, the future will be rosy indeed for the email marketing community.

G. Simms Jenkins is founder and CEO of BrightWave Marketing.


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