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How email marketing is evolving

Christopher Marriott
How email marketing is evolving Christopher Marriott

Last month I wrote about being converted from an email marketer who strongly recommended the suppression of inactives in email campaigns to one who believes that if marketers suppress the inactives in their list, they are missing an opportunity to deliver an ad impression that may lead to a conversion in another channel or at a later date or both. This, as I wrote, means your email campaigns will produce less ROI for your company.

Let's review again the arguments in support of suppressing inactives:

  1. Your deliverability numbers will improve

  2. Open, click and click-to-open rates will improve (well of course they will if you stop sending to people who don't open your email!)

  3. Your out-outs will decline

  4. Your reputation will improve with ISPs

And let's sum up my reason not to -- each email that lands in an inbox is an opportunity for a sale in another channel at best, and a brand impression at worst. You can get the rest of the detail by going back and reading the whole column, because today I want to address what an email marketer who buys into this new perspective would do differently. Here's my starter list:

Think of your email subject line as a billboard

According to industry statistics, the average viewing of a billboard is five seconds. Even that seems like a long time, unless you actually take the time to pay attention as you are walking or driving by the sign. So like a billboard, you approach your subject line from the perspective that there is no other content. Thus,it needs to be short and sweet, sticking to one major idea."Open for your weekly savings" does not meet that test, as I don't know what the savings are, and I have no plans to open to find out. "Fifty percent off in all stores Saturday only" does meet the test. No need to open, I'm hitting the store on Saturday.

Now, if you desire to put some coupons into the hands of your list, you're going to need to get people to open your email, in which case you'd want to alert your inactives. "Before you walk into our store this weekend, wouldn't you like a buy-one, get-one coupon?" Give them a reason to open that particular email from you. It doesn't mean they will, but it raises your odds.

Make it your priority to link web sales and store sales back to specific email campaigns

Of course this may mean you'll need to tie specific credit cards to an email address, but that can be done (just ask Acxiom). A loyalty program that is keyed into the email address is an even simpler approach. As I've said in the past, I don't know if Jos. A. Bank is doing that look back, but it certainly could. With all certainty, I can assure you that if you do this you will see a direct link between sales and email campaigns that goes beyond opens and clicks. Want a simple way to prove this? Remove your active subscribers from a special offer email campaign and fire it to your inactives. You'll still see sales jump.

Get truly dead email accounts out of your database

Credit cards change much less frequently than email addresses. So let's start with the assumption that a credit card tied to more than one email address is a sign (not absolute proof) that there's a dead email account associated with that customer. But beyond that, there are ways to link email addresses to particular individuals which may help you weed out dead accounts. You could even offer an incentive for customers to tell you when they have opened up a subscription with a new email address (as opposed to having changed their profile). Give them a "bounty" for turning in dead addresses. We've all got them, and if I got offered a big enough incentive, I'd tell you which address I no longer use.

Reevaluate your CPM philosophy

In the world of ad impressions -- display, television, print, etc. -- the CPM rate is based upon the quality of the audience delivered. The closer they match the desired target (and the harder that target is to reach), the more you pay. BMW would like its advertising to reach people who can afford to buy or lease the car -- the company has little use for anyone beyond that. So BMW pays higher CPM's to get in the magazines (people still read these?), on the sites, and in the programming that reaches its target audience. Why are Super Bowl commercials so expensive, not just in absolute terms but also form a CPM perspective? Because it's a large, high quality audience with the added benefit that during this one program of the year they actually pay attention to the advertising.

The big difference between an email audience and a television audience is that the email audience is delivered by you, the marketer, while the television audience is delivered by the network. The CPM associated with email is based on the cost per thousand you send versus the cost per potential thousand eyeballs seeing the advertisement. But if you begin to think in terms of impressions, then even at a $2.00 CPM, email is the best bargain in the advertising universe! Now, I'm not suggesting that you happily fork over that amount (though you happily did so only a few years ago) -- what I am suggesting is that in a world where impressions are king, the CPM you pay should never be the determining factor in choosing your email partner. 

In this world, the keys to your success are the delivery rates and the creative and strategic services available from a partner, in addition to the actual quality of the email list you are bringing to the table. A low CPM will save you money, but alone itisn't enough because you want that email getting into the mailbox and you want it to be noticed. Getting folks to open your email is like getting someone to pay attention to your advertisement. When was the last time you read a magazine ad?

Of course all of this is a lot to think about -- and it's very easy to come up with lots of reasons not to change the way you think about email marketing.I've seen all the arguments from folks like Jordan Cohen of Pontiflex (who is a great guy, by the way) who claim the cost of mailing regularly to inactives can't be justified. I would counter that the revenue gains of doing so far outweigh the ever-decreasing CPMcost to send email campaigns. Another argument is that a "direct" channel should drive conversion, not metrics associated with branding campaigns (impressions). To this, I would counter that ad impressions do drive conversions, and that the line between brand and direct marketing got hopelessly blurred several years ago in digital marketing. The debate is just getting started, and it's good for email marketers to challenge the conventional wisdom -- even if we decide it's correct. You can be sure this won't be the last time I write about it!

Christopher Marriott is VP of agency services at StrongMail.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Email key concept: button on" image via Shutterstock.


to leave comments.

Commenter: Chris Marriott

2012, March 14

Thank you, Nick! And thanks for reading the column Nick and Rolv. I know you have a lot of other things demanding your attention.

Commenter: Nick Stamoulis

2012, March 12

"Give them a reason to open that particular email from you"

I think you make a great point. Just because they have opened previous emails from your company, that doesn't mean they are going to open this particular email. Each email needs to compel a receiver to open it and take action. Don't assume they will take the time to open it!

Commenter: Rolv Heggenhougen

2012, March 12

Maybe one should look at another marketing opportunity and that is the emails we all send every day. I represent a company that has developed a solution for just those emails and thus this post.
The basic idea behind WRAPmail is to utilize the facts that almost everyone have websites (corporate and/or social network site) and also send emails every day. These emails can become complete market-ing tools and help promote, brand, sell and cross-sell in addition to drive traffic to the website and conduct research. WRAPmail is available for free (with 3rd party ads) or for a small license fee at www.wrapmail.com.
WRAPmail also helps search for missing children with every email sent by incorporating an optional RSS feed from the Center for Missing and Exploited Children