Email's new role in digital marketing

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Shift 5

Email is an increasingly specialized form of marketing -- now treat it as such.
Hopefully, you now see email marketing as part of a bigger digital beast. But wait, it's really its own animal. Or is it?

The email marketing landscape seems to change just as fast as email offers can pile up in your inbox. How do you keep up with these changing best practices, consumer preferences, CAN-SPAM provisions, and the 82 daily tips you can find from helpful writers, bloggers, and executives?

This speaks to a larger organizational issue for most companies in terms of where email programs and teams live within the organization. We can't expect email to succeed in the long term when most of us can't properly address what role email plays in the big picture, or what email wants to be when it grows up. All good email marketers have to keep their eyes on the ball, which can be hard if you are given a minuscule budget, insufficient team, and vague goals. So how do you redefine your email marketing role and program? Start here:

  • Create a mission statement and strategic brief for your vision of your email marketing program.
  • Create a set of goals and a scorecard for your email marketing success measurements.
  • Document what you do on a day-to-day basis and at a broader strategic level.
  • Share this information with your broader organization and related stakeholders.
  • Draw up what you would need (in terms of budget, resources, partners, and anything else under the sun) to accomplish your goals and the company's goals, assuming there were no barriers in these areas.
  • Revaluate your partners based on where you are, where you want to be, and where you need to be.
  • Set up debriefing meetings to continually update others on how your email program is doing in terms of success.
  • Define success in business terms -- not clicks, opens, and bounces.

Where I want email marketing to go is a passionate topic for me, and I have a lot of opinions -- enough that I could write a book on the topic. (Oh, wait, I did.)

Ask yourself a few more questions with regard to your email program: Does email marketing really still deserve a miniscule percentage of your overall marketing budget in this economic crunch? If email marketing is the workhorse of your marketing platforms and generating much of the revenue, do you penalize it because of its high ROI? Why not devote more to it and generate more sales, get more leads, and speak directly with your most attractive audience?

Also, think about where the majority of your budget goes: Is it in sending the email or in making the campaign better? Does most of your email marketing budget go directly to the technology infrastructure or to areas that can be optimized to improve the results and stretch your dollar and impact? If, for example, more than half of your email marketing budget goes to your ESP, you are limiting the results of what you can do with the hand you have been dealt. Most ESPs have great distribution platforms but limited services and abilities to improve your ROI. In fact, they make their money on volume, so you probably won't be told you are sending too many emails even if you helped achieve the new email volume record over the 2008 holidays. (This is a dubious accomplishment, in case you were wondering.)

So take your budget to where you can make an impact and raise the level of your specialized program through added strategic expertise. Testing, new creative, strategic assessments, and optimizing other areas of your program (like transactional emails) deserve more of your budget than the commodity-driven send button.

Every January, I return from the holidays to find hope, inspiration, and great people with excellent ideas -- all within this little email marketing community in which we live and work. We need to raise it up a notch, and now is our opportunity. If anything, test some of these ideas (or your own creative solutions). The email marketing world is far from perfect, but we can advance it one message at a time with the right approach.

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



Duncan Gledhill
Duncan Gledhill February 5, 2009 at 4:18 AM

It is a similar picture in the UK - we have been trading from North Yorkshire since 2003 and have seen the ups and downs of email over the years. Recently however it really is a "zero to hero" story and since November we have seen a dramatic increase in site traffic compared to the same period last year. I especially enjoyed reading Jeff Meuzalaar's comment regarding $100 per 10 million email addresses - companies selling these types of files - (we like to call them "fleemailers" because they normally flee after having sold you the emails) might present us with our biggest challenge yet!

Brent Marcus
Brent Marcus February 4, 2009 at 3:10 PM

A great overview. The questions posed are fantastic guidelines.

Lori Jones
Lori Jones February 4, 2009 at 12:38 PM

A quick survey among friends reveal what I already assumed, e-mail like junk mail is deleted/tossed without even a glance.

Robert Paltos
Robert Paltos February 4, 2009 at 12:38 PM

It is in the nature of the media beast...the "82 daily tips" and "Can-Spam" safeguards, among various other marketing speed-bumps, that Simms' message relates well. Looking at the primary field of, mobile, social and traditional online display...the common access thread to your most relevant audience taken to a one-on-one level, remains email...!

The article nicely outlines AND remninds us of the marketing relevancy for this "old tool." Thank you!

Robert Paltos
US Sales Director
Irish Central, LLC

Jay Baer
Jay Baer February 4, 2009 at 10:40 AM

Excellent piece. You nailed it. Ultimately, mobile, social, and email are all the same thing - lifecycle marketing. The preference center is the key to giving consumers what they want, when they want it, via the vehicle they prefer.

Jeff Meuzelaar
Jeff Meuzelaar February 4, 2009 at 9:40 AM

Great writeup. As a fellow online marketing, our firm has seen an influx of email marketing requests. However, they all expect email marketing to be the magic bullet. They all seem to have the misconception that email addresses can be purchased (rented) for the cost of $100 per 10 million email addresses. They also fail to realize the level of planning and effort it takes - design, html, testing, landing pages, calls to action, subject line, tracking, etc. After the pass through cost of a credible email list and five hours of billable time from our agency - many of the customers are blown away at the actual cost.

However, we are huge advocates of in-house email lists! If done correctly, this can be a very very very effective medium for small businesses to ultimately maintain and acquire new customers...all within their budget.

Tom Wright
Tom Wright February 4, 2009 at 8:33 AM

Just wanted to echo your point about ESPs. A lot of companies base their negotiations around achieving the lowest possible cost per email, which perversely acts an incentive to overmail.

I'm looking to pay more to a provider who can give me real intelligence - like who never clicks on my email.