There was a time not that long ago when the decathlon was one of the showcase events at the Olympics and the men who won the event were well-known figures in the U.S. Bob Mathias, Bruce Jenner, and Dan O'Brien are all past winners who were feted and admired by their fellow Americans for their athletic prowess and skills. These athletes were household names, even appearing on boxes of Wheaties! No more. An American just broke the world record at the Olympic tryouts in late June. Can you name him? Probably not, though if you said "Ashton Eaton," congratulations! If you also knew that Bryon Clay from the U.S. won the Gold at the Beijing Olympics you get extra credit. But for most of you reading this, that's probably the first time you heard Bryon or Ashton's names. Even a recent issue of Sports Illustrated bemoaned the fall from grace of the decathlon as one of the glamor events of the games.
Replacing the decathlon as an Olympic highlight event aren't new events per se, rather the public's fixation on events like the 100M and the marathon, and to a lesser degree the 400, 800, 1500 and 4 x 100M relay has grown in recent Olympics. Part of the reason for that, I suspect, is that the decathlon spans two days, is scored in a perplexing manner (confusing metrics anyone?), and competes the whole time against one and done track and field events. Additionally, you're not going to see the best performance at the games (e.g., the highest high jump) in the decathlon. And while the argument could be made that these athletes are probably the best athletes at the games, you're going to have to wait two days and 10 events to see if a world record is broken. You wait less than 10 seconds to see a world record possibly broken in a flashier event like the 100 meters.
This is the point in my columns many of you begin to wonder if I'm ever going to get to the point, or even if I have a point. I certainly do! Think about email marketing in general. Ten years ago it was the star of the digital marketing world. It was still new and emerging, and fortunes were being made by the early ESP pioneers. People like Bill Park (Digital Impact) and Al DiGuido (Bigfoot Interactive) were the new industry's stars, and while they didn't make it to a Wheaties box, they still got their share of recognition. Fast forward to today, and like those Olympic decathletes of today, who can name the stars of our industry? To be sure, there are many excellent email marketers making real progress to improve the effectiveness of email marketing, and some of us know who they are. But take this quick quiz: who runs email marketing at Acxiom? At Epsilon? At CheetahMail? Who runs ExactTarget?
But email marketers resemble decathletes in more ways than just their fall from the "public" eye, and this way is even more significant. Other channels like mobile marketing and, in particular, social media are the new darlings. Like the 100 meters of digital marketing. But if you really think about it, an email marketer has to be great at a whole range of things in order to be the best -- just like a decathlete has to consistently perform across all 10 events to win the gold. Social media mavens are just that -- social media is what they know. It's pretty much the same with mobile marketing mavens. They understand the platform and the space.
But because email is the connective tissue between most forms of digital marketing, it's not enough to just understand how consumers use email. Top email marketers need to understand consumer behavior with social media, and the how interplay between social and email can be used to create stronger email programs and enhanced social experiences. Email marketers also need to understand the plethora of devices on which emails can be viewed and adjust design, layouts, timing of launches, etc. to accommodate this growing variety of mobile devices upon which emails can be viewed.
And it doesn't stop there. Savvy email marketers were the first to understand that in a post CAN-SPAM world search could be used to grow their email marketing database. These same marketers were the first to notice that email campaigns could trigger increased search activity, among other things. And today, it's the same leading email marketers who understand and deploy display targeting technologies to re-engage email openers as they surf the web. The very best email programs really do provide the connective tissue between these channels and tactics. It's not a single event that gets the consumer to act (like a 100 meter race), but rather the combination of events across channels. So like the successful decathlete, the successful email marketers are adept at a number of things that collectively make them winners.
So in the spirit of the Olympics, the real point of this article is to congratulate all the leading email marketers laboring in obscurity while other channels and individuals get the glory. To get to where you are has required that you excel in email marketing, but to also do a great job with mobile, social, search, and display advertising. I salute you! And to those of you just getting into email marketing, you need to think and train like a decathlete. You need to immerse yourself into other digital channels, so that you too can build programs that aren't based on single events, but may span days, weeks and even months to play out and deliver results.
Let's go Ashton Eaton and go USA!
Chris Marriott is a data-driven digital marketing consultant.
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"USSR - Circa 1960" image via Shuttersock.