When you're in the campaign trenches and knee-deep in metrics reports, it's easy to lose sight of some broader issues concerning your approach to email marketing.
Here are some reminders to help you step back and reevaluate your efforts.
1. Don't let legislation drive you to distraction
Compliance with anti-spam legislation is (obviously) critical to email marketers. But don't let it distract you from other key marketing issues. Otherwise, it's like ensuring your restaurant conforms to food hygiene regulations and then forgetting to cook meals that people actually want to eat.
For example, the focus on CAN-SPAM compliance led some marketers to forget that recipients and legislators don't necessarily share the same definitions of what's acceptable. Just because the government says it's legal to send the email doesn't mean you should.
Legitimate email marketing was always based on the concept of permission. Successful email marketing is still based on that premise, not on simply meeting some legal requirement.
That means relevant, valuable emails sent to people who asked or agreed to get them. We would all do well to go back to some of our email marketing primers and remind ourselves of basic permission issues.
2. Revise your understanding of what email marketing covers
One of the positives arising from CAN-SPAM discussions is the wider awareness that marketing emails cover more than just dedicated campaigns or retention-oriented newsletters.
Every email contact with a prospect or customer is a marketing opportunity—a point overlooked by many top companies. Not always an opportunity in a direct marketing/sales sense, but certainly in a brand-building or relationship-marketing sense.
So take a look at your organization and ensure that there are no gaps in your email communication. In particular, be certain you're making the most of all outgoing email to reinforce brand messages, encourage customer communication or cement customer relationships.
Consider, for example, the voice and style you're using in the following:
Subscription confirmation messages
List welcome messages
Unsubscribe confirmation messages (not everybody is leaving for good!)
Transactional emails such as order confirmations
Customer service emails (including automated "we got your message" messages, many of which start off with an oh-so-friendly "DO NOT REPLY TO THIS EMAIL!")
3. Avoid complacency
If your automated email marketing campaigns or initiatives are generating good ROIs, don't get pampered into inactivity.
First, a good result isn't the same as a great result.
Second, the email marketing environment changes so quickly that you need to be flexible enough to respond to new challenges and exploit new opportunities.
So keep on testing, testing, testing to find incremental improvements. And monitor performance and the market to spot critical developments demanding a response.
Constant improvements in email marketing practices are raising the quality bar across inboxes. A few years ago, people were excited to get an email... any email. Now, your email is constantly being compared with the rest of the inbox, and facing ever-tougher criteria to qualify for reader attention.
Equally, email technologies constantly open new opportunities to get more out of your lists. For example, are you integrating customer and marketing databases to optimize contact frequency across all channels? Do you segment your readership? Are you customizing emails based on a recipient's past clickthrough behavior?
4. Check your assumptions regularly
The dynamic email marketing environment also means that things which held true yesterday don't necessarily hold true today. Studies show, for example, that the supposed "best day to send marketing email" changes.
Numerous factors outside your control affect reader response to your missives. Keep a constant test regime going to monitor changes in preferences and winning response triggers through time.
More important, look critically at generalized conclusions that are published (including in articles like this!). Each company has unique audiences, offers and objectives. So the insights from one company's campaign or a survey's "average" result might not apply to your situation.
It's the T word again: test!
5. Don't buy a wreath for the email marketing funeral
As part of the traditional economic development process, it's incumbent on supporters of new technologies to cast doubts on the viability of the older ones. I suspect that back in the 1870s one of Alexander Graham Bell's assistants pronounced "the letter is dead."
Some proponents of RSS technologies, for example, like to describe email marketing in the past tense. But don't believe a word of it.
What is happening is that email marketing is getting more sophisticated and challenging. There is no more low-hanging fruit.
Don't get down about the medium because of a few PR sound bites from those touting alternatives. Base your strategic and budgeting decisions on hard data, campaign experiences and objective trend analysis.
Having said that...
6. Consider other delivery technologies for your email content
Just because email marketing is alive and well doesn't mean you should stop investigating new forms of content delivery. Integration has become the watchword in e-commerce, with the realization that the more channels you offer the shopper, the more they'll spend and the more shoppers you'll get. That's a lesson email marketers can learn.
Are you integrating your email efforts with other marketing vehicles? And might you tap into new or improved markets by offering alternative ways to get the content previously reserved for email?
Top of the list here is RSS feeds. Some customers or prospects are likely to prefer RSS to email. So consider giving them the choice. It's not an "either or" scenario. You should be concerned with overall marketing success, and not protecting email as a marketing medium.
Mark Brownlow, Ph.D., is a business writer and owner of Email Marketing Reports (www.email-marketing-reports.com).
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