No executive left behind: E-mail marketing education for the C-suite

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As the oldest tool in the online marketer's toolbox, e-mail marketing garners a fraction of the headlines generated by rising stars such as SMS, Facebook and Twitter. However, according to the DMA, commercial e-mail delivers an ROI of $45.65 in 2007 — more than two times greater than any other online marketing tactic, including search.

With that kind of ROI firepower, one might assume that the C-suite would be the first to suggest an increase in e-mail marketing investments.  Too often what the C-suite demands, however, is increased e-mail volume and more liberal opt-in policies — techniques that experienced e-mail marketers know can actually decrease long-term ROI.

So what's an e-mail marketer to do? Educate your executives on the answers to these questions, and you're one step closer to eliminating the type of C-level interference that can submarine a well-conceived e-mail marketing strategy.

To seasoned e-mail marketers, the answer to this question seems self-evident. Consumers, or better yet subscribers, own the medium because they own the inbox. Tick them off with an unsolicited message, and with one click of the “report spam” button, you've not only lost the ability to communicate with them through e-mail, you've hurt your sender reputation. This, in turn, can damage your ability to send to everybody in your database.

Despite what the CAN-SPAM Act says, if you send irrelevant messages or send too much volume, consumers are going to deem you a spammer — regardless of what the law says. If helped to understand how this consumer-driven designation can tank your deliverability rate to all subscribers, the C-suite should quickly come around on increasing e-mail message types or volume out of end-of-quarter desperation rather than a well-articulated strategy.

Done right, e-mail can build and strengthen long-term relationships. It lets your best customers know about new products and services. It delivers timely order and shipping confirmations. It alerts subscribers of the latest company and product news that is relevant to them.

E-mail is not, however, for everyone. It is only for those people who want to hear from you. This takes some getting used to — especially for executives raised on the ability to buy and sell direct mail lists.

It must be acknowledged that C-suite education, like any online marketing education, is an ongoing process. As laws, consumer behaviors, and executive players change, we must take the initiative to institute continuing education programs that help our C-level colleagues understand the strengths and weaknesses of all the tactics at our disposal. In so doing, we should gain not only greater respect within our organizations but also greater support to build stronger relationships with our customers and subscribers through the e-mail medium. 

Jeffrey Rohrs is VP of marketing for ExactTarget. He can be reached at

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