Anyone Growing in E-Mail Follows Rules

Forrester analyst James Nail spoke at a recent Bigfoot Interactive Conference. I have great respect for Forrester and Mr. Nail, which is one of the reasons I was so surprised by the context of his remarks.

It was as if he were speaking more than a year ago. Mr. Nail patterned his remarks around the assertion that it was time to change the rules of e-mail marketing, since consumer resistance has constricted the growth of online databases.

“As it’s practiced, e-mail marketing is reaching a plateau,” he said.

Citing Forrester Research, he said 78 percent of online customers subscribe to at least one marketing e-mail, unchanged from 2003. The same data showed that 86 percent of non-subscribers – people who have never subscribed to an e-mail marketing program – say they are unlikely to subscribe. And 45 percent of subscribers are uninterested in subscribing to more e-mail.

For more than two years, my company, Datran Media, shifted our e-mail marketing model toward increased contextual relevance, with a basis on consumers’ behavior and interaction with brands they know and trust. This is one reason why our business, in line with the businesses of a few other e-mail marketing firms that made similar shifts, has grown ever since. When you offer meaningful value to consumers, based on their own behavior with brands they trust, it’s far less intrusive and far more effective.

Consumers who subscribe to almost anything online are going to be more vigilant about who owns their e-mail addresses than they were years ago. This only makes sense in the post-CAN-SPAM world. Even the most naive consumer by now probably is aware of the meaning of “co-registration” as well as what it means for the shared ownership of his/her e-mail address. Say what you will about CAN-SPAM, but it raised consumer awareness of how this business works.

One reason that search engine marketing has remained hot, even after two years of staggering growth, is its essential attraction: SEM is a “pull” model rather than a “push” model of marketing. Instead of bombarding consumers with marketing messages, SEM delivers to them only when a consumer seeks relevant information. The CEO of one SEM, icrossing’s Jeffrey Herzog, actually trademarked the term “Reverse Direct Marketing” for this reason: because that’s exactly why SEM is so compelling.

It’s also why well-executed e-mail marketing is so compelling, and has been for some time among industry leaders.

We routinely run multiple, multi-tiered campaigns for clients that leverage a “serve the consumer” mindset, aligned with something else Mr. Nail said in his remarks: “Adopt a proactive service mindset. Start to think about those personas and those purchase scenarios. How can e-mail support the consumer’s goal? And test, test, test … but be smart, smart, smart. Understand that the old techniques are not adequate.”

How well has this mindset worked for the clients and partners of companies that focus on this contextual model?

“When you refresh the creative on the fly and continue to provide new offers interspersed with tips or suggestions to consumers who are interacting with your brand, as long as it’s executed in a relevant fashion, it will invariably drive new business,” said Tanya Brown of WebClients. “The more contextually relevant and fresh the offer is, the better its performance will be.”

No matter what kind of message you hope to employ via e-mail, the three things to remember are relevance, relevance and relevance. Any behavior on the Web or response to an e-mail is potentially a triggerable event. This added relevance guarantees a more targeted message, which results in better response. Combine demographic, psychographic, transactional and purchase information and you have created either a contextual and/or behavioral relevant offer. This is true one-to-one marketing, and is possible only in e-mail.

Following up a publisher’s e-mail with the right kind of tactical offers implies blending the delivery mechanisms. But if you’re wary of pop-ups, another e-mail with a tip or suggestion can enhance the contextual relevance of all the messages in total, leading to an offer to follow. Just as surround sessions drove extremely high response rates when they were introduced, a well-executed e-mail program will amplify a marketer’s message and repeat it, marrying the fundamental principals of marketing – amplify and repeat – while doing so in a contextual environment based on a user’s own, previous selections.

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