Apply E-Mail Skills to Other Media

Given limited budgets and accelerated time-to-market schedules, business-to-business marketers have embraced e-mail as a quick, cost-effective solution to increase leads and build customer relationships.

But these marketers, more concerned with reducing costs, often focus on e-mail as a replacement for otherwise proven components of their marketing communications.

This is not surprising, especially as marketers become inundated with reports about the effectiveness of e-mail marketing versus other online and offline media. But this confidence in e-mail frequently is based on a list of external case studies or published statistics that, when taken out of context, may set unrealistic expectations for evaluating their own e-mail programs.

Yet, absent of any true return-on- investment model and often armed with no more than a list of best practices and the tools to deliver multiple e-mail messages simultaneously, BTB marketers have launched an onslaught of communications to customers and prospects.

To keep up with the number of e-mails published by competitors, many BTB marketers incorrectly assume that the volume of e-mail sent will equate to the success of their online communications program. Realistically, e-mail marketing programs based on pushing content to a list of customers and prospects as quickly and frequently as possible, without focusing on the message, are destined to fail.

One key downfall of many e-mail campaigns lies in the attention they get at the corporate level. Many BTB organizations do not invest enough of their budget or talent in managing and analyzing e-mail campaigns comprehensively. It is our experience that responsibility of managing content for the company’s e-mail newsletter, which has become an important vehicle of choice for developing a dialogue with prospects and customers, often is identified as an administrative function and not as a function of brand management.

Often, one of the biggest hurdles to producing the e-mail newsletter becomes obtaining enough information to develop relevant content in a timely fashion.

Because organizations perceive e-mail as being quick and easy, many set unrealistic deadlines for themselves. And in several cases we’ve seen, because understanding of the true potential of e-mail communications is lacking, internal support is difficult to find. Without appropriate support, many e-mail communications strategies do not meet expectations.

And, failing to achieve immediate success with their e-mail programs, we have seen that many BTB marketers focus too narrowly on improving the things that are easiest to measure, such as click-through rates and opens.

These metrics, used successfully by many BTB marketers, usually lead to program modifications that rely on the tried-and-true troika of direct marketing: list, offer and creative. Though these are important factors in any e-mail program, the ease with which these factors can be measured often causes managers of the campaigns to lose sight of a much larger picture.

Marketers need to remember that e-mail can be extremely effective for analyzing and refining messaging strategies. When viewed strictly as a communications vehicle, it should be understood that e-mail has strengths and weaknesses as with any other medium. But when viewed as an enabling technology for integrated marketing communications as a whole, it has few rivals.

The greatest benefit of e-mail marketing is its unmatched ability to analyze how customers interact with your brand. By building a strategy for understanding these interactions, marketers can identify opportunities to build brand value and increase message effectiveness.

Many e-mail marketers have the ability to continually refine their customer and prospect information to gain an increasingly detailed view of their target universe, and to parcel that universe in numerous ways to try to boost the effectiveness of their future e-mail strategies. And whatever messaging strategies are implemented to improve e-mail communications should be considered and implemented, as appropriate, for other vehicles.

In his book “Permission Marketing,” Seth Godin explains that permission marketing is a successful form of communication because it is anticipated, personal and relevant. It stands to reason that e-mail is the ideal vehicle for delivering messages that are anticipated and personal. But what about relevant? Given its propensity toward tracking and analysis, e-mail has rapidly evolved from a vehicle to nurture existing relationships to an effective means to understand how customers and prospects interact with your brand.

With a solid strategy for using e-mail marketing to continually analyze interactions between your customers/prospects and your brand, relevance becomes a messaging feature that transcends the medium. One effective way to keep all of your marketing communications relevant to multiple audiences is to maintain a constant feedback loop with prospects and customers via e-mail. Another is to transfer the knowledge you gain to other media.

Transfer of knowledge from e-mail to other media will grow increasingly important as the proliferation of e-mail marketing continues to rise and its effectiveness as a vehicle for delivering brand messages continues to decline.

In its recent report, “Marketing & Branding Forecast: Online Advertising & E-Mail Marketing Through 2007,” Jupiter Research concluded that “consumers have learned to deal with spam the same way as junk mail: they delete it before reading the messages they actually want to read.”

With the eventual decreasing effect of e-mail and the negative associations with spam, BTB e-mail marketers should be reluctant to employ the medium for mass marketing for fear of losing the prospective or existing customer before they even have the chance to communicate with them.

Traditional forms of communications will need to leverage the knowledge gained through e-mail marketing to stay relevant to its audiences, and e-mail will need to rely on traditional marketing communication vehicles to continually attract enough new prospects. A symbiotic relationship between the old and new mediums will be needed.

Instead of focusing on click-through and open rates, sophisticated marketers will use e-mail campaigns to analyze interactions with their brands. Information learned through e-mail marketing will be applied to improve integrated marketing communications as a whole.

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