Second-class status for a first-class channel

The e-mail industry has changed a lot in the seven years since we started Return Path. And the past few years have been the most exciting in many ways. As the spam problem becomes more manageable, e-mail has enjoyed a renaissance, both from the marketer and the consumer’s view.

So it surprises me that so many companies still don’t take e-mail as seriously as other direct marketing strategies. Too often, e-mail is relegated to a junior staffer who may lack the experience to take advantage of the medium. This lack of seriousness takes a few forms:

Giving e-mail second-class design status. Many firms have gotten the message about integrated marketing. Yet this often means designing for every other medium, then shoehorning that design into an e-mail template. E-mail has unique uses and challenges. Reusing designs from your Web site or, worse, your direct mail or print ads, rarely yields an e-mail that is optimized for response. Would you run the audio track to your television ad on the radio?

Optimizing landing pages for everything but e-mail. Many organizations treat the site and e-mail as separate, handled by different people who may or may not work together. This can produce a disjointed customer experience where a link in an e-mail goes to an unexpected page on the site.

Also, many landing pages are optimized for search visitors without considering the experience of e-mail customers. Would you have call center reps answer the telephone by saying “Hola!” when they could say “Thanks for calling about the product you just saw advertised on CNBC”?

Giving lip service to testing. The feedback you can get from an e-mail campaign is a direct marketer’s dream. It’s quick, and you generally can feel confident in the results from a relatively small sample.

Yet shockingly few marketers have an organized, iterative and ongoing testing program for e-mail. At most, they do the occasional A/B split on a subject line before rolling out a campaign. This doesn’t even scratch the surface of what is possible from a disciplined testing approach.

Focusing on content versus reputation for deliverability. Too many e-mail marketers tie themselves in knots over the word “free” in their subject lines. Spam words are not the primary mechanism by which Internet service providers make blocking decisions. Return Path research has found that the sender’s reputation accounts for blocking 83 percent of the time. Managing your reputation is a big job, and it has long-term implications.

Checking e-mail content for spam words is certainly necessary, but is an easy tactical measure that addresses only a small part of delivery failures.

E-mail is an important strategy for anyone involved with marketing. Take it seriously by focusing on high-level activities, getting executive involvement and rewarding employees on metrics that support the program.

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