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Stretching the limits of a mature medium

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Electronic mail remains a major component of every marketer's strategy. Say what you will about the potential of new-fangled channels such as video, social media and virtual worlds, e-mail marketing isn't going away. Far from it. While improved filters have helped clear my in-box of unexpected, unnecessary, unwelcome spam, I now confront a thornier problem: picking among the dozens of targeted and relevant messages I receive every day.

Executives I speak with these days are talking less about spam and more about the sheer volume of legitimate messages they receive. My sense is that businesses with our e-mail addresses are getting a bit smarter about the format and frequency of the messages they send us. I suspect this improvement is tied to improved backend CRM and campaign management systems that are, finally, less and less likely to carpet-bomb the entire e-mail list every time there's a new product or service offering.

That's not to say your e-mail campaigns can't be tweaked and improved. That is the goal of our 2007 "E-mail Marketing Insight Guide." Just like our inaugural guide last year, we have the following six sections: Strategy, List Management, Analytics, Deliverability, Integration and Creative. Many of these sections contain vendor lists.

This year, we also added a Multimedia section to cover embedded audio and video. Interestingly, our coverage in this new section (p. 32) uncovers the inconvenient truth that pushing the e-mail envelope with multimedia may have as many disadvantages as advantages.

"The more you load onto an e-mail, the more the marketer needs to be very sure that the recipient wants it," says David Hallerman, a senior analyst at eMarketer.

Another crucial bit of advice is to remain aware of the need for integration of creative and analytics, those metrics that are essential for determining success and helping marketers intelligently adjust their campaigns. This applies to the e-mail effort as well as all other activities.

"This can't remain a standalone, siloed activity, where you're taking an e-mail, and pulling lists and not associating their behavior with the Web site, or with direct mail or with a call center interaction," said Adam Sarner, principal analyst at Gartner Research.

Part of this problem seems to be organizational, not technical. Marketers don't communicate enough with the sales team to capture all the necessary data, said Julie Katz, a researcher at Forrester Research. Large enterprises especially need to coordinate their list management. Opt-out rates among customers who are swamped by e-mail campaigns emanating from different divisions within one organization can still be in the double digits, according to experts.

Last but not least, marketers must remember to fine-tune not only their e-mails but the landing pages those messages often encourage recipients to visit. Discouragingly, a recent survey found that fewer than half of the landing pages repeated the e-mail's call to action.

Ellis Booker is editor of BtoB and BtoB's Media Business. He can be reached at ebooker@crain.com.

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