Balancing need to send with need to suspend

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A conundrum for e-mail marketers these days involves balancing two competing agendas: The desire to use e-mail, which remains a huge component of their online marketing strategies, and a wish to respect their customers and not exacerbate what has come to be called "e-mail fatigue."

As the lead story in this year's guide makes clear ("How to fight e-mail fatigue"), marketers that indiscriminately swamp their audiences with e-mail risk harming more than their open rates. These messages can prompt unsubscribes or, even worse, cause marketers to be added to personal or corporate spam lists.

How to analyze a campaign's performance and avoid mistakes with its e-mail element is a major theme in our 2008 "E-mail Marketer Insight Guide." Inside you will find the following six sections: Strategy, List Management, Analytics, Deliverability, Integration and Multimedia. Many of these sections contain vendor lists as well as charts from research company eMarketer.

Despite all the sophistication and segmentation, the discussion of e-mail fatigue is never far away.

"With the overwhelming sentiment that the customer is in charge of the brand, we've got to build a new level of responsiveness and responsibility into our e-mail program if we are going to maintain a positive outlook from our customers and prospects," says Brian Ellefritz, senior manager-global direct marketing at Cisco Systems. Ellefritz, one of a group of e-mail experts in our roundtable "E-mail marketers grapple with reach, relevance," goes on to say that creating this new level of rigor will be expensive and difficult to manage but ultimately worth it. "[I]t's also a huge opportunity because the people that get this right will have new opportunities to talk to their customers."

According to Economist Intelligence Unit and its "The Digital Company 2012: How Technology Will Empower the Customer," e-mail will see a decline in how companies worldwide interact with customers from 93% in 2008 to 87% in 2013. By comparison, the June study, which was commissioned by AT&T, PricewaterhouseCoopers, SAP and others, forecasts proportionally big increases in the adoption of mobile data (16%), videoconferencing (33%) and Web meetings (40%).

A particularly fast-growing, alternative communication channel is mobile. For some excellent advice on how best to use this tactic, review the tips in "So, can you read me now?" (page 26).

Like mobile, the phenomenal growth in social media is requiring marketers to integrate new platforms into their e-mail programs. In fact, social media and e-mail are beautifully complementary. In other words, social media domains often rely on e-mail, if only as an alert mechanism.

"These [sites] need a "push" element to keep followers or members updated," said Aaron Kahlow, founder and chairman of Online Marketing Summit. "While RSS is still evolving, nine times out of 10 e-mail is the preferred messaging choice."

I agree. But it's clear to me that the role and look of e-mail is changing because of social media and mobile devices.

This evolution can be summed up, I think, with the adage "less is more." Text- and image-heavy e-mail newsletters don't get much attention when they arrive in my inbox. Rather, pithy headlines that encourage me to visit a landing page (where, as we know, behavioral targeting can further tailor the messaging to me and where my activities can be analyzed before the next e-mail is launched my way) are the name of the game. This approach makes all the more sense if, as is often the case, I'm reading my e-mail on a relatively tiny, mobile screen.

Ellis Booker is editor of BtoB and BtoB's Media Business. He can be reached at [email protected].

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