E-mail Evolution: Marketers must embrace 'more human' characteristics of social media

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Miami Beach, Fla.—Email isn't dead but it is broken, said video blogger and entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk, the featured keynote speaker earlier this week at the Direct Marketing Association's E-mail Evolution Conference..

The culprit, Vaynerchuk said, is an e-mail industry that is too self-referential, focusing on brands and promotional offers instead of the interpersonal, “more human” characteristics of social media.

“I am firmly convinced that nobody in this room cares about their customers enough,” Vaynerchuk said, to an overflowing audience of about 500 e-mail marketers and exhibitors. “All we're doing is pounding people' faces. We're talking too much. In the ecosystem we live in now, based on word-of-mouth, the currency is trust, appreciation and humanization.”

Vaynerchuk, who hosts the Wine Library TV blog and runs a large wine-retailing business, said his extensive e-mail list averages 97 opt-outs a day. Three months ago, he said, he instituted a program of telephoning every person who opts out, to try to re-engage them.

“We underestimate humans,” he said. “To me, when something comes from the heart, it changes the entire relationship.”

Vaynerchuk was introduced by DMA CEO Larry Kimmel, who agreed that e-mail faces a number of challenges, chief among them increasing volume cluttering inboxes as well as declining open and click-through rates. And e-mail still isn't sufficiently integrated with social and mobile marketing, he said.

“But the core of all social networking sites is e-mail,” Kimmel said. “We love social, but very few people on the planet know how to quantify and monetize it. E-mail provides a wealth of answers for customers and marketers. As we get good at personalization, e-mail can cut through the clutter.”

Prior to the keynote, Loren McDonald, VP-industry relations with online marketing company Silverpop, was named the winner of the first Stefan Pollard Marketer of the Year Award, sponsored by DMA's Email Experience Council.

Pollard was a senior strategic consultant at e-mail marketing company Responsys, who died last year. The award recognized McDonald for his creativity and contributions to the e-mail marketing industry.

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