Integration a powerful tool

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If marketers have learned anything in the past few years, it's that e-mail comes closest to realizing its potential when it's integrated with messaging in other marketing channels. It also works best when combined with systems that inform future marketing decisions, such as Web analytics, content management and CRM systems. Such integration, however, is proving difficult for marketers to achieve.

"It's about having all your campaigns speak to each other, not just by using the same logo or the same creative but in terms of message," said Shannon Delaney, director of client services at SpunLogic, an interactive marketing and technology agency. "It's really about what you're trying to say and bringing that home through all the different channels—with e-mail being a part of that."

An integrated message across all channels makes a marketer's efforts that much more powerful, Delaney said.

"If you're a marketer looking at it from that level," she said, "and you're really trying to figure out how to leverage all of your channels to tell the same story, and really integrate what you're trying to do, I think you're getting a lot more punch in your message as opposed to saying, 'I've got to get this e-mail out. What can I say this month?' "

E-mail marketing doesn't have much value when it's not integrated with other efforts and analytics, said Adam Sarner, principal analyst at Gartner Research.

"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," he said. "Understanding where e-mail is best placed within a buying process to get you to the transaction at the end of it, that's where the connection needs to be made."

Sarner said integrating e-mail campaigns with Web site analytics will be key to this effort (see Analytics section, page 22).

Content is one area in which marketers are having difficulty integrating e-mail with other marketing systems, according to a report released last month by JupiterResearch.

"Moving forward, it's really going to be about having those content repositories integrated into the various transactional marketing systems—whether that's an outbound e-mail system that's talking to an e-mail client or to a mobile client—or in other formats as well," said David Daniels, VP-research director at JupiterResearch and lead author of the report, which was conducted with ClickZ and was based on an online survey of more than 600 e-mail marketers.

"There are a number of e-mail marketers that are now beginning to coordinate what they're doing in the offline channel with their e-mail. But there are a number of challenges right now just in terms of the production process," Daniels said.

The survey found that 46% of e-mail marketers currently upload content manually into e-mail applications, while 24% manually create content within e-mail applications. An additional 10% send e-mail with content attachments to an e-mail service provider or agency.

"Those types of manual initiatives certainly increase cost, and it's one of the top challenges that we find when we're talking to marketers regarding why they are not doing more targeting or dynamic content," Daniels said. "It really gets down to having enough staff to develop those multiple permutations or just to navigate the current processes.

"The optimal arrangement going forward would be to have those applications truly integrated into the internal content management systems."

Marketers can also see significant benefits when their e-mail programs are integrated into CRM systems. A company with multiple business units, for instance, could analyze which offers its customers respond to most frequently, then prioritize communications accordingly, thus avoiding a situation where a customer is bombarded with numerous e-mails from different parts of the marketer's business.

"It's not that the technology isn't there," said Morgan Stewart, director of strategic services at ExactTarget, a provider of e-mail marketing solutions. "It's a matter of proving, 'Hey, we can make more money in the long run if we act with more restraint,' which becomes a political battle."

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