Digital Marketing Guide: E-mail

Still a Powerful Digital Marketing Tool, When Done Right

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Questions Answered
Do people really use e-mail anymore? I mean, isn't everyone talking to each other on Twitter and Facebook?

Hold your horses, you emerging-media fanboy. E-mail may seem like a digital-media relic, but it is still hugely important. In fact, ask Barack Obama's campaign team what its biggest digital asset was: its invaluable e-mail list. Even among the kids, it's still huge. According to Pew Internet & American Life Project, 74% of teens use e-mail (although that is down from 89% in 2004). As Jayson Elliot, director of user experience at Wunderman, said, "E-mail is a direct, one-to-one communication medium and should be treated as such. Social media means people communicating with one another ... in a digital fashion, and e-mail is the original social media."

What is the biggest myth/misperception about e-mail marketing?

E-mail has had a public-relations problem from Day One, so it's no surprise that there are several. The biggest: that it doesn't work, and that consumers view e-mail marketing as spam and simply delete it from their inbox.

How do you keep consumers from deleting e-mail pitches?

While it may be fairly obvious, it's still probably the most important thing and one that some marketers still inexplicably ignore: Make sure you're sending them something they want and the recipient is someone who has opted in.

"The consumer's inbox is the most competitive piece of digital real estate out there, and you really need to make sure you are providing the consumer a value and a value proposition in that," said David Greenbaum, director of digital at Euro RSCG Chicago.

Conducting trigger-based campaigns is another tack a marketer can take. "We look at what customers are doing that can trigger a communication from our client," said Andy Frawley, president of digital solutions at Epsilon. Mr. Frawley said an effective e-mail campaign usually calls for at least two or three messages to be sent in order to get somebody to open and click through.

What are open rates like and how relevant are they?

Many industry watchers say open rates are staying relatively flat, but the topic of that metric's relevance is more interesting. Some believe open rates are decreasing in importance as a valid metric for success. "The metric is not as powerful or as good a gauge of success as it used to be," said Euro RSCG's Mr. Greenbaum.

The question of open rates should also be framed around whether a marketer is targeting an existing base of customers or running an acquisition campaign. Andrew Goldman, VP-group planning director and solutions lead at Rapp, said open rates for acquisition e-mails are decreasing, while open and engagement rates among internal lists are up. "Global average open rates no longer apply, because there is so much segmentation, targeting and customization," he said.

Talk to me about segmentation and targeting.

Long gone are the days where demographic and channel-based data were the driving forces behind who got which offers. Today agencies are relying on things such as how social consumers are online and the sizes of their friend lists. "Instead of demographic homogenous cohorts to market to, we're finding heterogeneous cohorts who share something passionate and tribal together," he said.

What subject fields work best?

Subject lines are still one of the most critical elements that determine the success of an e-mail pitch. Using the subject line as a tease for what awaits a recipient inside the message can backfire -- badly. Being straightforward about the offer inside is a smart play. "Urgency can drive action," Mr. Greenbaum said. "Shorter subject lines will outperform longer ones, so you want to be clearer and concise in them."

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