Next month I’ll be speaking at the Specialty Information Publishers Association (SIPA) 28th Annual Marketing Conference in Miami, leading one a Certification Session on email marketing. For the session I’ve been asked to focus on some of the fundamentals of email marketing, in case email veterans forgot them along the way or are just now coming into email. At first I protested because if I’m not talking about the new new thing it’s because I’m deep in a conversation on the newer new thing. But my friends at SIPA insisted, and I’m glad they did. I’ve spent so much time looking forward in email marketing and strategizing over how it integrates with other channels that it took me a while to find my way back to the fundamentals this week while I’ve been working in my presentation. Which is to say, I’m exactly the audience SIPA is targeting with this session. With so many new developments in email, it’s easy to lose track of the fundamentals. I’m guilty of it myself.
I don’t know if this is what I’m going to talk about at #SIPAMiami, but it’s at least the framework from which I’ll build my presentation. Here are some of the email fundamentals that are easy to forget, but critical to revisit from time to time:
1. Email is Earned Media: Earned Media is a term that came into vogue with the advent of social media. What it means is that it is media where audience attention cannot be bought or co-opted, but must instead be given by the audience. I’ve said as much here in the past by pointing out that both email and social are permission-based channels. It’s an important fundamental to remember for its converse: earned media can also be taken away. If I had to give advice in an elevator to an email marketer, it would be to always balance the business objectives that email is supporting with the interests and environment of your subscribers. If it’s a really short elevator ride, I would distill it into a single word: empathy.
2. Success Metrics is plural: It’s very easy to get hung up on a specific metric when trying to determine if your email is working. Deliverability is important because it all starts there – messages that are not delivered cannot drive results. Open rate matters because it shows expectation and anticipation and is the first step in engagement. Click rate is critical because we are trying to drive action after all, aren’t we? Unsubscribes – OK, we usually ignore those because it’s unpleasant to think about. But they’re important too. They’re all important. Focusing too much on moving the needle on a single metric can compromise an email program. Employ clever parlor tricks to boost open rate and your click rate will drop if the content inside isn’t telegraphed well in the subject line. If clicks get all your attention then you may be focusing too much on what you want, instead of what your subscribers need. And if all you think about is deliverability, you may not be putting enough energy into engagement metrics. For all its tactics, email marketing is still a big picture discipline, and has to be evaluated from a broad perspective, not narrow.
3. Lists don’t grow themselves: You probably get some unsubscribes and hard bounces with every send, so your list wears down over time. If your objective is to simply break even with your list size, you need to find some way of finding, qualifying and adding new subscribers. But you don’t want to break even, do you? What is appealing about email is that the energy you put into a message for 1,000 subscribers is the same energy needed to mail to 100,000. So we’d always like a larger list to defray our resources and boost overall response. Acquisition becomes really important, yet is one of the most neglected fundamentals in email marketing. It shouldn’t be.
4. Effectiveness matters more than ROI: Marketers tout the ROI of email marketing, but that metric is a bit of a red herring. The relative expense of other media compared to search advertising, print, direct mail, radio or TV is so low that ROI can’t help but be outstanding in comparison. But if your objective is to get 1,000 people to your conference, a cost-per-attendee from email of $.50 compared to $4 in search is not worth crowing about if you only sign up 37 attendees through email. Keep your eye on the prize. Your goal is not for email to work efficiently – it’s to be effective.
5. Email is an asset, not a tool: The fundamental difference being that a tool is something you use, and an asset is something of value you want to hold onto. The act of sending an email is very tactical, but managing an email program well is a highly strategic endeavor, requiring a long view. If you think of your email program as asset, it will be easier to focus on preserving – even increasing – its value over time. Sometimes you need to draw against an asset, but we need to be equally concerned with replenishing it. That means finding the right content balance, continuing to recruit new subscribers, segmenting messages so that you’re remaining relevant, even creating new newsletters and content channels to better serve niches within your subscriber base. It requires being proactive and devoting resources to do more than just send the email out, but it is essential for preserving the long-term health of your email program.