The Email Debate

Recently I came across this headline in the San Francisco Chronicle and it prompted me to read on: "You've Got Too Much Mail." It appears the speed of email adoption around the world is causing both celebration and consternation. I'll admit I am similarly of two minds on the use of email.

Almost two years ago, I started writing an opt-in monthly email newsletter to a group of graphic arts professionals. My goal was (and still is) to share information I get over the transom and glean from readings I think are important to colleagues. The subject matter is usually very specific to the industry, with no more than five brief items.

The e-newsletter list has been growing, and now includes prospects and clients, as well as professional associates. And, much to my delight, I've received positive feedback on the emailings and, better yet, they have brought me business as colleagues forward them to their associates.

I just visited www.thestandard.com to track down an article and found a very convenient "email to a friend" function at the bottom of the page. Obviously, some smart marketer concluded it would be better to let readers forward the entire branded page of an article rather than forcing them to go through the steps of cutting and pasting simple text into their own email. So email can work as a marketing tool. But it can also backfire, doing more damage than good.

The downside

Jupiter communications suggests that marketing-related email messages will increase fortyfold in the next five years and commercial email spending will grow from $164 million in 1999 to $7.3 billion in 2005.

Before we jump on the email bandwagon, though, let's consider all the issuesăpros and consăsurrounding email. There's the privacy question. Just in the last few weeks the government has come under strong attack for the FBI's electronic sleuthing email program, Carnivore. (I don't know who was responsible for naming this program, but s/he should be out of a job!)

A couple of months ago, the nonprofit anti-spam group, Mail Abuse Prevention System (MAPS), sent out warnings to networks that are "friendly, or neutral, to spammers" that they may be put on the Realtime Blackhole List maintained by MAPS. Companies put on the List are unable to send emails to their ISPs, resulting in up to 50% of emails bouncing back.

Then there's the threat of all those email-borne viruses, which many believe will put the kabosh on the idea of email marketing. It's a persuasive argument, since my company adopted long ago the policy not to open email from unknown parties.

Then, of course, there's the daily hassle of turning on your computer and opening up your email program to find scores of unsolicited messages suggesting you can "work at home and be a millionaire," "win cash grants," and receive a "free gift for responding to this offer."

In short, for all those who think email is the next great marketing medium, there are those who predict a backlash far beyond the junk mail outrage.

The upside

Despite all the dire warnings, however, there's plenty to recommend email as a marketing tool. It's fast, inexpensive and can be easily targeted to niche audiences. According to an article on email marketing in www.targetonline.com, direct e-marketing has the following advantages over traditional (USPS mail) marketing: Response time is 3 hours vs. 3 weeks to 3 months. Per-unit cost is measured in cents vs. dollars. Action is practically effortless, since the recipient can take action with the simple click of their mouse. And feedback to offers and lists comes quickly, allowing marketers to adapt and change strategies as needed.

The most important rule to know about email marketing: You MUST have permission from recipients before sending email. Here are some other recommendations:

  • Know your e-customer/prospect and make sure your message is relevant to him/her.
  • Include short, informative subject lines.
  • Keep the message short, avoiding scroll-downs whenever possible.
  • Don't send attachments.
  • Give recipients an easy way to remove themselves from your list.
  • If you include an offer, make sure your CSR system is up to the task of instantly responding.
  • Include your address and phone number so recipients have other ways of getting in touch with you.

My firm conducts email campaigns for a number of clients, and I expect to increase the use of email marketing clients' annual programs since it can be an efficient way to test lists for lead generation. However, there are some formidable obstacles that impact the success of email marketing.

Opt-in, or permission-based, lists as opposed to mail databases are hard to come by and often woefully inadequate in terms of depth of information, requiring a greater effort to test their value. But this can be viewed as good news, too, since it demands true one-to-one qualification, which is right in line with our goal to build relationships.

Emails can be sent as simple text or as "rich" emails, which are basically branded emails that include the sending companyĽs logomark as well as a "designed" message. The branding advantages are obvious. The disadvantage is that recipients immediately delete it, thinking of it as an ad rather than information of interest.

Bottom line, e-mail marketing is still in its infancy and, so, remains unpredictable. What may work for one set of recipients might bomb with another. The trick is to stay flexible and tuned into how recipients respond to your emails. Like the relationship marketing mantra, it's one step at a time, one customer at a time.


Charlotte Mills Seligman is president of Traversant Marketing Communications. The firm specializes in planning and executing integrated marketing programs for printing and allied graphic arts companies, with nearly two decades of expertise in the industry. Previous columns and issues of the company's Ti Monthly e-newsletter are posted on http://www.traversant.com. Inquiries should be directed to (415) 357-2929 or charlotte @traversant.com.

© 2000 Charlotte Mills Seligman

July 21, 2000
Print & Graphics
Col#16, 7/00
Printing Journal
Col #16 7/00
Email Marketing
By Charlotte Mills Seligman

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