Email Marketing: Avoid the pitfalls of a direct-mail mindset
New technology is always bewildering. We get a newfangled tool. We play with it. We relate it to other stuff. We try to understand it.
The problem is that new technology is new. You can relate it to older stuff at first, but you have to move on. Thinking about it in old ways can hold you back.
Take email marketing, for example. Companies used it as a digital form of direct mail for years. We now know email is not direct mail, but some companies continue reliving the past. Here are a few examples:
Sending unsolicited email (spam)
Companies brought this tactic to email marketing, and we gave it a new name: spam. Under the CAN-SPAM Act, it is legal to send unsolicited commercial emails in U.S. But, just because something is legal does not make it a good idea (it is illegal in Canada and the EU).
When you send an unsolicited email, the person does not toss it into a recycling bin at the post office. Sure, they can delete it. They can ignore it. But they can also report it as junk to their ISP or webmail provider. All they have to do is click “junk” and a complaint is registered.
This complaint is a strike against your reputation as a sender. If you get too many strikes, your delivery rate will drop and more of your emails will land in the junk box. This is like having the post office preemptively throw your direct mail in the trash to save customers the trouble.
Some companies get results from renting lists and sending unsolicited email, which is why billions of spam emails are sent every day. However, in my eyes, this is a carry-over from the direct mail world, and it’s not a good way to build an effective email program.
Avoiding email segmentation
In direct mail, segmentation is used to keep costs down. Rather than paying to print and mail 100,000 postcards, marketers will identify a segment of the list that is more likely to respond. They might mail 50,000 people and get a similar number of responses at a significantly lower cost.
When email came along, direct mail marketers saw a bonanza. An email cost less than a penny to send. Companies stopped seeing the point in segmentation. They thought, “Why not grab every address we can get our hands on? We’ll email everyone in every campaign. It will cost less than a cup of coffee!”
And, spam surged into the market. ISPs and webmail providers fought to give customers a better service. They filtered billions of unwanted emails from the handfuls of wanted ones. They started tracking sender reputations, making sure to punish companies that routinely sent unwanted email.
Then, the email marketers came around. They realized they had a reputation to maintain. They started segmenting. They removed irrelevant contacts from their campaigns. They spoke directly to each segment to increase response and cut spam complaints. Suddenly, email was no longer direct mail.
So keep this in mind: email segmentation is not direct mail segmentation. The point is not to save money on printing and postage. The point is to maintain your sender reputation, improve relevance, and keep response rates high.
The next tool will be new
Discovering how a new technology should be used is hard. Marketers took at least a couple years to figure out social media. We’re still working on mobile marketing. And, there’s bound to be something new around the corner.
When the next great tool comes down the pike, remember the assumptions companies held onto when email came to life. Those assumptions might help you get your feet wet, but you’ll find your feet stuck in cement if you hold them for too long.