When marketing becomes spam

Marketing via email can often be a cheap and effective way of building brand awareness, driving traffic to a site and even selling online. Yes, that’s right, selling things.

The problem is, though, how do you make sure that your message stays on brand and isn’t lumped in with the various unenticing offers to ‘make your business explode’, or pornographic sites or services?

Elsa Weill asked the UK-Net Marketing list, “I’m currently looking into email marketers and am therefore wondering where ‘email marketing‘ ends and ‘email spamming‘ begins. What are your feelings about such email offerings – are they a good thing or a bad thing for the new media industry? All your thoughts are welcome.”

Andrew Petherick replied, “I can answer this one. Spain is effectively unsolicited mail where the recipient hasn’t requested the email the he or she is receiving; it’s even illegal in many places.

“Next up the ladder comes opt-out, where the recipient has decided to tick a box to say that they would like to be sent emails in the future about that company’s services and products. Giving permission here will sometimes allow that company to pass their email address on to other marketing companies.

“Finally comes permission based email, where a person will specifically ask to receive email on a certain subject until they no longer want it They then remove themselves from the list. With the opt-in method, the consumer is given 100% control of the mail received and the marketer will achieve extremely high response rates (up to 15%).”

Ashley Pomeroy shared his thoughts on the specific makeup of spam. “Although technically spam is any mail that’s repeated over and over again, I think that dullness is the crucial signifier of true spam.

“Dull stuff is marketing, semi-interesting stuff (porn, pyramid schemes, ‘Help Save the Brazilian Rainforests’ and ‘Beware of Good Times’) is spam. I think people assume that ‘multi-level marketing‘ schemes, anything which has ‘THIS IS PERFECTLY LEGAL!‘ in the second line, and adverts for Horny Belinda’s Web-Cam are spam, although amusing to read. I delete this and add the sender to my procmail filter. I don’t know why they bother — perhaps it’s satire.

“A standard dull ‘Hello and welcome to the N newsletter — with lots and lots of promotional guff, plus a competition ‘email would be marketing.

“Does anyone jump for glee when they receive a mail from a company with ‘Dear [client-name]’ at the top? Do they then feel a wave of good cheer as they read about their opportunity to source and buy professional services and register for FREE!’? I doubt it very much.”

The line between irritating time-wasting spam and effective promotional emails is always going to be a difficult one. And this problem will only be exacerbated as companies try new marketing techniques in order to make their email marketing more effective.

Email marketing: people’s email inboxes are bulging these days

Sometimes simplicity really does work. Take email marketing, a form of new media marketing that has been around since the earliest days of the Internet. While banner adverts may be in one day and out the next, email has enjoyed a remarkable run as one of the most reliable and effective online marketing tools.

Its success, say supporters, is down to its cost-efficient and speedy delivery, especially compared to direct mail campaigns. Moreover, email marketing can enjoy response rates as high as direct mail or telephone marketing, but as its cost per message is significantly lower, it can have a disproportionately higher return on investment (ROI).

“Where it gets exciting from a strategic perspective is if you can service half your customer base at 2p to 3p per email, rather than 30p or 40p for each direct mail pack,” says David Hughes, client services director at E-mail Vision. “The implications for reducing costs and increasing ROI are massive.”

Claire Hewson, marketing manager at John Lewis Direct, adds that email’s ability to drive a call to action remains impressive. Recailing a recent John Lewis Direct campaign to drive online shoppers to its online flower shop, she says, “If you’re looking for a short-term campaign to drive traffic and sales, email is a very cost-effective and quick way to do it. We have an in-house design team that can put together an email for us in few days — a fraction of the time it would take to get a printed direct mail-out done. And email has an immediate effect. If we do an email campaign for 500,000 people, for example, we can see our order leveis going up hour by hour.”

The other advantage of email marketing is the ability to meticulously track campaign metrics and produce very detailed analysis from them. On the metrics side, you can measure the open (view) rate, the click-through rate (CTR), the conversion rate, the acquisition rate, the bounce rate and the unsubscribe rate. By doing so, email marketers can analyse the campaigns, perhaps the most crucial aspect of email marketing. They can learn their ROI, their cost per sale (CPS), cost per response (CPR), cost per message (CPM), total revenue generated by the campaign and even the recency, frequency and monetary value (RFM) of customers. “That’s the benefit of email marketing,” says Simone Barratt, UK MD of E-Dialog. “You can analyse campaigns on a level not available in other media.”

Email campaigns are used primarily for acquisition of new customers or clients and their retention.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of acquiring new customers via email is finding a list of names relevant to your campaign’s goals. Barratt says she has seen acquisition rates failing slightly because of the quality of the lists available. “There aren’t that many valid lists around, and those left are being quite heavily used. People are getting fed up with them,” she says.

Lists can vary widely in quality of data, age of the data and cost. But because there’s more competition in the market, more brokers are providing the ability to profile a specific audience. “We can select by level of income, by how many males and females we want to promote to, by what products people have registered an interest in, and so on,” says Hewson. “And the ability to do this is getting better.”

 

With acquisition, it also helps to be smart about when a campaign is conducted. Hewson says John Lewis has found success with seasonal offers. To drive shoppers to its online flower shop, it timed a campaign for just before Valentine’s Day. “We get much better response rates around seasonal events, and particularly as the event approaches,” she says, noting that the emails act as a reminder to recipients.

Once you’ve begun to acquire customers, you can ask them to opt in to more email communication. As you move into retaining customers, personalisation becomes vital, as this makes response rates substantially better than acquisition rates.

To raise them even further, Hughes says marketers need to start gathering as much personal information on recipients as possible. “As you develop a more personal one-to-one relationship with them, it’s then that email marketing becomes more interesting and valuable,” he says. “One size never fits all, and as email marketing becomes more relevant and more appropriate, response rates get better.”

Introduction to email marketing

Using email to reach customers is a very targeted method, but make sure you have their consent and your message is relevant, says Greg Brooks.

Email marketing is one of the mainstays of any online marketer’s armoury. The cost-effectiveness of the medium and its ability to reach a wide audience are often promoted as two of its main benefits. But it’s also easy to run bad email campaigns that can damage your brand. So knowing how to run successful email marketing campaigns is vital to the success of your online marketing strategy.

How to get started

The best place to start your email marketing campaign is to determine what your objectives are. Are you trying to generate new business, inform existing customers, or move customers along the purchase cycle? Your answers will determine everything about your campaign.

When you know what your objective is, you must determine how to get the data that you need to contact your customers. If you’re targeting your existing customer base, it would be wise to start with your own customer data, which you should be building up anyway.

Mark Cripps, head of digital at agency Craik Jones Watson Mitchell Voelkel, has been telling his clients that 2006 is the year of the data farm and that they should be making the most of the contact they have with their existing customers.

Every time someone touches your brand, you must get their email addresses – with permission, of course,” he says. These will be the most valuable to you, he argues, as these customers have already given you permission to contact them.

It’s all about permission,” he adds. “Email is such an intrusive medium that if you don’t have permission, people won’t open messages and you’ll alienate them. You can use third-party lists to supplement your data and piggyback on trusted emails through sponsorship or advertising.

Buying lists

If you wish to launch a large-scale email campaign or tap into a new potential customer segment, then you can buy a third-party list of email addresses to send your campaign to.

Jim Downes, who works at BT Retail in the customer information management division, uses digital and direct media planning/buying agency Zed Media to source third-party lists to supplement the telco’s existing marketing programmes. He says that the best way to ensure your third-party data is from a trusted source is to make sure the supplier is endorsed by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA).

We endorse permission-based marketing,” he says. “You want to get the most consent you possibly can prior to launching your campaign. Stay away from anything that comes from a grey source and go for Direct Marketing Association-registered suppliers only.

Richard Gibson, chair of the email benchmarking hub at the DMA, says that using the Association’s trusted suppliers ensures you won’t risk damaging your brand when buying in a third-party list.

The damage to your brand by using a bad email list will be enormous,” he says. “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Due diligence is key. List suppliers that aren’t registered with the DMA should be avoided.”

Creating your emails

When you’ve decided on your strategy and sourced your data, you need to concern yourself with the format of the emails themselves. This process can be handled in-house if you’re a smaller brand and are launching a small campaign, but more often you’ll need to use either a creative agency, an email service provider (to send the emails), a planning agency, or a mix of all three of these.

Stefanie Schmidt, group account director at DNA, which works with large organisations such as the British Heart Foundation, says that it’s important to give the recipient of the email as much control over it as possible, in order to make the communication more effective.

You can put recipients in control by allowing them to pick the topics and frequency of communication,” she says. “People who more consciously opt in will give you a better database of prospects or existing customers.

She says that email is a medium that allows for quick testing and tweaking, so you can get your messages right. Even if you have relatively little experience in this area, you shouldn’t be afraid of trying things out.

It’s about testing and learning and getting results that inform further strategy,” says Schmidt. “It’s not that scary. There are lots of similarities to direct marketing, which is a good starting point. Consider it as a ‘drive to’ medium that also has other elements.”

Rupert Harrison, list broker at Zed Media, agrees that you have to test as you go along, because you won’t know what works until you try it. He says it can be handled in-house as long as you can match the branding of your other channels to your email communications. But there are also plenty of agencies on hand to help. He also points to free online tools like spamassassin.apache.org, where you can test out the ‘spaminess‘ of your email to ensure it’s not blocked by junk-mail filters.

The benefits of bringing in an agency include the ability to make your email marketing work together with your other marketing channels, using emails to uplift other marketing messages and to create spikes of interest around certain products or at particular times during the year. If you do decide to use an agency, or even a range of agencies, it’s important to include them at the earliest planning stages and to ensure they meet your existing agencies so that you get maximum benefit from your email marketing.

However you decide to proceed, there’s still a lot of work that you can do in-house upfront. Everyone uses email these days, but marketers are often wary about paying for campaigns and trying new things. Try putting yourself in the consumer’s shoes and think about how you interact with emails you get from companies.

Measuring your success

The final component of your email campaign, but one that you should have in place before you start, is the ability to measure its success against whatever objectives you’ve set. BT’s Downes says it’s critical to have a reporting mechanism set up before you launch your campaign.

You want your email channel to show more return on investment than direct marketing channels,” he says. “But it’s valueless unless you can prove that ROI, and that proof can get lost in the ether sometimes.”

Harrison says that by correctly monitoring your email campaign you can tweak it to increase its effectiveness and so ensure you’re getting a good return on investment. “Lots of clients track only click-through rates and not who converts to a sale,” he says. “Have a look at the customer journey to see where the drop-off is. Then you can address the problem.”

However, the DMA’s Gibson says you can get too bogged down in metrics and lose sight of your core aims. “Measure your success against the objectives that you set out,” he says.

Conclusion

The efficiency and effectiveness of your email marketing campaign will be based on solid planning and knowing before you begin what objectives you want to achieve.

Gibson calls it ‘direct marketing 101’ but says that, although email is often considered a more cost-effective and cheaper form of direct marketing, it’s still very difficult to get your message read. “Your customer has an inbox that they guard very carefully and you have to be very clever to stand out,” he says.

Downes agrees that there’s more scope with email marketing to do bigger volumes, but says you still have to contact people who are receptive in the first place. “Keep your communication clear and simple. Email sits in front of people for a shorter time than other ads, so it has to be as brief and punchy as possible.”

If you approach your email marketing with a clear objective and target the right people with the right message at the right time, then it will undoubtedly be a success. But avoid thinking that it’s a simple form of direct marketing just because it’s cost-effective. It’s only as cost- effective as you make it.

How Nike rules the world

In a list recently compiled by the US-based Complex magazine entitled “25 Sneakers You Should Own Before You Die” (click if you are interested in best shoes for plantar fasciitis), ten gym shoe classics by Nike are listed. All the other leading sportswear shoe giants got to have three of their own creations in the list of sneaker joy to die for, at the most. Hardly any other brand is able to so strongly exert its product dictation with modern consumers and their individualism and “anything goes” attitude. Whether it’s Blazer, Free or Dunk, Air Max/Jordan/Yeezy/Safari or one of the other models with the exalted “Air” insert-whatever shoe Nike releases becomes the standard for what to wear. But why is that? What gives the company with the godlike name so much prestige in the market?

It works with the best.

Nike has an uncanny gift when choosing what sports figures to supply with sportswear apparel. Nike signed contracts with both Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods at a time when the two were relatively unknown. The choice of brands with which Nike cooperates seems to be equally well considered. The list of previous collaboration partners includes labels ranging from Stussy and A.P.C. to Levi’s and Liberty London. These brands are fundamentally different in nature- however, their collections with Nike caused a unanimous furor.

It has the best ideas.

The air cushion technology of the Air Max, the springy feel of the Shox, the flexible sole of the Free-all these innovations were both so technically advanced as well as comfortable that they were successful not only among ambitious high performance sporting figures but also in the mainstream urban scene.

It protects itself.

Nike knows how to protect its good ideas. According to a study by the patent attorney Grunecker, between 2000 and 2010 Nike lodged no less than 77% of all patent claims by the five largest sporting goods manufacturers in Europe. As recently as autumn 2012 Nike objected to the marketing of the running shoe Adizero Primeknit” by Adidas in Germany on the grounds that this infringed against the patent on Nike’s “Flyknit Footwear Technology” and succeeded in obtaining a temporary restraining order.

Journalists too feel the effects of Nike’s protectionism. Image material is never available until just before the sales launch of a collection (which is not helpful for early coverage by specialist media) and Nike is also very sparing with interviews. There is only this sentence at the nikeinc.com website: “Nike regrets that we cannot fulfill requests to interview Nike executives or receive advertising, print ads or images.” Couldn’t be stated more clearly.

It acts like the locals.

Nike operates in more than 170 countries worldwide-and appears to be successful in every one of those local markets. This is due to the fact that Nike gives careful consideration to differences between the various consumer cultures-whether by sponsoring the right athletes and sports or by choosing the optimal retail format. While Nike places a strong focus on wholesale in the US, and in 2011 generated about 23% of its US sales through its three largest retail partners, in China it relies more strongly on monobrand stores run by partners. In addition, there are unique formats such as “1948 London,” a space where nothing is sold and instead serves as a showroom for consumers and showcases Nike’s newest high-end products. People may not be able to understand that in Texas City, but in London Shoreditch it sets off fashion pilgrimages.

It remains to be seen whether Nike will also be able to defend its leading position in the next 20 years. Of central significance for the sporting goods giant is confirming its leading position in China, continuing to develop new markets and making a lasting improvement to its tarnished image regarding sustainability and social responsibility. And most importantly, Nike needs to keep the seemingly endless flow of ideas by its creative people flowing. Otherwise, at some point in time it will be: Ticked off.

Email marketing proves solid in uncertain times

While many businesses lock horns with economic uncertainty, we’re seeing email marketing offer a practical and stable means of beating the odds. According to a recent Forrester Research report, ‘State of Retailing Online 2009‘, 89% of marketers say email marketing is a reliable staple for generating leads. It’s maturing as a sustainable revenue contributor and its place in overall strategy has become crucial to meeting business goals. During a recession, email’s proven performance can be a lifesaver to many businesses forced to scale back in other ways.

Email marketing is durable for many reasons: it’s a proven, established online channel; it enables quick speed to market; it’s easy to test and measure; it involves lower overhead than traditional media; and it produces quantifiable results. It therefore continues to hold a top spot in marketer’s purview. While some grapple with cutting spend during tougher economic downturns, savvy marketers will keep their higher-performing, lower-cost programmes running at a steady clip to generate leads and revenue and shift traditional, more expensive brand marketing into a lower gear to maximise return on investment.

Struggling to stay vital in a tough market raises the stakes of any investment. While budgets may be tightened, it’s still critical for email marketers to maintain their long-term programme vision and continue to invest in growth. To help clients avoid pitfalls, we carefully strategise with each to formulate a plan that not only focuses on the basic foundational elements of email programmes, like welcome campaigns and thank you messages, but doesn’t overlook the importance of revenue generation and growth using organic, cost- effective strategies. With consistent revenue generation in mind, it’s important to engage customers early with activation campaigns and incentives embedded in triggered messages. Focusing on simple, scalable tactics like these while conserving in other areas enables long-term viability.

We’re also helping our clients adapt to consumers’ changing communication needs by developing and testing integrated social media and mobile strategies. Email is incredibly complementary to the Web 2.0 world as a driver of traffic to multiple destinations, such as web- based widgets on commerce sites, location-based offers delivered to mobile enthusiasts, and a smartly planned deal-of-the-day message shared on Facebook. To take advantage of the social media trend, marketers should monitor customer’s social media behaviour and dedicate time to learning about technology trends still on the rise. The future is never certain but strategic and innovative email marketing today is what will pay off later. Simple numbers reinforce this advice: Forrester finds email marketing listed as a high priority by 88% of retailers who are using it largely to retain customers, by 71% who plan to send segmented emails to customers based on purchase data and preferences, and by 55% who plan to gather customer feedback.

As we head into 2015, budgets may still be tight but we expect investment in email and multi-channel marketing to grow as marketers continue to focus on top revenue-generating tactics to keep business on course. The high ROI promise of email marketing affords ample opportunity to seize this moment and, when tides shift, marketers will be ready to invest in the next generation of email and interactive channels just around the corner.

Yamaha’s forty years of progress

Best remembered as the year of the Woodstock Music Festival and the first manned mission to the moon, 1969 also marked the U.S. debut of Yamaha guitars. The unveiling of Yamaha guitars lacks the historic significance of the lunar landing, but in the context of the music industry, it was an event of no small significance. For the record, Yamaha guitars also figured at Woodstock, most prominently in Country Joe MacDonald’s now famous “Fish Song.” With a marketable combination of value, proven designs, and consistent quality, Yamaha instruments quickly found a following among top performers including James Taylor, Jeff Beck, Paul Simon, Carlos Santana, and Bruce Springsteen, along with millions of ordinary enthusiasts. Today, the company can boast having one of the best-selling guitar brands worldwide.

The longevity and global success of Yamaha guitars provides compelling testimony to the company’s management skill. Yamaha first began building guitars in a corner of its Hamamatsu, Japan piano plant in 1945. Production was initially limited to classical nylon string guitars, and was directed primarily at consumers who wanted a musical experience but couldn’t afford a piano. By the mid ’50s, as guitar sales ramped up, thanks to the increased popularity of folk music and rock ‘n’ roll, dozens of small guitar makers set up shop around Hamamatsu and Nagoya, Japan. When the Beatles hit in the scene in 1964, these small Japanese producers, with their low cost structure, saw their sales literally explode, and within a few years Japan was the world’s largest guitar manufacturer.

Throughout this boom, Yamaha showed remarkable patience. Genichi Kawakami, who took the reins as president in 1950, was anxious to transform Yamaha into a prestigious, global brand. However, after a 90-day, round-the-world trip in 1953 he put his plans for an aggressive export initiative on temporary hold. In a 1987 Music Trades interview, he recalled, “I came home very disheartened. I realized that our quality was nowhere near good enough for the global market. I decided we would have to improve before we could be successful outside of Japan.” Thus, while other Japanese guitar manufacturers flooded the U.S. and Europe with inexpensive guitars and top overdrive pedals, Yamaha sold only in Japan and invested heavily in refining designs and production methods. In 1963 Yamaha began shipping pianos to the U.S. Only by 1969 did Kawakami conclude that the Yamaha guitar was truly ready for the global stage. From the vantage point of hindsight, this restraint obviously paid off. U.S. consumers’ first experience with Yamaha guitars was a favorable one, which helps explain why Yamaha is one of the few remaining Japanese brands left and enjoys such a commanding presence in the market.

With roots that date back to Antonio Del Torres in the mid 17th century, the guitar can fairly be described as a “mature” product. From a management standpoint, however, Yamaha has approached the instrument as something in need of continuous improvement. Over the past 40 years, the company ceaselessly refined product designs and production methods in pursuit of the ultimate guitar. The first Yamaha guitars were the workmanlike FG series, highly playable, durable steel-string instruments at an irresistible price. In the early ’70s, the FG series was supplanted by the “L” series, which boasted better materials, a wider selection of models, and more graceful cosmetics. The L series won praise from a diverse collection of guitarists running the gamut from George Lynch to Liz Phair. In the ’80s Yamaha further augmented its line with the APX electric-acoustic line. With its proprietary hexaphonic piezo bridge pickup, the APX was tailor-made for the high-volume folk rock music of the time. When it was introduced, studio legend Steve Lukather remarked, “What killed me about it was its true stereo feature. Not fake stereo, real!” The ’70s saw Yamaha enter the electric guitar market with the introduction of the SG series, an exquisitely crafted set-neck model outfitted with twin humbucking pickups. At a time when domestic guitar makers were plagued with quality problems, the SG attracted top players such as Carlos Santana, Bob Marley, Robben Ford, Steve Cropper, and Al McKay of Earth, Wind & Fire.

Although Yamaha enjoys a deep in-house reservoir of marketing, manufacturing, and engineering talent, the company has never hesitated from hiring outsiders to provide specialized expertise. In the ’60s its guitar designs were influenced by Eduardo Ferrer, a noted Spanish luthier. In the late ’70s, the company retained Andres Segovia to help refine a line of classical guitars. Then in 1990, Yamaha Guitar Development was opened in Hollywood California. The workshop initially served to build custom models for artists but quickly evolved into a critically important research and development center.

By the early ’70s as production costs began to increase in Japan, Yamaha shifted most of its guitar production to a newly constructed plant in Taiwan. In response to continuing economic shifts, in 2003 guitar production was established at a gleaming new factory in Hangzhou, China. The new plant boasts the latest in automated manufacturing equipment. Less apparent but equally important is the investment Yamaha has made in employee training. Novice employees are paired with veterans who explain the subtleties of production techniques. Having upwards of 10% of the factory workforce devoted to training rather than production is a heavy direct expense that many manufacturers would probably forego. For Yamaha, however, it’s a necessary step to ensure that Chinese products meet its stringent quality standards.

LEAVING THE MASS MARKET

Yamaha remains as patient and deliberate as ever in managing its guitar division. In a surprise move, last year the company opted to withdraw its guitar line from all mass merchants. In a challenging economy, it’s difficult for any manufacturer to forgo orders. However, John Shalloup, national sales manager of the Pro Audio & Combo division, explained, “Creating low-priced products that diminished the Yamaha reputation for quality was a dead-end for us. We felt it was important to support our m.i. dealers with a product line that wasn’t found in every mass merchant.” Today, management credits the decision to drop mass merchants with expanding Yamaha’s market share.

THE MOST POPULAR GUITAR

Looking to the next 40 years, Dennis Webster, guitar marketing manager states, “There are more Yamaha guitars on this planet than there are from any other manufacturer. This is a testament to the build quality across all lines–from student guitars to professional models for performance and recording. Over the next 40 years, we’re confident that our market share will only increase.”

www.yamaha.com/guitars

Email makes its mark

It’s often the new kids on the block who get the most attention. In digital marketing, that has meant IPTV, podcasting, blogging and community networks. Email has a far more substantial heritage than other forms of digital marketing, though, and is an object lesson in how persistence and innovation can overcome challenges these others have yet to face.

The first email was sent in 1971. Its potential for marketing was recognised early on: in 1978 a company later bought by Hewlett-Packard was attributed with sending the first marketing message by email. It really took off as a means for interpersonal communication around the time of Hotmail‘s arrival, but until now has failed to meet its potential for legitimate marketing.

So why the sudden upsurge in interest? After all, email has been dogged by problems that have impeded its growth. Consumer and therefore client confidence was severely dented by the issue of spam. The first case was allegedly an anti-Vietnam protest distributed to a community of connected researchers in the US.

The content of unwanted email became distinctly more lowbrow and originated from dubious practitioners. Correspondingly, filters became tougher to bypass and click-throughs declined, suggesting responses were in terminal decline. Further, direct marketing budget holders proved slower than their colleagues with an online advertising remit to grasp the potential of the Internet, meaning email lagged its siblings.

Now, however, the tables have turned. In a climate where clients are switching spend to advertising that allows them to target individuals, encourages them to perform an action and measures the response, digital channels are seen to accomplish these tasks more effectively. Opt-in email is transparent, allows geodemographic targeting, can be personalised and can communicate far more than some rival ad formats.

Deliverability issues are being addressed by list owners working more closely with ISPs. Creatives drawn from traditional direct marketing are honing messages and calls to action. Most importantly, perhaps, dedicated agencies are emerging with the requisite DM planning skills, understanding of technology, buying power and knowledge of list performance to build effective campaigns that hit client CPA targets. That’s why email ad spend is surging – I’m working with the IAB’s new Email Marketing Council to calculate by how much.

In adversity, email has grown stronger to the point where both consumers and brands are more prepared than ever to include it as part of the way in which they communicate with each other.

The industry should be doing its best to capitalise on the fact that email is still one of the most popular reasons for people to go online, without alienating them. Marketing communications have to be relevant and timely in order not to be blocked by ever-more sophisticated filters or, if successful in being delivered, not discarded. However, the industry should raise its game still further and indulge in more responsible practices, or risk ISPs taking the initiative with guaranteed delivery schemes like Goodmail that will force more careful targeting and raise costs.

Email has proven staying power and its evolution is promising for consumers and marketers alike. Digital marketing upstarts look out: it’s the tortoise to your hare.

Improve email success by setting (and metting) expectations

When planning your email strategy, two questions should come to mind. What do your internal stakeholders expect from the program? What do your customers expect from your email communications?

First, note that we use the term “email strategy” rather than “email marketing.” That’s because email now spans a broad range of customer communications, including on-boarding, system notifications and operational messages. Yes, and there’s marketing too–newsletters, targeted cross-selling, educational content, sales automation and more. So your customers are receiving multiple messages, probably from different systems in your organization. By setting expectations across the board, you’ll avoid some common pitfalls that can hamper your program’s effectiveness.

Setting expectations with stakeholders

Stakeholders include IT, risk/compliance, e-commerce, marketing, operations and, of course, senior management. Each of these groups has a different worldview and expectation from email. Compliance concerns will differ from those of your lending team, while operations will be scrutinizing integration and data synchronization. Unless you are prepared to build YAS (Yet Another Silo), it’s best to bring stakeholders and their concerns to the table early in your plan. Things to consider include:

* Program goals should be geared to nurturing existing customer relationships and delivering relevant information. Anything you (and your team) can do to generate content and campaigns that are better targeted will improve your program. current email addresses as a key initiative. Reliability and reach pay off dramatically.

* Include a plan to keep your front-line and other key departments informed about campaigns and messages so that they can interact accordingly with customers.

* Avoid the trap of “cold prospecting” via email. Most prospecting emails to rented lists are viewed negatively and this could result in email reputation issues that may affect delivery of other legitimate messages.

Setting expectations with customers

Let customers know what they can expect to receive and how it will benefit them. A common error is to put all communications under a single category, such as a newsletter. While newsletters are a great tool, many of today’s hyper-communicated customers prefer shorter, more focused messages.

That’s where an email preference center helps. By offering customers the choice of what to receive, you help set expectations that lead to greater subscriber engagement and retention. Instead of grouping everything into a single “content track,” consider breaking your program down into multiple topics (small-business tools, wealth management, workshops, for example). This also benefits you in that subscribers can choose what they don’t want, instead of opting out of all your communications. It also identifies those subscribers more likely to respond to certain types of messages.

The preference center is also where you can reinforce the difference between marketing and “operational” messages (e.g., privacy notices, service interruptions, eStatement notices, etc.), which do not require an opt-out and may be sent to those who previously opted out of marketing messages. Here again, this sets important expectations.

In reality, the vast majority of your customers want to receive your email–especially if it meets their expectations. Also keep in mind that email is increasingly becoming a mobile channel, so if your concern is staying in touch with customers on the go, email is part of the solution. Setting (and meeting) expectations goes a long way to retaining subscribers and achieving your goals.