October 02, 2008

E-Mail Marketing Gone Wild, Part 2

Ok, I corked-off plenty of you while ranting about e-mail marketing yesterday.

First, I fully understand the concept of offering discounts and promotions in the spirit of moving excess merchandise. So if your business is down 20% to last year, and you have no options for clearing excess product, I get why you have to go down this path. I also understand if you are trying to keep the customer file afloat so that there is file strength for next year.

But those are tactics in response to sluggish business.

Go look at Chad's subjectivity scanner, especially during the first half of 2007, a period not impacted by a sluggish economy. You'll consistently see 40% or 50% of messages focused on paying the customer money in exchange for a purchase. The strategy behind the channel is fundamentally broken. Why is the customer with broadband access in San Francisco worthy of a discount because she gave an e-mail address to you, while the customer in Vermont who orders over the telephone has to pay more when she gives you her telephone number?

Now, my wife just said, "why are you ranting when you should be offering solutions?" Point well taken.

What is the purpose of your e-mail marketing program? If the purpose is to facilitate low-profit purchases from customers craving discounts and promotions, then have at it. But clearly articulate your strategy to management.

Is the purpose to communicate a marketing story? If so, then do you care if the customer ever buys from your e-mail marketing program? Simply communicate the story, and measure if the sales are made up for in other channels. And if the sales are not made up in other channels, do you care? Do you quantify the impact of all of the copy you write for products online?

Is the purpose to drive the customer to the website? Then find the creative presentation that is most effective at driving customers online, and let the website convert the customer.

Is the purpose to communicate authority on key items? If so, then communicate your authority --- but you don't have to give promotions to accomplish this.

Is the purpose of e-mail marketing to clear excess inventory? If so, that is fine, go ahead and feature overstocked items at remarkable prices, and build an e-mail file that craves these opportunities. Be consistent, and communicate this strategy.

But if the purpose of e-mail marketing is to have e-mail marketing be part of an integrated multichannel marketing strategy, then listen to the pundits --- all promotions and discounts are offered in all channels at the same time --- build a congruent customer file that will respond in all channels.

The purpose here is not to belittle you. The purpose is to get all of us to view our channels strategically, and to optimize each channel based on what each channel is best at. I do not believe that the e-mail marketing channel is best served as the place where the customer gets to buy merchandise and not generate significant profit for the company.

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