April 22, 2009

E-Mail Marketing: At An Inflection Point

This week, I read a blog post where an e-mail marketing proponent was relaying a Twitter conversation with others on the blog, in chronological order. One might think that the e-mail community might use e-mail for communication instead of Twitter, if e-mail is as valuable as we're told.

Today, I visited the homepage of a very popular e-mail marketing service. On the homepage alone, there are four references to blog posts, one to subscribe to a podcast, one to download a white paper, one to a message board, one to press releases, one to "resources", two opportunities to subscribe to content via RSS, and one to subscribe via e-mail.

Wouldn't it make sense for the e-mail marketing vendor to create a double-opt-in, permission-based list of eager B2B subscribers who love to learn about e-mail marketing? Why defer to RSS?

E-Mail marketing is at a major inflection point. The micro-channel is being seriously cannibalized by social media. Seriously cannibalized. Conversations have moved from e-mail to Twitter and Facebook.

And when conversations move, marketers follow.

E-Mail vendors might blame e-mail marketers for any perceived failures in e-mail marketing. And that's probably a fair assessment. Here is every subject line from every e-mail marketing message I received from one brand in just the past twenty-three days.
  • Free Shipping Ends Today.
  • 25% Off And Free Shipping.
  • 25% Off Ends At Midnight.
  • Free Shipping And $10 Off.
  • Free Shipping And $10 Off.
  • $10 Off And Free Shipping.
  • Today Only, 25% Off And Free Shipping.
  • Last Day For Free Shipping.
  • Today Only, 20% Off.
  • Free Shipping On Everything.
  • Free Shipping, No Minimum.
  • Free Shipping On Everything.
  • 20% Off Sitewide, One Day Only.
  • Free Shipping, One More Day.
  • Last Day, Free Shipping.
  • First Time Ever, Save 30%.
  • 30% Off, Exceptional Savings.
  • 30% Off Sitewide.
  • 30% Off, Three Days Left.
  • Reminder, 30% Off.
  • Ends Today, 30% Off.
  • 6 Hours Left, 30% Off.
  • Free Shipping On Everything.
  • Free Shipping On Everything.
Honestly, there's nothing wrong with that strategy, especially if your target customer is a discount/promo loving brand advocate who signed up for a daily promo-based message.

But we are at a serious inflection point. E-mail is going to be one of a very small number of ways that a marketer can push a permission-based message to a customer ... so for marketers, this is an incredibly valuable tool. It just seems like something is going to change, and our industry is going to need some leadership to navigate the discount/promo side of e-mail marketing and the serious cannibalization that is happening due to social media. I wish I had the answers, I don't. All I know is that my Multichannel Forensics work indicates that e-mail marketing has significant value as a bridge between older channels and emerging channels, so I care about the craft of e-mail marketing.

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