Evolution of e-marketing: moving beyond spam to effective online advertising

Many experts say that e-mail marketing is dying, but is that really true?

Not according to Don Pickering, founder and CEO of Seattle-based MemeticSystems.com. Memetic is an enterprise level e-mail-based promotions and marketing firm that uses client gathered customer data to create very personalized and custom e-mail message that are driving results through being timely and relevant e-mails.

Don spent a few minutes taking a look at what opportunities still exist for e-mail marketing in the face of increased delivery interference on the part of spam and filters.

Q: The whole concept of e-mail marketing over the past couple years has been shunned and a little bit dismissed as not as effective because of spam. Why don’t you run through some of the tools your company is making available to help make e-mail marketing effective again?

Pickering: Initially when e-mail marketing became popular in the late 1990’s, people were really excited because of the low relative costs in sending millions of e-mails for a small amount of money, certainly as compared to direct mail. It’s not the ultimate blast medium. Sending out a massive campaign or the same e-mail to millions of people is not going to give the types of response you want as a marketer. What people have learned over the last several years is how to use technology for more refined targeting and one-to-one marketing for their campaign. That helps to increase response rates and reduce people opting out the permission-based e-mail relationships. E-mail today, when you’re e-mailing in a targeted format, can actually draw much higher results as compared to broadcasting or even direct mail campaigns.

Q: Let’s talk about the process to go through and how you coalesce the information to create a message for one of your customers.

Pickering: The first thing we do is compile customer information that companies might already have. This might include transaction history or information that might be inside a customer relationship management system. Then, through the course of campaigning or forms on Web sites, we add to that additional information we glean from customers. We really try to organize our efforts around detailed customer information. Once we have that information in a centralized database, we can segment and target customers based on attributes or affinities. For example, if an outdoor retailer is sending the general broadcast e-mail to their customers, they may be sending a picnic basket promotion to a mountain climber, or sending in the ice climbing ax promotion to somebody who wants to go hiking with their kids. Ultimately, people in a business like that can be segmented based on sports affinity—the types of activities and sports they like to engage in —or brand affinity—certain products or companies they like or have a history purchasing from. It’s just one level of segmentation that can increase response rates by 100 percent. We help to aggregate the information, perform the segmentation and then actually organize e-mail programs so that you can intersect people’s interests with promotions or content or offers that match their interests or needs. When campaigns are deployed, we do all the real-time tracking analysis and reporting, and then make suggestions for further refinement or improvement of the campaign.

Q: Has spam made it more difficult for you to get your e-mails delivered and read by customers? A lot of ISPs are running more substantial filters that block e-mails.

Pickering: Spam is an issue for several reasons. The most significant is just the noise you have to get through in customers’ in-box in order for them to read your e-mail. The second issue is around deliverability. ISPs are actively working to block spam and occasionally a legitimate marketer’s e-mail gets blocked. We do a lot of work around deliverability, ensuring our e-mails get through to customers. We do this through active white listing, where we work with the AOL’s and the Earthlink’s of the world to make sure they know that we are legitimate and that e-mails that come from our IP addresses will pass through.

Q: Where do you see e-mail marketing going over the next few years?

Pickering: I think you’ll see e-mail increasingly become part of the mix of a broad range of marketing efforts. E-mail, in and of itself, is not the end all and be all for marketing. It’s generally a much better tool for retaining or cross-selling existing customers than it is in acquiring new customers. We see increasingly integrated campaigns where you may launch a direct-mail piece, follow up with an e-mail campaign—or vice versa.

I also think you’ll see a much higher level of targeting campaigns. Right now, only a small fraction of companies are using personalized e-mail to reach their audiences.

The other issue that will impact e-mail is spam. Hopefully, there are some great solutions out there to mitigate the spam problem. Then you’ll see a great increase in use of targeted, effective e-mail marketing.

Q: Spam still seems to be accelerating.

Pickering: The one solution I strongly endorse is the concept of a bonded sender program where e-mail marketing companies will have to put up a $15,000 – $20,000 bond that, if they are caught deploying flagrant spam, the bond could be forfeited. If that were put in place, you would see a great deal of spammers leave the business. If you are not bonded, they would be subject to spam filtering and delayed delivery.

Q: What are some tips you can give Webmasters on how to put together a better e-mail marketing campaign?

Pickering: Any touch point you have with the customer, be sure to ask for an e-mail address and permission to send them e-mails. If you don’t have explicit permission, you should not be e-mailing your customers. Secondly, you don’t e-mail them too frequently. No more than once or twice a month—anything more than twice a month is too frequent and you’ll see people opt out. Third, if you e-mail customers a marketing related e-mail, try if you can to have a level of personalization. If not, then keep the message simple and clean and don’t send too many offers or messages in one communication because people will generally get lost in that and not responded at all.

For more conversation with Don Pickering, the full interview is available at http://WebTalkRadio.com.

Dana Greenlee is co-host/producer of the WebTalkGuys Radio Show, a Tacoma-based nationally syndicated radio and webcast show featuring technology news and interviews.