Email at the Center

Get a bunch of smart email marketers together and inevitably we start celebrating email as the mother of all online marketing channels. Email was certainly the center of attention at the Email Insiders Summit last week, but what really struck me in my conversations there (and since) is how being at the center doesn’t mean email is in a vacuum.

As the Program Chair of the event, I was able to speak at length with our keynote speakers and many of the panelists. We all talked openly about how in some ways email has let us down. It’s not the interactive customer dialog medium we hoped for, and it’s harder than ever to break through the clutter. Even getting delivered to the inbox is more complicated.

Yet, email marketers really embrace that email is most successful when it’s more than just a message blast. Retailers shared their strategies for integrating with catalogs and in-store promotions. Publishers talked about cross-pollination of email newsletters with print, online video and specialty advertiser editions that are designed to address specific reader challenges. Everyone talked about landing pages (a welcome conversation!). And eight of us rallied over dinner one night to debate the impact of RSS and mobile – and shared ideas on how alternate delivery methods actually build the value of the central email program.

Especially gratifying for me was hearing how email marketers are more than ever willing to cede some control to the subscriber. When the subscriber experience is optimized, then revenue follows. That is a hard credo to follow when the CFO is breathing down your neck and demanding additional sales. It’s easy to just send more campaigns and churn the file. But this subscriber centric approach is the only long term strategy that builds the channel. Finally, I heard this past week that some marketers have turned the corner to become true advocates for subscribers.

I look forward to expanding on these insights as we work with Return Path clients and the industry into 2007. And in the meantime, it’s good to know that the burden of email ROI is shared among a cadre of marketing techniques. Being the center of attention is only good if there is a partnership of support around you.

By the way, lots of smart email marketing folks have been writing up their thoughts on the Email Insiders Summit. Be sure to check out posts by Bill Nussey at SilverPop, Bill McCloskey on Mediapost and Dylan Boyd on the Email Wars.

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