Our Daily Email Challenges

It’s gorgeous weather (well, except for that nasty, cold snow squall that hit us yesterday afternoon) here in Park City, Utah and the Email Insider Summit is in full swing. Energy is high, especially after the first day of fabulous content that got us all talking and challenging each other. As a programming committee member, I can give huge insider props along with my heartfelt thanks to David Baker of Avenue A Razorfish who put this program together.

Here’s some of what we are all talking about…. and you can read my and others’ blog posts from the event at Mediapost Live. If you are on Twitter, there are a number of us tweeting throughout the event – just search for #eis (my Twitter profile is SAMRPath).

Stephen Geer of Obama for America reminded us all that we have to balance risk and reward when we make deliverability (and revenue opportunity) decisions every day. No question the Obama team reinvented campaigning in the US. Email was a critical component of both communicating the message as well as driving action. For Geer, frequency and complaints went hand in hand. Frequency seemed to win. His answer, “We knew that we could survive a certain amount of churn (fatigue combined with deliverability failures) because of our list growth.”

Same for all of us. How much frequency is too much? Send out that extra blast this week and earn hundreds of thousands in revenue. Lose 100+ subscribers. IS that worth it?

Not surprisingly, deliverability was an ongoing challenge for the campaign, Geer said. With the rapid growth of the file, they had to add new servers, manage list hygiene, watch content and list churn. Despite some bad deliverability bumps, he says, “We did the best we could and put the fires out.” He did mention that although rare, any fraudulent misuse of the platform would be passed off to the legal teams. “The responsiveness of the justice department is a lot more rapid when you are running for president,” he quipped.

Geer also fights the same battle we do when trying to ensure email gets its rightful place in the digital marketing mix. When asked why it took so long for email to become a central part of politics, Geer says that “Anything new takes time.” Despite the campaign’s obvious savviness about digital marketing and the use of the social web to build community and empower citizens to action, apparently Geer and his team had to create a new space among the age-old traditions of campaign management. “We were lucky,” he says, “The head of the campaign is very results oriented.”

“We had the mindset that every day we were going to prove our value. We out-athleted everyone.” Geer proved every day that the email team could reach more people, with less investment, for higher return. Thanks to Geer and team for a wonderful and high profile example of what email can do!

Meanwhile, a panel of moms reminded us that time is the greatest currency for subscribers, and especially this audience. “The computer is a time sucker,” one mother said. All the panelists reported that they use the delete button heavily. “First thing I do when I open my email is just delete a bunch of stuff.” One mother said, “I enjoy requesting offers, but then I don’t know what I’m asking for. When I get it every day or every other day. I just deleted them.” Another panelist compared the barrage of messages to her children. “It’s like my inbox is another kid, calling Mom, Mom, Mom. All this noise, it just blends in. I can’t keep up, I don’t even try.”

Email has to stay relevant or even mothers, with their high degree of patience, will abandon us. One mom panelist said, “Anything that is old online is old. Email is old. Oh I’m so sick of all these emails. MySpace is now old. Anything new and exciting is cool. That bugs me. One minute I’m getting it, and the next minute I’m ten paces behind.”

When asked about use of the delete button vs. the Report Spam button, the moms didn’t seem to know what the Report Spam button was. The folks at my table and I were talking about this later – it’s not clear if these moms in particular don’t use the Report Spam button or if they use it and don’t realize it. Moms are so busy and spending so little time managing their inboxes, that they may just use the delete button by default. Certainly they are not bothering to unsubscribe. But they definitely knew relevancy and could define what pissed them off – like going through a long form or process to get $10 off and then finding out that it wasn’t a simple coupon. “Don’t waste my time,” they said. I wonder if marketers who have moms as a target might be well served to look at this segment in particular, track complaints and unsubscribe requests to the rest of the population and see if there is a difference there. It would also be a good idea to manage frequency around those who are not active, or perhaps focusing on subject lines as a way to break through the clutter more.

We talked a lot about segmentation and data management throughout the marketer panel and the roundtables. Many marketers are still not segmenting their files, although everyone seems to acknowledge the value of doing this. Why not? Time, resources and expertise. One marketers said to me, ” Hey this channel was supposed to be free, and now you are talking about data management and higher fees to profile subscribers!” My response: We are talking about higher revenue, loyalty and lifetime value, too!

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