Spam, phishing, dropping open rates, deliverability issues and inbox overload: these are all terms you'll know if you are involved in the business of email marketing. For many cynics, they're all reasons to support the contention that email marketing is dead, especially in the business-to-business (B2B) marketing space.
Other detractors will tell you that email is simply a quick and dirty medium which companies use in order to shortcut traditional techniques. But nothing could be further from the truth. The problems that email faces are simply growing pains that need to be dealt with as a reasonably young marketing channel matures.
What is dying out quickly and deservedly is the bad use of email in the B2B space. Few marketers think that they can get away with abusing other channels, so the death of email abuse is something to be welcomed. Marketers who abuse the channel seem to think the rules of respect and professionalism that govern interaction with customers and prospects in traditional channels don't apply in the world of email.
Marketers who treat abuse email in this way are not just killing their email channel - they're also alienating their customer and prospect bases. If you are treating your email marketing channel as a "quick and dirty" fix, your marketing messages will be read with as little interest as you invested in creating them. What's more, this lack of care and respect (and the negative response it attracts from customers) will generally not be confined to the email channel.
But for marketers who treat their email customers and prospects with respect, the channel is far from dead. It's thriving, and helping to build solid relationships. You can have as many "Golden Rules" as you like but they all boil down to respect for the customer or prospect.
Nowhere is the notion of respect more important than in the world of B2B marketing. Audiences might be smaller in number than they are in the consumer space, but they are bigger in terms of buying power, and bombarding them with irrelevant, badly timed messages can be fatal.
A marketer that respects the customer is one that does his or her homework before sending out email communications. As a responsible marketer, you need to get the right message to the right person, at the right time. If you get this right, everything else falls into place.
Today, email programmes must be built around the real needs of prospects and customers. Not what you think their needs are or what you believe these needs will be in three months time, but what their actual needs are today.
You need to listen to customers and prospects, all day, every day. Whether marketers like it or not, the power has shifted, customers and prospects are in control and they prove it to us everyday within ROI metrics.
For marketers who acknowledge and embrace this shift, inbox clutter and declining response rates become irrelevant. The effect is quite the opposite - you become known as a marketer that listens, and one that has value to offer. Your messages stand out amongst the clutter and are welcomed into inboxes, read and responded too.
For those that say that email is merely a CRM tool, well I'm not so sure. All prospects go through a buying cycle prior to making a decision. In the B2B world, this is usually a more protracted, information hungry, thought-through process. How can an insightful, well-crafted and targeted series of email communications that provide relevant and timely information not be a good prospecting tool?
The confusion often comes in when you start looking at what people consider to be prospecting and what they see as spam. There's an important distinction to be made here. Gathering and maintaining data of prospects that is in the buying cycle and receptive to receiving emailed information from you that can help them with their purchase decisions is what I call prospecting. Buying a badly gathered email database and sending them a cold bulk mail does not - this amounts to nothing more than spam.
You will always get those who abuse a channel, but they are quickly weeded out of the mix, usually blaming the channel for their failure and adding their name to the list of those proclaiming its death. For serious marketers, this is good news, as the email world is a better place for their departure.
About the author
Richard Mullins opened Acceleration's Johannesburg office in 2000. Richard has played an instrumental role in the growth of Acceleration in South Africa, working with clients to identify their online marketing needs and establish effective online marketing strategies that deliver superior results. This is achieved through the implementation of technology services such as Advertiser and Publisher Ad Operations, Email, Paid Search and Site Analytics.
Richard's career includes tenures at Ogilvy and Mather and Saatchi & Saatchi where he worked with clients such as Unilever, Sun International, Nedbank Guinness, Toyota and M-Net.
Richard completed an honours degree in Communications.