Last week, I had the honor of meeting a top email vendor's Client Advisory Board. I won't reveal names here because I wasn't there as a reporter, so it's unfair to "out" anyone. But, trust me -- everyone in the room was from a well known company, including B-to-B and famous consumer brands.
The occasion was a little intimidating -- these were the heads of email marketing for some of the smartest brands I know. Luckily, the organizers did one smart, simple thing to put us all at ease: each of us had to introduce ourselves and say how we ranked our organization's use of email on a scale from 1 to 10.
No one ranked their company as high as a '10'.
Nor even a 9 or an 8. Most felt they were anywhere from 1-5. Why were some of the top emailers in the world dissing their own programs?
Because we all know what can be done with email, and we're nowhere near that glory yet. Example, I rated Sherpa's email programs a "3.5" because we need to improve or create:
o Delivery, especially past corporate filters o Dynamic, triggered messages with personalized content o Integrating Web site measurement further o Tying email in with our SFA system o A/B testing our opt-in forms o Outreach programs for hard bounces
Everyone around the table agreed that "the challenge is execution." Not externally - the vendors seem to be ready to meet our needs or are going down the R&D path very quickly. (Which makes sense given how incredibly competitive the email service provider marketplace is.)
Instead, that execution challenge is a two-fold internal battle for most companies:
Battle #1. IT
"I'm tired of dueling with IT," one marketer at the table said. Some solutions others suggested:
"IT likes building things, let them help you write email system requirements. Never develop an RFP without them, you can't write requirements in marketing that are sufficient for IT."
"You need an owner of email marketing over on the tech side; if you're constantly shuffling and educating people on the help desk, you're in trouble."
"Make your next email hire someone with an IT background."
"Give IT credit for the help they've given you when you report to senior management. Become the marketer for their campaign for internal recognition."
Battle #2. Staffing
"A year ago I would have said we're a 10," said one heavy direct response marketer. "But, now the bar has been raised. Email has gone beyond the blast to one-to-one marketing." Other marketers said their bar was raised when email moved from multiple corporate silos to one central department.
Both one-to-one marketing and centralizing are best practices and will increase response rates substantially in the long run. But, the big problem for 2007 appears to be the fact that few email departments are staffed up to handle the work.
Corporate thinks marketing should be happy to have this fairly new department focused on email. Marketing thinks corporate needs a reality check on how much work email actually is. Many around the table had only one dedicated email staffer. Some had to share email staff with ecommerce or Web marketing tasks as well.
"I did a presentation where I showed other departments exactly what goes into creating a single email newsletter send, how many hours. They were shocked," explained one attendee who just got the go-ahead to hire more email staff.
Another marketer said his team had just finished a carefully pre-tested newsletter template re-launch. The goal? To keep response rates steady while reducing the hours it takes to create a typical send. He hopes that by saving staff time, they'll be able to field more campaigns and tests, thus increasing overall program health.
The meeting as a whole was a revelation to me. I discovered that, as much as I am frustrated with our own email's deficiencies, my fellow marketers are equally frustrated. There's something terribly comforting about that.
I also set up a meeting with Chris Heine, the Senior Reporter on our team who is in charge of the email beat. "Pull some focus off of cool-creative or cool-strategy of the week," I told him. "It's time to focus on the practical realities of running a successful email program."
Got ideas for Chris' coverage from now on? Please post them online at the comments link below link, and/or contact him directly at ChrisH(at)MarketingSherpa(dot)com
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