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Guest Comment: Is your internal structure reducing your impact in external inboxes?

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In many ways, email is a victim of its own success. For the vast majority of etailers it’s the marketing channel that produces the most revenue for the least cost and effort. That’s obviously great… but, because of that, many companies don’t take the time to hone campaigns to their best potential. Too often there’s an ostrich-like sentiment of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.

The uncomfortable truth is that sometimes the way an organisation’s marketing teams are structured and the way email is regarded internally often limit its effectiveness.

If you were to say to a marketing director from the 1970s “I’ve got a medium that allows you to speak to your customers directly as well as tracking their behaviour and communication”, they’d probably bite your hand off. What they probably would not do is then give responsibility for that channel to the most junior members of their team. Yet here in 2009 you’ll find most email staff are relatively inexperienced (a huge generalisation for which I apologise — and it is certainly not the case all the time — but I continue to be surprised by how often I see this).

The problem is that marketing seniority is too tied to budget allocation. While senior staff are given responsibility for the more expensive traditional channels, because of its cost-effectiveness, the more junior staff are given the email mantle. This can cause two issues:

  1. Junior staff who lack the experience of their senior colleagues are more likely to make mistakes and, because of the direct and immediate nature of the medium, can actually cause more reputational damage than if they made errors in traditional channels.

  2. Junior staff are not given the standing in a marketing team to be able to step back and consider mailings on a strategic, campaign-by-campaign basis. In many cases they are simply instructed to implement programme after programme after programme.

Email campaigns are something of a rollercoaster — a rollercoaster that, because it keeps generating the highest ROI and lowest cost per acquisition, is kept running constantly. To improve the ride though, it’s plain that staff need to be empowered to pause it and take the time to conduct pre-campaign analysis of analytics and transactional data.

The politics of internal budgets can also actively discourage staff from making efficiencies. Being responsible for a £1million budget looks great on a CV, so why would anyone want to see that cut? If you’re already doing a great job but know that you could get the same result for half the budget, would you really say anything? There’s still a very basic, ‘mine’s bigger than yours’ mentality in the advertising and marketing professions. The bigger the budget, the more important you are.

That said, on the other side of the coin, there’s something fundamentally illogical about the way email budgets are allocated. Because email generates such good ROI, companies often look at the figures and freeze or reduce the budget, channelling it instead into more expensive channels. For a measureable medium which is proven to have the best ROI of any other channel, surely it makes more sense to increase budget rather than reduce it? Where a marketing team wonders if the glass is half full or half empty, those who hold the purse strings are often likely to say ‘downsize the glass’!

Email’s responsiveness, speed and comparative ease count against it. It’s too often seen as something of a quick fix. Picture the scene: The under-pressure marketing manager discovers halfway through the month that the team is down on where they need to be, but then thinks ‘I’ll solve the problem with a quick email campaign’. It may work in the short term but it certainly won’t get the most of out of the medium, and it won’t endear you to your customers as you abuse their inbox.

There’s a very real need to raise the reputation of email as a specialist discipline in marketing teams. Some major brands already realise this and, while they commission an integrated agency to conduct the majority of their marketing, many now are beginning to recognise the sophistication required for email and are deliberately commissioning an expert email agency as well.

Until we give email marketing and email marketers the respect and the recognition they deserve, and until it is earned by those who work in the field, this key marketing discipline will continue to be viewed as the poor relation of traditional channels and won’t achieve the success that those of us who work with it know that it plainly deserves. I’m on a mission to change this.

• Simone Barratt is the managing director of e-Dialog International, a leading provider of email marketing and database technologies, products, strategies, and services for permission-based email marketers.

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