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WEB REVIEW: The clickable, trackable, lovable nature of e-mail marketing

September 29, 2012

William Lever, who started the notable soap company Lever Brothers, famously said, “I know half of my advertising isn’t working, I just don’t know which half.”

I’m thankful to say that we no longer have to guess as much about what’s working and what isn’t. In fact, in some ways, the bigger problem today is wading through a myriad of data to glean important insights. This job can be so tedious and difficult that many marketers (and business owners) consistently throw up their hands while trying to make sense of some of the analytics available.

Not true with e-mail, however. E-mail boasts so many traits that marketers need and want that it should be the No. 1 crush for all of them. It’s usually not. And it may not be for you, either. But I’m willing to wager that it might be by the time you’re finished reading.

Imagine this: You have something to say, or sell. A message to deliver to someone you’re certain will benefit from hearing it. You sit down, blank page beckoning (possibly cajoling, perhaps even threatening) and you write. You edit, you delete, you write some more. You sweat the details, cut half of it out and rewrite it. Eventually, you get to a place where your carefully crafted message sings: It gets quickly to the point while still retaining enough creative license to “sell the sizzle.”

Next step: You send it. Yes, send it.

With nearly every other item in the marketer’s toolkit, the next steps are time-intensive and energy-sapping. They involve complicated production or lengthy printing or copious editing. They are almost never simply delivered. That’s the first reason e-mail is so powerful: You can literally have an idea one minute, craft the message the next, and put it in the hands of your customers and prospects the next. 

But there’s more. Much more.

So your message arrives and the people you want to talk to either open it or they don’t. A really simple decision diagram: yes or no. If they don’t, you can examine your subject line with a critical eye, revise it, and try again. Or consider what they saw in their reading pane.

If they do open it, they will either take the action you want (click a link, send reply, call you back, etc.) or they won’t. Again, a simple decision tree. If they don’t, you can look at the content with a critical eye, discern what the missing ingredient is or how to improve the message, and try again. For example, maybe you had all the details you thought were important, but missed the one thing that matters most to them. Or maybe you had all the salient points, but didn’t make them compelling enough to warrant a response.

Regardless of what the problem is, you now have enough information to begin adapting your approach. Consider a new approach, rephrase your argument, or deliver on a different schedule.

This immediate feedback mechanism and flexible messaging are e-mail’s next great trait. At each step of the process, you learn something valuable about your effort, even if it’s knowing that your subject line wasn’t good enough to get me to open your mail. All the additional information can be used to further refine your message.

If readers do take the action you want, well done! From concept to conversion in a few minutes. William Lever and his brother would be proud.

Now, one of the things that’s a little lost in this marketing tale is how we know what happens with those messages we send. And that is e-mail’s final big asset: tracking the things that matter. Who opens your message? Who doesn’t? Who clicks and who doesn’t? What did they click and why? Once they clicked, where did they go and how long did they stay?

Imagine having this kind of information about a TV spot or an outdoor board. This is heady, powerful stuff, and we haven’t even touched on any of the other things you can do with e-mail. Things like A/B testing, list segmentation, triggered sends, or any of the other readily available aspects of e-mail.

Those poor ol’ Lever Brothers built an empire out of soap while knowingly wasting half their marketing budget. Imagine what they could have done with a tool like e-mail.•

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Cota is creative director of Rare Bird Inc., a full-service advertising agency specializing in the use of new technologies. His column appears monthly. He can be reached at jim@rarebirdinc.com.

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