Creativity cuts through the clutter

Research shows that people are happy to receive marketing messages by e-mail and technology is helping marketers to think around the obstacles and into consumers’ in-boxes. By Martin Croft

E-mail is a cheap and effective way to reach consumers – when it is done well. But when it’s done badly, it becomes spam and marketers must strive to prevent their messages being treated as such by either filtering systems or by the very individuals they are trying to reach.

It may come as a surprise, but consumers say they are not averse to receiving marketing messages by e-mail. Indeed, database marketing specialist CCB recently found that 26% of consumers said e-mail was their “preferred method of communications from marketing companies.” Interestingly, in a parallel survey of marketers, only 15% predicted that e-mail would be consumers’ number one choice.

So how do marketers cut through the inbox clutter and get their messages opened, read and acted on? Enhancing the basic e-mail message with a bit of creativity would seem to be a good place to start, particularly since the massive uptake in broadband.

Dan Douglass, executive creative director at FCBi London and FCBi Europe, argues that one of the problems in bringing creativity to e-mail marketing is that it is thought of as something the IT department does. He says: “This can lead to blunt, neutral language and a focus solely on the message line. This is tantamount to an act of supreme neglect.”

He says creativity needs to be applied to the medium as a whole, as well as the individual message. And there lies the heart of the problem. Marketers have to contact tens of thousands of potential customers, while treating each one as an individual.

Dennis Sheehan is chief executive officer of e-mail marketing company CheetahMail UK. He says: “Consumers must get the same brand experience they get in any other channel.”

Keep it simple

Sometimes, creativity lies in knowing when not to be creative. Tracy O’Flaherty is marketing manager for CCB, which sends out 20,000 e-mails a month to contacts in the marketing world. She says: “We’ve found that we get better results from sending out plain text messages than from sending all singing all dancing ones. Keep it simple and keep it personalised – that’s what works for us.”

CCB, though, works in a business-to-business environment – with consumers, the situation is different. One difference is that no one is allowed to send a marketing message by e-mail unless they have prior consent from the consumer.

Raj Samuel, client partner at Euro RSCG 4D Digital, puts it succinctly. “Before content comes opt in,” he says. “It is also crucial that content and delivery manage and fulfil expectations.” He warns that marketers can’t just leave consumers hanging – they have to be in touch on a regular basis. “If you wait, and too much time goes by, the consumer might forget that they have opted in – and then your e-mail becomes spam,” he says.

But, Samuel argues that opting in can be used to a brand’s advantage. “It can make recipients feel as if they are part of a special club – and the key to this is exclusive or advanced content, “he says.

OgilvyOne digital creative director Bo Hellberg says: “When advertisers move into the digital arena, marketing common sense seems to disappear. Creative delivery still needs to be tailored to a specific audience, product and objective.”

As Douglass points out, new technology has empowered consumers who are increasingly taking control of their media consumption. “Any marketing communication is expected to be individually relevant, and also offer something of personal interest,” he says. “Therefore, e-mail communications have to offer escapism, entertainment, or a special deal in return for that particular consumer’s valuable and limited attention,” he says.

Unfortunately, even though the technology exists to embed pictures and even moving images in e-mails, or to attach video and audio files, the other side of the coin is that the latest filtering programs often put such e-mails straight into the spam folders or restrict what computer users can initially see.

Response driver

Lawrence Weber, head of digital projects at integrated agency LIDA, says content should be limited to either text or HTML formats.

“Direct marketers can drive response from the e-mail to a dedicated web page or campaign microsite where the full interactive creative vision can be viewed, uninhibited, in glorious Technicolor,” he says.

Paul Crabtree, marketing director of e-mail marketing agency Adestra, says: “In theory, broadband uptake will drive more creativity, but as spam filters become more sophisticated, many of the techniques used on websites are blocked. Broadband uptake on its own will not enable significant leaps in creativity.”

Instead, he says “e-mail marketers can only be creative with relevance and design. Presenting a compelling and relevant message to the recipient at the right time improves response.” As evidence, he cites a campaign Adestra ran for Virgin Holidays, which won a 2005 DMA award. Virgin used 24 different versions of its e-mails, each fully personalised to the recipient’s stage in the buying cycle. The campaign prompted a 48% clickthrough rate and generated a return on investment of nearly &£100 for every &£1 spent.

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