Digital delivery dilemma

E-mail marketing is in the ascendancy with the channel now more popular than print direct mail. But Nathalie Kilby finds that marketers shouldn’t write off the traditional approach too quickly

The rise of online is demonstrated by the fact e-mail marketing has now overtaken print direct mail by volume, as companies seek to maximise the targeting and cost-saving potential of digital direct marketing.

Lisa Thomas, chief executive officer of LIDA, which handles traditional and digital DM for clients including NatWest, British Airways, and COI, says the capabilities of e-mail herald further decline for the traditional market, but she does sound a note of caution: “There is evidence that e-mail spam has generated a similar level of consumer loathing as the dreaded junk mail of the past.”

Indeed, Jed Murphy, digital director at Carlson Marketing, says that increasingly effective spam filters have meant that more than a fifth of all permission-based e-mails sent to European ISPs are ending up in junk mail folders. Therefore, he says, it is necessary that brands and their e-mail systems are on ISP White Lists.

Murphy adds: “More consumers filter their own mail and have multiple addresses to separate the different relationships that they have with brands. They often have their work or home e-mail address for the relationships that are important, such as banking, and an online address, such as Yahoo! or Hotmail, for brands they consider less important.” He adds that brands must develop an understanding of how their e-mail communications sit in this framework.

However, E-Dialog managing director Simone Barratt says there is potential for further growth in e-mail as consumers expect personalised communications that deliver what they want when they want it and e-mail can achieve this. “As customers start to interact with a brand across more channels, they will expect the same level of personalised, relevant communications in those channels. Consequently, mass marketing is giving way to targeted relevance.”

Targeting is nothing new to DM but its online incarnation can include behavioural data with personal information. This means marketers can better target and personalise communications and Barratt says greater relevance is key to achieving cut-through as e-mail marketing proliferates.

She says companies must ensure their communications will be welcome by the recipient and deemed valuable and adds: “E-mail marketers need to guard against complacency and be ruthless in self-evaluation against their business goals and their user needs – aggressively driving for relevance. Understanding a customer’s key motivators is more possible than ever before, especially with behavioural data. The key to using this data is to ensure it is actionable and to use it while current.

Dynamic content
“E-mail is uniquely positioned to do this – it’s fast, inexpensive, measurable, provides the ability to segment, publish dynamic content and automate – and it can connect Web behaviour with individuals through a range of identifiers such as cookies, site registration and transactions, and so on.”

Matthew Kelleher, head of e-mail marketing at RedEye, believes e-mail needs to adapt to the new market conditions created by the Net. He says: “Direct mail is batting on a sticky wicket and the medium-term prognosis seems to be volume decline. This will continue until the e-mail and DM markets reach their optimum relational levels. In other words, DM needs to find its long-term position in the digital marketing world.”

Murphy adds that as more communications migrate online “the clutter of the doormat is being replaced with the clutter of the inbox. Ironically, in the not too distant future, those brands that continue to invest in targeted, creative offline communications may actually reap the benefits of an offline backlash – where the rarity of a piece of DM on a doormat actually becomes an innovative means of cutting through the messaging clutter and a more effective way of delivering results.”

Other opportunities
Martin Gent, associate creative director at Wunderman, agrees: “I don’t think the rise of digital direct marketing is going to slow any time soon. Yet, as people get used to being marketed to via e-mail, the opportunities will lie elsewhere. From a creative point of view, achieving ‘cut-through’ will become extremely difficult due to the sheer volume of messaging and restrictions that come about because of the range of very different e-mail clients.

“To really make an impact, a simple and very personal traditional DM pack might just hit the mark. Essentially, don’t write off the traditional techniques in a marketing environment that is currently digitally focused.”

So the message appears to be, the traditional approach will have a role to play in innovative and emotive communications, but the rise of e-mail shows no sign of abating.

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