What Did You Expect?!! A Cautionary Tale of Baseball, Email Marketing, and the Supposed Death of Direct Mail.

The 2011 Red Sox were not the 1927 Yankees. E-mail marketing as your sole means of new client acquisition is not effective marketing.

As I promised back in late August, I am due for a full fledged rant on email marketing and here it is.

But, I would like to ask a ginormous favor from you, Awesome Direct Marketer, before we get into this informative, possibly controversial, but always completely interesting blog post – I ask – *sniff* – that you pause for just a moment of silence in remembrance of The Championship Season That Was Not for my Boston Red Sox.

[Insert just a moment of silence here.]

Okay, now that we have that out of the way – let’s talk about managing expectations.  And, let’s begin with … the 2011 Boston Red Sox.  (And, for all you non-sports fans out there, I’ll be brief, I promise!*)

*How brief?  I just edited out 250 words of non-brevity.

At various points of 2011, the expectations for the 2011 Red Sox, according to pundits, were as follows:

  1. Off-season/Spring Training: This team may be the second coming of the 1927 New York Yankees!!!
  2. After they got off to a 2-10 start: This team is going to be lucky to win 80 games.
  3. After they went on an 81-42 tear after the tough start: They may not be second coming of the ’27 Yankees, but they are still going to win 100 games.  (100 wins, for you non-baseball fans is a lot of wins in a season)

The reality ended up being somewhere in the middle – 90 wins, no playoffs and a lot of disappointment.  Reality didn’t match up to any of the expectations.

Now you may be asking, “What might this have to do with email marketing or the supposed death of direct mail?”  Well, I’m glad you asked!

We hear a lot these days about the power of email marketing and, yes, email marketing has a fair amount of potential when used correctly.  Unfortunately, based on a lot of the phone calls I receive there are some particularly unrealistic expectations out there.

It is important to keep in mind we in the list business are in the business of helping you find new customers.  We are all about client acquisition.  Acquisition is tricky business, as you probably already know.  Sure, there are plenty of companies out there who have the benefit of a strong brand, worldwide name recognition, or some ubiquitous product – y’know, those Fortune 500-y types.  Hey, it’s great stuff if you have it.

The thing is, there are something like ten or eleven million businesses out there in the country and only 500 get to be Fortune 500-y, so all the rest – like probably you and definitely me – are not exactly household brands.  So we have to put in some effort to get the word out about our spectacular company and attract new customers.

There are a lot of different ways to reach people these days, and you might get caught up in a surge of digital age excitement and start believing that email marketing is the fastest and most cost effective method to acquire new customers.

I’ll wait for you to come back down to earth … and now we can have a rational, realistic talk about email marketing.

First things first – let’s set some ground rules:

  1. This post is about email marketing as a means of new customer acquisition – not client retention.  Using email is fabulous for client retention – it’s a cost effective method for keeping your company’s products and services at the forefront of your client’s minds on a regular basis.  If you aren’t using email marketing to stay in touch with your current clients, you should probably re-evaluate your marketing priorities.  Right now.
  2. Most people are smart enough to know the Minister of Agriculture from Kerschplakistan has not really sought you out in order to help him move $5,000,000 dollars into an American bank account.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s dive into this idea of email marketing as the sole means of your new client acquisition.  First, what kind of audience are you looking to reach?

If you are looking to reach every household in a 30 mile radius around a new restaurant, or some other very broad generic audience – cool beans, email marketing may be a low-cost marketing option for you with a decent ROI.

But, then you are not really doing targeted direct marketing.  My guess is that most of us look at our professional audience in two ways:  The people who are most likely to be interested in our product or service and everyone else.  Just like saturation direct mail will work for a very narrow set of marketers, saturation email will work for a very narrow set of marketers.  Then there are the rest of us.

And the rest of us need to realize that relying solely on email marketing for new client acquisition is probably a very big mistake.  Okay, I never speak in absolutes, so I left a teeny-tiny bit of wiggle room for the inevitable, “But I have second cousin who only uses email and gets a 28% response every time.”  Sure.  And the 2012 Sox are a shoe-in for the World Series.

Let’s manage some expectations, shall we?  When you send out an email promotion to people who have probably never heard of you or your company, your offer has to compete for attention with all manner of emails like forwarded jokes, Nigerian royalty, discounted-today-only specials, newsletters from those smart companies who are on the ball, Kerschplakistani Agriculture Ministers, electronic bill notifications, and offers to increase or decrease the size of various part of one’s body … not to mention all the emails the person is actually hoping to receive from friends, family, and co-workers.

Nearly 300 billion emails are sent every day.  Yours is just another one in the mix, waiting to be deleted by an overwhelmed end user who doesn’t have the time to learn more about a company that they’ve never heard of before.  Spam has trained people to delete emails from companies they don’t recognize.

I know, I know – you still feel a gravitational pull toward email marketing.  And, believe it or not, I’m not saying don’t use it.  I’m saying use it wisely.  Use it in conjunction with another channel.  First, get your name in front of your intelligently targeted audience with a mail piece.

“But,” I hear you thinking, “isn’t direct mail dead?

No, for the savvy marketer, direct mail is very much still alive and kicking.  I’m not the only voice in the wilderness here either.  Brian Fetherstonhaugh, the Chairman, CEO, and all-around Big Cheese at OgilvyOne Worldwide reminded people just this week that direct mail still has four strengths (massive strengths!) - Endurance, Aquisition, Impact, and Sense.

Use those strengths to your advantage.  Get your targeted audience familiar with your brand with direct mail first. Send more than one piece.  And then – without even having to use a gimmicky subject line – your email will stand out when it’s received because they’ll recognize your company.  You have already established yourself as a company of importance by building up to email correspondence.

Of course, while we’re still thinking about managing expectations, we should discuss how your sensibly targeted emails are going to be more pricey than the generic reach-every-blessed-person emails – there’s no way around it.  Targeting costs money because it has real value.  So don’t be fooled by people who say email marketing is way more cost effective than direct mail – when it comes down to it, the two channels are closer in cost than you might think.

Still thinking of going email-only for acquisition?

“Consistently, research and in-market results prove that printed messages like direct mail last longer than digital ones.”

I have two words for you:  think again.

Let me explain.  No, there is too much. Let me sum up:  The 2011 Sawx failed to live up to expectations.  No foreign despot is ever going to send you an e-mail offering you millions if you’d just help him out.  Using only e-mail for your new client acquisition is a flawed strategy.

Tim Burnell

About Tim Burnell

Tim Burnell, principal owner of Complete Medical Lists, has been helping clients reach their targeted markets through direct channels for over 20 years. He believes offering high quality data and unsurpassed service are the keys to Complete Medical’s success. He also believes all his CDs should be alphabetized by artist and then sorted by release date. Except for the Beatle CDs. They get sorted before all others.
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