In the past few years, e-mail marketing has evolved from a standalone strategy into a complementary component of larger marketing programs. E-mail blasts now serve as one part of a larger plan that incorporates events, microsites, mobile promotions, print campaigns and special online offers.

According to the Direct Marketing Association’s 2007 report, "Actionable Insights Into E-mail Marketing," the most daunting aspects of e-mail marketing are segmentation and targeting, integration with other channels, and deliverability.

The majority of marketers surveyed (31.8 percent) said they use e-mail in "very few" marketing campaigns, while only 13.6 percent said they use it in all of their marketing campaigns.

The shift is also apparent in magazine publishing. "E-mail marketing is not something we think is useless but it has definitely taken a secondary role," says Maxim marketing director Mike Yeon. "It works in a 360-degree capacity. You would never base an entire campaign on an e-mail blast."

What’s Changed
As a result of the excessive frequency of commercial e-mails, Web users are hitting the spam and delete keys, and some even set up junk e-mail accounts, a secondary fake account created solely for promotional e-mails that never gets checked. "We know from reader research that people have an e-mail account for when they sign up for something, so we’re thinking some of our messages end up there," says Yeon, who now e-mails to an opt-in "Maxim Fans" database made up of 10,000 readers who have chosen to sign up for promotional materials from the brand and its advertisers. "We don’t mine our subscriber database by sending out 50,000 e-mails. You just can’t do that anymore."

The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, which sets legal limitations on sending commercial e-mails, also had a crippling effect on mass e-mail campaigns. The rules ban misleading or deceptive header information and subject lines and require e-mails be identified as an advertisement and include the sender’s valid physical address. Opt-out options must also be made available to recipients who do not wish to receive similar messages in the future.

Rick Sedler, president of RMS Media Group, a sales provider for upscale magazines, special issues and custom publications, experienced the consequences of mass e-mail marketing first-hand last year when a 5,000-address e-mail blast was sent to advertising clients right before an ad closing date. "We got a lot of bounce-backs and e-mails that went to spam and we really felt it was a big bomb," says Sedler. "We found ourselves getting blacklisted and our e-mail system was shut down for hours."

Complying with the CAN-SPAM Act has made developing e-mail programs difficult, but that doesn’t mean e-mail is not a valid marketing option. It is still one of the most effective marketing methods in terms of ROI. According to the DMA, e-mail marketing investments provided a $51 return for every dollar spent in 2006, whereas direct mail campaigns returned $15 for every dollar spent. The DMA also predicts the annual spend on e-mail marketing to grow 18.4 percent this year.

E-mail marketing has become highly-targeted and highly-content based. E-mails not sent using vertical marketing to specific recipients for relevant promotions, from trusted sources often remain unopened. "We live in a fragmented and highly-cluttered media world where consumers are time-starved," says Chris Schraft, president of Time Inc. Content Solutions, a division of Time Inc. that builds customized relationship marketing programs for clients. "Direct marketers must place a greater emphasis and a premium on the notion of engagement and the ability to interact with the consumer in a very meaningful and powerful way."

Respecting the Recipient
Whether marketing to readers or advertisers, the key to sending e-mails is relevancy and frequency. Understanding what kind of content your recipients want is the first step. This requires vertical targeting and spending some time with your lists to ensure the right people are receiving the appropriate messages. "You have to develop a competency in structuring marketing programs that deftly and without abuse utilize all the tools and channels to deliver the desired result," says Schraft. "E-marketing is just like traditional direct marketing. It requires continuous testing of creative, offers, and frequency."

So how often is too often? There’s no right answer, says Schraft. It depends on the campaign and the recipient. But because e-mail is so much cheaper than direct mail, marketers can get carried away. "In most cases, recipients setting filters or using spam or block features are a result of abuse of frequency," says Schraft. "It’s a violation by marketers of the permission consumers believe they are granting for contact."

Maxim offers its readers a double opt-in option, so they can choose if they want to receive more information from Maxim and/or Maxim’s ad partners. Since its e-mail incident last year, RMS Media has changed its e-mail marketing tactics, sending e-mails with specific purpose to highly targeted lists of hundreds of names, rather than thousands. The staff takes accurate notes when communicating with clients, so e-mails are relevant to previous conversations. "We’re getting fewer responses but a bigger payoff through more concentrated, interested parties instead of just throwing a campaign against the wall to see if it will stick," says Sedler. "We make sure we’re sending what the customer wants, not just what the marketer wants to say."

Advancing Technology
The goal now for many publishers is to better integrate e-mail into other messaging campaigns, and new software and services are available that make the integration easier. "E-mails are literally static digital media. It’s Web 1.0," says Yeon. "They work well for what they do but the next wave is something more interactive."

At Maxim, where the target audience is men aged 18 to 34, instant messaging and mobile programs have started to replace e-mail as the preferred form of communication. IM and text allow for stronger interactivity, according to Yeon. "It’s about integrated technology," he says. "We’ve made changes on our Web site so where you used to see ‘e-mail this to a friend’ next to content, you now see ‘IM this to a friend.’"

E-mail is still a valuable marketing tool, especially for events, surveys, subscriptions and re-qualification purposes, but list quality is crucial to success. Online and e-mail marketing specialists now offer a variety of resources and services that assist in tracking and maintaining e-mail. "Technology is becoming more important as ISPs are tightening up their restrictions," says Richard Hoffmann, president of online marketing company Synergy-Interactive.

Hanley Wood uses a new service from Bamboo Cricket, which closes the loop between e-mail and customer service. When a response to an e-mail (whether feedback, a question from the recipient, out of the office responses, spam-related complaints, or server responses) is made, Bamboo Cricket processes the responses within 24 hours. Responses flow into different "buckets" so that no reply goes unread. Then, appropriate messages are directed to the appropriate person at the recipient company. "A lot of complaints from recipients are ‘I had a question and no one responded,’" says Hoffmann, who works directly with Hanley Wood’s circulation department. "Prior to Bamboo Cricket, inbound mail was processed within five to seven business days. Now it’s processed within 24 to 36 hours."

Due to more targeted e-mail marketing, the use of databases is also on the rise. A new software using artificial intelligence, or predictive personalization, predicts buying patterns and click and open patterns based on what the individual has clicked on throughout the history of their database record. The technology, which is owned by Yesmail (see sidebar), allows marketers to select recipients who may be more inclined to take action based on what they’ve done in the past. The technology can be integrated into your existing database as part of the software package.

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