MarketingMonitor: Email Marketing

FEATURE: Email Marketing

The Future of Email Marketing



Like many people in this industry, I get a lot of email - around 200 per day. Of that, around half of them are work-related, several are emails I actually requested to receive and then there are a whole bunch of 'urgent' proposals to provide me with billions of sales leads, millions of pounds for just a few hours work or the chance to add a few inches below the waist, lose a few from above the waist or check out what young farm girls like to do. Needless to say, the delete button is a trusty old friend.

It's a common experience and one that fills most e-marketing types with caution - people have been writing about (as well as sending) spam since they started writing about the internet. Most intelligent marketers know what is and what isn't spam and understand how permission-based marketing works. But it's not always about the reality, but the perception. If you don't get your campaign right, people can be quick to perceive your email as spam and, by then, there's almost no chance of rescuing that contact or lead.


According to Charles Ping from the Digital Marketing Association, speaking at a recent email marketing event, 200bn emails will be sent to US marketers by 2004, with consumers receiving over 1600 commercial emails per year by 2005. Given those figures, Ping says that 39% of people already think that they receive too many emails.

Of course, during this time of slashed advertising and marketing budgets and where PR is something other people do, email marketing is regularly seen as the cheap alternative. Its similarities to the tried and tested formula of direct mail only add to the attractiveness of an email campaign. However, Ping quoted US figures from Forrester, which suggest that not all is as it seems.

Acquisition CPT Click-through Conversion Cost per sale
Email to rented list $150 0.4% 3% $1250
Banner ads $10 0.5% 3% $67
Direct mail to rented list $875 N/A 1.2% $73
Email to house list $5 15% 3.7% $1
Direct mail to house list $761 N/A 3.9% $20


The figures themselves provide a note of caution, but Ping also added that the effectiveness of an email campaign may well lie in the relationship with the end user, otherwise response rates drop dramatically. More often than not, such a relationship with the customer is unlikely to be effected from an initial email, so a dialogue is essential, which costs more money and relies on the marketer's ability to foster trust.

Despite the ease with which emails can be deleted, in contrast to direct mail, Jon Davie, editor of's UK email newsletter, said at the same event that users tend to see their email in-boxes as even more personal than their doormat - it may not be logical, but clearly, the directness of email correspondence provides a far more emotional response from users than direct mail.

In addition, Ping suggested that traditional marketing has had far more time to develop its modus operandi and consumer attitudes to direct mail are more fixed and controlled. Consumer attitudes to email marketing, however, are not fixed and are constantly shifting - in short, there is no guarantee that an email marketing campaign will be well received, whatever current research says. Working on such shifting sands, the e-marketer has to adopt to change even more than those working in other areas of internet advertising and marketing, and with so much negative press about spam and uncertainty about what constitutes it, recipients can have a negative view of any commercial email, whether unsolicited or not.


Davie took this a step further and suggested that, even if a user has opted-in, it's wrong for marketers to believe that this gives them carte blanche to send a commercial email as and when they wish - "You can't invade my in-box, even if I give you permission to do so."

Stephen Groom, at legal firm Osborne Clark, identified what legislation has been passed on this subject. While there is still no legally recognised definition of unsolicited email, the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 defines "solicited" as: initiated by the recipient of the communication or made in response to an express request from the recipient.

Beyond that, however, legislation becomes much more confusing - the current situation suggests that the UK will have an opt-in policy, despite previous indications that favoured an opt-out policy. Currently, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany and Italy have joined the opt-in crowd, but little else has been made clear. While the DMA have professed a preference for an opt-in policy, Ping emphasised the importance of opt-in at the event, but Groom questioned whether either policy could ultimately be enforced.

Groom's best suggestion was for marketers to use their company's data protection officer, if one is available, or check out the DMA Code of Practice for Electronic Commerce and make sure records are kept.

This effectively means that marketers get one free go at an unsolicited campaign, which, given a built-in opt-out clause for future campaigns (an advised, if not binding, practice), might result in an in-house prospect database. But unless the call to action is a hugely compelling one, most databases need to be grown and nurtured and that first unsolicited email can damage that potential for good.

According to Ping, research suggests that double opt-in is still the preferred choice for consumers, with the rate of unsubscribes fastest for opt-out and slowest for opt-in. However, the frequency of emails also factor highly into the rate of unsubscribes - while a good long-term relationship is desired, it has to be practiced with patience and caution.


In addition, making too much emphasis on the one-to-one nature of email could prove damaging, according to Ping. While generally agreed to be the holy grail of marketing, "The more you make your message appear more 1-2-1, the more you intrude and risk alienation." At the same time,'s Davie argues that giving users exactly what they want can prove restrictive - a big problem for e-commerce is that the user often isn't aware of other products available, so providing the right promotions, products or services often comes down to the marketer's judgement and the ability to nurture a long-term relationship.

Which all goes to show how appealing and confusing email marketing can be, especially given the recent advertising slump, changing consumer attitudes and an almost total lack of agreement on standards and legislation. Ultimately, the future of email marketing is likely to be governed by those with the best ideas and the greatest compliance with current best practices. Or by that delete button.

Related links:
Digital Marketing Association
Osborne Clark