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Email is different

OMI responded to my post about data cleansing yesterday. She asked an interesting question:

Why do so many in this industry feel that the email channel should be somehow held to a higher standard than other direct marketing channels?

There are a lot of reasons why the email channel is held to a higher standard. The big one is actually that the consumers have a big enough stick (in the form of ISPs and filters) to wield against senders that annoy them. This actually boils down to who owns the channel.

In many cases of advertising, marketers own the channel. Direct postal mail, banner ads, radio and TV ads, those channels are all developed the use of marketers. Marketers can use the channel as long as they pay the owner: the TV station, the billboard company, the radio station, the website.

In all those marketing channels there is some monetary cost to increasing frequency and some non-marketer-controlled limit on how frequent you can touch the target. There are only so many minutes available for marketing in a TV or radio hour and they cost real dollars. There’s only so much page space available for press. Billboards cost real money and you can’t just put a billboard up anywhere.

But email is very different. First off, the channel wasn’t built with the idea that it would be funded by marketing. Secondly, the recipient (or their proxies in the form of the ISPs) own the email channel. This changes not only the economics, but also the constraints.

Because it costs so little for marketers to send more mail, there are no real constraints on the amount they can send. On the recipient end, though, there are major constraints on the amount of attention they can give to mail. The more marketing mail they get from any source, the less ability they have to focus on any one offer.

Email is different because it is not solely a marketing channel.

Email is different because the recipient has more control.

Email is different because marketers don’t pay the full cost of transmission.

Email is different because recipients pay for part of the marketing.

Marketers are held to a higher standard because email marketing is subsidized by recipients and recipient ISPs.

5 comments

  1. John L says

    A most revealing question. To expand it a little: “We annoy, harass, and deceive people in print, paper mail, TV, and radio. Why can’t we do the same thing in e-mail?”

  2. Brian says

    “Why do so many in this industry feel that the email channel should be somehow held to a higher standard than other direct marketing channels?”
    Because it’s NOT MEANT TO BE A MARKETING CHANNEL?! Why do marketers think I bought a computer for THEIR use?
    To narrow that a bit, sure I use it for transactional emails, signing up for lists I want to be on (some of which may be commercial in nature), etc, but it’s not a billboard for unrequested email.
    The quote also assumes there’s a standard for direct marketing. If there is such a thing, it’s a very low bar. I think that’s what John L was getting at.

  3. Catherine Jefferson says

    What John L. said. I thought I had a bad attitude about push marketing. I guess I’m not the only one.

  4. Jay says

    I think it depends on what is being pushed on us. If it’s the endless stream of herbal viagra, $1000 giftcards to WalMart, singles sites for people 20 years over my age demographic, and the myriad of other scams and spams – then Yes, I have a bad attitutde and wish there were more standards. However, if it is something I signed up for or something relevant to my interests, you’ve got my attention. The standard for email marketing should be applied to the mail lists first. Then the content and deliverability (because I also hate when I open an email to find it unreadable). As a marketer, I believe in properly segmenting and targeting audiences. Nothing irks me more than mass blast as both a consumer and a marketer.

  5. We’re holding email to a higher standard. | ActivePath says

    […] by Laura’s recent post on Word to the Wise – announcing that “Email is Different” – we’ve decided to explore our own version of her central question: Why should […]

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