Email and SMS Marketing Rules to Live (and Send) By

NEW YORK—In an age where it’s becoming increasingly important to provide an integrated plethora of channels to reach prospective customers, many marketers forget the basics. One such is conducting email marketing and SMS marketing correctly. In a session here at global marketing services firm Acxiom’s Multi-Channel Media Symposium, company executives explained the rules to live by as we enter the next level in marketing to consumers.

Acxiom Innovation Leader Josh Herman said there is a perceived simplicity to sending emails, but optimizing marketing strategies for today’s consumer goes beyond conventional thought. "As we move into digital media, we all send out email today because it’s the simplest possible thing," he said. "Life gets complicated when you scale that up."

Before "scaling up" email and SMS marketing strategies, both Jose Cebrian, senior account director at Acxiom Digital, and Ben Rothfield, director of marketing strategy at Acxiom, dished the essential concepts and rules marketers will have to live by if they want to achieve campaign success. Using examples of technological innovations primed to revolutionize advertising, such as television in the 1950s and banner advertising in the 1990s, both Cebrian and Rothfield explained that even though there were new ways for marketers to get their message out, they still must focus on their messages and targets. The technology alone can’t do all the work for the marketer, which "made those technological innovations not so mind-blowing in retrospect," in Rothfield’s words.

The basic tenets to follow include:

  • Not everyone responds to email all the time, even if they’re "highly personalized";
  • Every medium has its own spam filter—the consumer;
  • Keep segmentation sane;
  • Match your creative with the medium;
  • Respect privacy—even beyond permission; and
  • Today’s novelty is tomorrow’s expectation.
Speaking to the first tenet, that not all personalized emails are responded to, Rothfield explained that while "relevance drives engagement; it’s how you deal with the one-to-one medium [that will determine success]." Just putting an individual’s name in the salutation alone doesn’t work. He argued that marketers must look at consumers’ prior purchase history, the value and profitability of the relationship, and type of customer (individual or business). This way, marketers can use "opportunity and content to make offers more relevant, not just personalized," Rothfield said.

The content of the message also plays an important role as to whether or not end consumers will perceive the email or text message as spam. Additionally, marketers have to pay very close attention to what their targets are thinking, because there is more than one form of spam in their eyes.  "Everyone has their own definition of spam," Rothfield said.

According to information at the presentation, different customer definitions of spam include:

  • The individual didn’t sign up for the transmissions;
  • Objectionable or suggestive content;
  • Uninteresting content;
  • Information that was once useful but not relevant anymore; and
  • Emails that arrive too frequently.
The way for marketers to avoid customer spam backlash ties into the fourth tenet of respecting privacy beyond permission. Rothfield gave an example of using link tracking for customers to determine their interests. For example, say someone consistently stays in Orlando-area hotels and also enjoys booking tee times for golf outings online. Email marketers could take all of that data and provide a very detailed message outlining what the consumer had purchased in the past and what they could buy now. Rothfield argued people might feel as though that is too detailed, possibly scaring consumers. A better approach is to send an email offering some generic hotel deals in Orlando, but without digging too much into what the customer has purchased in the past. "The idea here is to be friendly but not too familiar," Rothfield said.

While the age of multi-channel, integrated marketing is upon us—or at least being attempted—the Acxiom executives urged the crowd to practice restraint. "Just because you can put a message somewhere doesn’t mean you [necessarily] should," Rothfield concluded.

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