E-mail is dead. Long live e-mail!

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I was happy to see several sessions on e-mail marketing at this week’s Internet Summit. The timing couldn’t have been better for me, as I’ve been pondering the very question with which Jenn Markey (@jmarkey), business development director at communications firm Protus kicked off her discussion: Is it really a matter of choosing e-mail or social?

It’s all social, all the time lately…right? So is e-mail marketing dead? What’s the role of, for example, e-newsletters in today’s marketing mix? Her answer reinforces for me that in 2011, my team will be refocusing on optimizing our e-newsletter program: It’s about both.

New technologies simply force the incumbents to evolve. In fact, many of the best practices referenced in Internet Summit integrate multiple channels, including e-mail. Jenn notes research that shows that people who consume content via social channels actually use e-mail more, because they tend to consume all of their content more online as a whole.

Jenn’s mantra for this session: Social gets you in the door, but e-mail drives conversions. In fact, she said every dollar spent on e-mail marketing in 2010 drove $42 in conversions.

Grey Garner (@gpgarner), a marketing strategist with e-mail marketing firm Emma, took the conversation a bit further, offering quick tips about how to turn passive audiences into active evangelists:

  1. Find your voice. Speak clearly and concisely, avoid buzzwords, adopt a more relaxing tone to be more conversational. But how we talk is giving way more to what we’re talking about…it’s a noisy space out there with lots of competition. Offer a unique perspective, be helpful, offer exclusive access to content to highly valued audiences.
  2. Make personalization truly personal.In the past decade, personalization has been more of a technical innovation, not much of a differentiator. Readers are expecting that we will learn what they like, what they don’t’ like, how frequently they want the content and what channel they prefer. When you put this work in, people will want to share it.
  3. Pay if forward (my favorite). It’s not just about what content or messages you put out there, it’s about listening and sharing back. Take the time to discover what your subscribers are passionate about, and help them spread the word.

Grey reminds us that we can’t build a social community by looking through a traditional marketing lens, a good reminder. Think about how you can craft a content strategy that positions your brand as a trusted source that people want to share. That’s the holy grail.

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Kelly Levoyer

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