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Email marketing alive and well

Despite the onslaught of spam, personal and professional messages, email remains an efficient and effective marketing medium.

Rumors of the demise of email marketing were premature, according to findings from one analyst.

Despite the onslaught of spam, email messaging and phishing attacks, email continues to provide powerful marketing tools with proven ROI, said David Hallerman, senior analyst with New York-based consultancy eMarketer.

Small and midsized businesses (SMBs) stand to benefit the most from email marketing because they have an opportunity to make real connections with customers and email's low-cost levels the field against larger corporations marketing efforts, Hallerman said. According to recent research from the Direct Marketing Association, email trails only telephone marketing in revenue per cost and response.

Yet, the volume of email is only going to increase, rising from 2 trillion messages this year to nearly 2.7 trillion by 2007, according to projections from eMarketer. To truly succeed, email marketing must be tested, targeted and measured, Hallerman said. @10635

"One of the things that's quite surprising is that the majority of marketers are still just using standard plain vanilla email and tracking the delivery rate, open rate and click-through rate," Hallerman said. "Even then, not all marketers are tracking that."

Organizations should also measure referral rates, or how often emails are passed along to friends or family, click-to-open rates, net subscribers, subscriber retention, conversion rate and Web site actions.

According to research from DoubleClick, over the last two and a half years delivery rates have inched up from 86.4% to 90.6%, as marketers have become more adept at getting messages through spam filters and better managed their lists. However, open rates have declined likely due to the overwhelming amount of email coming into their inboxes, Hallerman said. Emails that are delivered tend to receive click-through rates in the 8% range, DoubleClick research shows.

Despite the importance and value of email, few marketers are testing their campaigns.

"To me that was one of the most surprising results," Hallerman said. "There is this way of thinking that 'we're just sending out email.' Not only are some not tracking results, but most marketers don't even test their email."

Marketers have always gone to great lengths to test direct mail campaigns, but when it comes to something like experimenting with different subject lines in an email message, very little is done. Organizations should test at least one variable in each email campaign or newsletter issue, Hallerman said, whether it's the subject line, HTML versus text, from line or another factor.

Ultimately, marketers are going to need to get their messages to rise above not only spam, but the onslaught of personal and business emails as well.

"Spam has certainly soured email as a marketing tool, but it hasn't spoiled it," Hallerman said. "In order to deal with the resistance, the best practices are evergreen. I've seen various email marketing companies listing tips, techniques and best practices, and they almost all said the same thing -- get permission, ask in different places, don't ask too much at once, send people something of value -- the fact that that hasn't changed is good."

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Nothing scares me more than having my email blacklisted. I think that's one of the reasons many companies pay so much to have other firms send out their email marketing. It places them out of harm's way when they do their marketing. Further, this methodology still works so it's still worthwhile to pay the money and send out the stuff. Until email stops working or there's a ubiquitous technology that keeps spam and unsolicited emails out of all boxes, it will continue.