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It's the "From," Stupid

I was in Dallas last week with our permission marketing specialists, Laura Yarbrough and Katie Chadek, presenting a seminar on B2B Email Best Practices. It was interesting to note how digital technology has transformed some areas of 1:1 communication, while in others the traditional guidelines relating to targeting, relevance and impact still apply.

Email costs just pennies to send. So if we compare the out-of-pocket costs for email versus other forms of 1:1 communication, it's a heck of a bargain. And it's tempting to take a one-size-fits-all approach to email messaging, blasting it to every email address in the database, active or not. It's easier than segmenting the opt-in database and be more selective about who gets what message, when. But one-size-fits-all messaging hardly fits anybody well.

From our experience, there's a steep price to pay for over-messaging, or for bombarding opt-in subscribers with irrelevant emails. Open rates drop. Click-through percentage plummets. ROI dives well below what it could and should be. Most importantly, we risk alienating high-value customers by telling them, in effect, that we don't know them and we don't care if we waste their time.

For years we've been busily cranking out subject line tests in small volumes and then blasting the big numbers with the line that produced marginally higher open or click rates.   Now we know that the much bigger influencer is the "From" address. Consider the parallel to Caller ID on our phones. The easiest thing in the world is ignoring an unfamiliar or undesirable person, and we do flips to get to calls from those important to us. Similarly, there are certain people and companies whose emails I open without hesitation, whatever the subject line. Engagement rates for tests of "From" addresses can have wide swings. It's important to establish which one(s) have the highest resonance for each audience.

SPAM, anyone? This acronym, written by our government in 2003, stands for controlling the assault of non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing. Nowadays it means, essentially, unwanted email whether it's solicited or not. The implications of unwanted versus unsolicited are significant for email marketers. If opt-in subscribers decide a given message we send them isn't their cup of tea, they may go right to the opt-out request which bars us from the opportunity to have future conversation. But if subscribers are annoyed enough, they could report us as having spammed them. If that happens with any frequency, we risk being blacklisted by Google, Yahoo and the other powerhouses altogether. So if we have no other reason to be vigilant about relevance and selectivity in our message and target, let's do it because otherwise we may lose our voice altogether.

Like so many things, it comes down to the basics. 1:1 marketing soars when we have the right message at the right time to the right audience, from the right sender.