The last two weeks of 2013 brought a wave of online traffic that pointed to the lasting power of email marketing, but revealed one sure-fire way to over-saturate even the most committed audience.
We knew things were out of hand when we saw one organization distribute eight email appeals in the last 90 hours of the year—four of them on December 31, and one of them with the subject header “Too many emails?” In the end, the year-end rush showed how easy it is to misuse a tool that delivers solid results, but only when it’s integrated with a broader content marketing campaign.
‘Too Many Emails?’
The end of the calendar year is prime time for association fundraising. So it was no surprise that the volume of email appeals began to multiply, just as the rest of North America was gearing down for a well-earned December break. We were monitoring mail right through the holiday period, so we saw the crescendo of activity as the month-end deadline loomed.
Organizations defaulted to email because it’s a respected tool that delivers proven results. In its 2013 Content Marketing Playbook, the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) listed a permission-based e-newsletter as its second-ranked technique.
“Those who have been calling for the death of email are flat out wrong,” wrote CMI founder Joe Pulizzi. “If you don’t have an educational email newsletter to keep in contact with prospects or to nurture customers, opportunity lost.”
(The shoemaker’s kids are about to get new footwear: Watch for the revamped, relaunched Smarter Shift e-newsletter over the next couple of months.)
When Email Marketing Succeeds…or Fails
But any tool should be used as directed. The CMI Playbook summarized the basic ground rules that spell the difference between success and failure with email marketing:
- Distribute content weekly or monthly.
- Focus on compelling content.
- Don’t deluge your audience with spam.
They’re simple enough rules to learn and follow. But they bring us back to the techniques that were on display in those late December emails.
The content was strong. The appeals were compelling. As far as I know, the distribution was strictly permission-based.
So it’s hard to see how a smart, effective organization could miss the signal that eight e-blasts in four days is at least six too many. I hope the technique brought them the short-term results they needed, because the work they do is important and worthy. But over the longer haul, they’re bound to burn out their lists and drive their supporters to distraction unsubscribe.
There’s No Silver Bullet
The lesson in this story is that successful content marketing calls for a cluster of tools and techniques, not a single silver bullet. In the last year, content marketers have been more clear that outbound techniques like email marketing are most effective when they’re combined with inbound tools that draw interested audiences to compelling content.
Our strategic partner Doreen Ashton Wagner at Alexandria, Ontario-based Greenfield Services likes to talk about the magnet and the megaphone—smart content that attracts like-minded prospects (the magnet), supported by more assertive but always permission-based techniques that keep the conversation healthy and strong (the megaphone).
Content marketing is a new field of activity, where winning strategies are still taking shape, so there are bound to be mistakes. But the next time you receive eight emails in four days from an organization you thought you wanted to support, let’s hope they get some good advice on how to nurture, respect, and retain their subscriber base.