Email marketing loses its edge

Envelope flying into mailbox on computer screenOnce upon a time direct mail ruled.

You bought a carefully selected list; segmented it by geography or job title; crafted appropriate letters; packed them in an envelope together with a generic piece of collateral and posted them out to your target audience, safe in the knowledge that you would, by the law of averages, get a 0.5% response rate.  It was expensive, but if you did it right you knew you would get the results which were measurable and traceable.

Then email came along and life changed beyond all recognition.  Suddenly you could send out as many messages as you liked ‘for free’, hitting your database with more and more frequency.  Open rates were 33%+ and the sales team was happy because they could tell potential clients about the ‘millions of hits’ in your advertising campaign.

But things aren’t looking quite so rosy these days.  While event organisers and marketers maintain their love affair with electronic mail, the recipients are less enamoured.  Faced with a barrage of messages on an hourly basis, potential visitors and delegates are learning to use the tools on their mail programmes to create rules that send messages from certain senders direct to their junk folder, or to flag them as spam so that they never even make it as far as the inbox at all.

Opening rates continue to fall, with an average marketing campaign now looking at figure of approximately 25%.  From these the average click through rate is somewhere in the region of 4%, which means that for a mailing of 1000 people you can expect 10 to go through to your site, a response rate of 1%.

On the face of it, this still looks better than the 0.5% we expect from traditional DM, but this is not so.  In the conference or event market the DM figure refers to actual bookings or registrations whereas the email click-through rate refers to clicks on any link in an email to any document or web-page.  If we then assume that only 1 in 10, which is still very optimistic either books or registers then the actual response rate for an email campaign is only 0.1%.

Coupled with the fact that every time a database is mailed, it encourages individuals to junk or block the sender, a campaign that is poorly targetted and irritatingly frequent can actually create a double negative of failing to deliver response while actively turning potential customers away from the event.

Does this mean that there should be a return to DM?  Not really.  But it is time to reflect on a more holistic approach to marketing.  Using social networking techniques and creating communities that are engaged rather than annoyed.

Social media is better for networking than the real thing…

Not our words, but those of a leading exhibition industry figure in one of the LinkedIn groups that we follow.

This is backed up by some of our own research which shows that, on average, an attendee at a virtual event connects with and exchanges details with 13 other people.  From our own experience this is far more than at any exhibition we have ever attended, and on a par with the most intimate conference or meeting.

While large, live exhibitions are great for getting close to products and getting a feel for the company you might want to deal with they are not ideal for networking with your peers (despite what any event marketing manager will tell you relentlessly within their campaign communications).

Why not?

Because they are simply too huge, too disparate and don’t create areas where individuals who have the same interest or problem can congregate to exchange ideas.

A virtual event environment is built specifically to do this.  Meeting rooms, discussion topics and even conference presentations all have the facility to see who else is interested in the same topic.  You can even see a list of their names and get an idea of who they are without having to scout around looking for an entry badge helpfully stuffed in a pocket.  If you strike up a virtual chat you can exchange business cards, or maybe call them via Skype.

What virtual environments have also conquered is the concept of real accessibility for all.  Even the best of venues cannot accommodate for everyone because while they are designed to allow for a wide range of physical disabilities they cannot cater for the delegate who suffers from agoraphobia or the one who cannot bear to be in enclosed spaces without having a clear escape route.

Only by embracing new virtual technologies and blending them with the very best of live events will we finally be communicating with everyone in a particular community.