Relevance Key to Successful Email -- So? What Else Is New?

In a recent post entitled "2008 Email Design Guidelines" Matthew Patterson wrote a list of "quick and Dirty Guidelines" in his blog that I have seen many times before:

"Relevance trumps permission — Just having permission is not enough, the content you are sending must also be relevant."

This is an excellent blog with great content on email marketing. But after hearing this ho-hum guideline over and over from multiple sources, my initial instinct was, so what? Any message regardless of medium must have relevance to the targeted audience to succeed.

This does not seem to dominate the guidelines for other media. So why do email practitioners keep harping on the obvious when it comes to email?

I think email represents a different animal when it comes to relevance.

If we send an irrelevant direct mail package to a large portion of a given target market, we fail. But we will not burn up the future sales potential of the list. With permission email, on the other hand, a few such offenses relegate all future emails from the sender to the junk mail folder automatically.

Irrelevant direct mail from the same advertiser, for example, does not automatically go to the trash if a stronger offer, a total new look or other relevant package changes come later on. Why is this? Direct mail has not abused recipients as much as email has with its huge volumes of spam. So customers are much more on their guard when it comes to email than they are direct mail.

Customers also expect emails to reflect their relationship with the advertisers more closely than direct mail. Email, after all, is more high tech than direct mail from the customer's perspective.

Another probable reason for customers' wariness of email comes from the fact that advertisers tend to create high volumes of poor email programs because they are cheaper to produce than direct mail. As a result, email quality trails far behind that enjoyed by direct mail.

It all comes down to permission.

The email customer has agreed to accept your emails as long as you do not abuse the privilege. And nothing abuses the recipient more than irrelevant messages.

Posted on June 17, 2008 and filed under Online Marketing.