I’m wandering past our direct marketing specialist’s desk last week and he tosses out a great line: “I wonder if, maybe, email prospecting is dead.” We’re close enough to the long weekend that I swim away from the bait, but the comment is worth further examination.
Email prospecting feels a little like trying to find your soul mate by speed dating. If my brand gets in enough faces, surely one or two will find me attractive. If I just find the right subject line, creative hook or offer, surely I’ll get some phone numbers. Or, maybe we’ll just hook up for a quick white paper….
Unlike other forms of online lead generation, unsolicited email violates our personal space. We can ignore banner ads. Searches are our ideas. But email pierces the thin veil of virtual personal space we call the inbox. No wonder response rates are falling, while the cost of renting decent names is rising. Maybe it’s actually worse than speed dating. It’s more like calling everyone in the phone book and asking if they’d like to catch a movie.
We didn’t mean to spam; in fact, we created very strict(ish) rules to set ourselves apart from the spammers. But maybe we were just kidding ourselves. Maybe email wasn’t just postal mail without the printing, postage and fulfillment costs. Our potential customers have to walk to their mailbox before they toss out our slick, oversized postcards; with email, we’re interrupting their trains of thought every time Outlook announces our uninvited presence.
So, as the Age of Reputation takes hold, we have to think extra long and hard about every impression. Yes, if those potential customers are only made aware of our great brand promise, surely they will bring us willingly into their worlds.
But maybe the manner of impression matters more now. Perhaps one of Marshall McLuhan’s famous utterances can be slightly amended – maybe, in the Age of Reputation, the modality is the message. Hot modalities are those that draw us closer to potential relationships (like social media and opt-in conversations, such as Twitter or requested email); cold modalities, like unsolicited email or poorly designed contextual ads, at best annoy and at worst alienate. A marketing drink in the face, if you will.
Maybe if we want to create lasting relationships, we need to stop speed dating and build our reputations in a way that get our customers to set us up with their friends. Then, when our email hits their inbox, it might just be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.