That tumultuous roar you can hear in the distance is a flood of commercial email sweeping its way toward your customers' inboxes. And governments, ISPs, trade organizations, email software manufacturers and others are busy erecting damns and weirs to stem, filter and regulate the flow.
Some email marketers desperately pump out messages as fast as possible, eager to make the most of the moment before too many barriers are complete. But in doing so they're forgetting some core principles of natural resource management. They're locked into a mining, rather than management, mentality.
The problem is the same in the forestry world. Faced with a large potential resource -- in this case an expanse of forest -- the owner can either manage or mine the trees at his disposal.
Those who take the mining approach clearfell the land and strip it of its value. Once each parcel of ground is exhausted of useful material, the owner moves on to the next patch.
The flow of revenue is high, but soon slows to a trickle as the most productive and accessible sites disappear, and more and more cost and effort is required to access, fell and process new tree stocks. Eventually, felling remote or unproductive areas becomes unviable and the owner looks for new business elsewhere.
Other forest owners think in terms of sustainable management. They, too, exploit the forest, but selectively, taking the choice timber and leaving enough material to grow and replace the trees that are removed.
They invest in the quality of the resource - replanting, weeding, pruning, controlling pests and diseases, fertilizing and more. All of which ensures a continuous and growing supply of high-value timber in perpetuity. Returns are initially lower than with mining, but last considerably longer. Nor is the owner damned to a never-ending search for new forests to exploit.
The resource value of an opt-in mailing list of prospects and customers, like that of a forest, is undisputed. You have a captive audience of individuals who've specifically asked to get your (marketing) messages. But do you see these addresses as something to mine or manage?
Too many marketers are seduced by the lure of quick and easy money. The result is clearfelling. They blast their lists with commercial messages, the aim being to get the maximum short-term revenue, at a minimum cost, and with little investment in long-term planning or in the address owners themselves.
It works for a while, but if they can't keep finding new addresses or lists to mine, the returns soon begin to collapse. Not only that, but they may find themselves with a few natural disasters on their hands; erosion (of customer confidence), climate change (in customer attitudes), floods (of unsubscribes), or desertification (watch those customers disappear).
The email marketers who see their lists as a sustainable resource respect and nurture their email addresses.
They're careful not to over-exploit the goodwill, interest, permission and sales potential of their prospects and customers. Which means they can come back again and again to harvest value from the resource (think repeat sales).
Careful management, and the value and service provided to the email address owners, enable the list to grow in both size (through evangelism and word of mouth) and value (through improved loyalty, trust and other relationship factors). The marketers are guaranteed a steady flow of revenue even without acquiring new addresses.
In the long-term, it's the manager -- not the miner -- who wins.
So are you a miner or a manager? If you're not sure, consider your answers to the following questions:
- If list revenue falls, is your automatic response to increase messaging frequency and noise, or to take a more considered look at the possible causes and solutions?
- Are you more concerned with finding new addresses than keeping and managing the ones you already have?
- Do you send out one-off stand-alone messages rather than email campaigns or email newsletters?
- Do you obsess over list size rather than quality?
- Are you transaction or relationship focused?
If we expand this issue to an industry-wide perspective, we can also see how email mining leads to the "tragedy of the email commons".
There is little short-term incentive for a fisherman to lower his individual catch in the long-term interests of the fishing industry. Equally, there is little apparent short-term incentive for an *individual* email marketer to regulate his messages in the long-term interests of the email marketing industry.
But if we are miners, not managers, then don't be surprised if the result is "over fishing", where the resource (recipients) disappears (email fatigue, ISP filtering, etc.) and regulators get involved (laws and licensing).