All rumors to the contrary, email marketing is not dead or dying; in fact, DJ Waldow told me in this week's episode of Marketing Smarts, "It's thriving and growing."

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I invited DJ and his co-conspirator, Jason Falls, to the show to discuss their forthcoming book, The Rebel's Guide to Email Marketing, and to find out, first and foremost, why they would write a book about email marketing in this day and age!

(Note: DJ will be talking about how to integrate email and social media marketing at our B2B Forum in Boston, October 3-5. Use the code SMARTB2B when you register to save $200!)

2.9 Billion Accounts Can't Be Wrong

The first reason, as indicated above, is that they were sick and tired of hearing that email marketing is dead when, actually, 94% of people who are online use email regularly (for the mathematically declined, that's pretty much everybody), there are 2.9 billion email accounts in the world, and the percentage of time that people spend looking at commercial emails is steadily increasing.

Erroneous Advice

The other reason they wrote the book is that, according to Jason, "There's just been a lot of erroneous advice out there telling people a subject line has to be a certain number of characters or you can't use 'FREE' in the subject line, or it's a no-no to buy a list or use a pop-up to collect email addresses."

Driven by the rebellious attitude announced in the title of their book, DJ and Jason spend a lot of time identifying and debunking these bits of erroneous advice. As they see it, most of the best-practices related to email marketing that people find on the Web just don't hold up when you test them in specific contexts; and, in fact, people can sometimes get better results by doing the exact opposite of what the best-practice prescribes. 

Test, Test, Test

"You can't just assume that if we say you should always do this or this is something that's worked for us, it's going to work for your audience," Jason says. "You've got to test it."

Now, if you read MarketingProfs or attend any of our PRO Seminars, then the importance of testing won't be news to you. However, even though there are no "best-practices" per se, and although you should find out what works best in your context by testing your assumptions, many people don't actually test at all. I asked DJ for the reason they don't. 

Testing Ain't Easy!

After assuring me that it wasn't just a case of laziness, as I may have intimated, DJ explained that "not all email service providers (ESP) make it easy to test." That is, they may provide you with the basic mechanisms, but you may have to do a lot of manual test set-up (list prep and segmentation, etc.) yourself.

This brings us to the other problem: Testing, whether supported by the ESP or not, is still work. 

"We're all busy people," DJ said, "For some, [just] to get an email out the door is an accomplishment, let alone thinking about testing—and [about] what are you going to do and what's the subject line. And you're talking about some teams that are one-person teams."

Don't Forget to Measure the Things that Matter

Whether you are testing or not, you do need to evaluate the performance of your email marketing efforts, and that means measuring what matters. 

Measuring what matters can also help you determine whether the best-practices you've chosen to follow are really best for you. For example, many email marketers look at open rates when they are measuring the effectiveness of subject lines, and in many cases shorter subject lines do drive higher open rates.

However, email messages with longer subject lines, though opened less frequently, can have higher click-through rates once opened, the theory being that longer subject lines may better "qualify" recipients so that they are "opening with intent."

Email Marketing Doesn't End With an Open!

"When you send an email as a business, what are you trying to do?" Jason asked. "You're not trying to get them to, in most cases, respond to the email or subscribe to the same list they're already subscribed to. You're trying to get them to click through to something."

"You're using email," DJ added, "as that conduit to drive somebody somewhere else."

Accordingly, you have to ask yourself whether you are looking at and measuring the right things. Getting a lot of people to open your emails is great, but if that's all they did, then pretty soon you might find yourself out of a job!

The Bottom Line

Even though email marketing has been around for a while, the continuing evolution of the online landscape and the steady proliferation of devices on which email is viewed still leave plenty of room for experimentation—and an aggressive testing of best-practices. In fact, with so much ongoing change, breaking the rules may be the sole best-practice with any staying power. 

On this point, and in the context of integrating social media and email marketing, DJ said something interesting: "You're not really breaking the rules when it comes to email and social because, I think, the rules are still being created."

And if the rules are still to be created, rebel, you may have the chance to make up a few of your own! 

If you'd like to hear my entire conversation with DJ and Jason, you can use the player above or download the mp3 and listen at your leisure. Of course, you can also subscribe to Marketing Smarts via RSS or in iTunes and never miss an episode! 

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