Email is hardly the newest marketing channel around, but it shouldn’t be treated like a commodity. Respect its power.

A friend recently asked for advice about dealing with a client and how it was managing its email program. After hearing my friend out, I said, “Your client is just using email. They don’t respect it.”

Think about this for a minute.

Email isn’t a commodity. If you misuse it, you will go to email jail, and the keys are in the hands of the spam filters, Spamhaus and other blocklists, and your customers.

In 2020 and 2021, email finally won back respect when all other channels failed. Email shone throughout the pandemic and what we’ve gone through over the last year. The tedious “email is dead” conversation has faded away. And thank God for that.

Email is the central point in proactive conversations with our customers, whether they’re about COVID-19 policy and procedure, about social justice, you name it. Email is again the information medium that can reach customers directly through the inbox.

Let’s look at what that respect means.

Customers finally want to do something constructive with their data

In the last 12 months, I’ve had more sophisticated conversations about email with my clients. Sure, some clients still just want to send another campaign. But I’ve also had twice as many conversations with big brands that want to do more with their data.

They want to use data and systems intelligently. They understand the need for a single record for each of their customers. They want to learn about customer data platforms and how they can use them for better email messaging.

Also, their increased desire isn’t just to achieve their own goals and objectives. It also pairs with respect for their customers or end users.

One company we’re working with is always asking, “Is this right for our customers? And how are we positioned to recognize it?”

Another company is doing an RFP with us. We talk about not just how to do the RFP but also, “What does this enable us to do faster and better? How does this make us smarter or more informed?”

In the last 24 months, more companies have looked at their data and how email can leverage it. When messaging during COVID lockdowns and partial restarts, data was fluid. The pandemic situation was irregular within the United States and throughout the world. Companies learned how to use data and integrations to make their message relevant, whether customers were living in lockdown or open cities.

Entire verticals were thrust — no, thrown — into digital transformation. They had to learn in an agile way, discover the power of their zero-party data and reach their end users in remarkable ways. The result: 2020-21 was the greatest catalyst for digital change we’ve seen since 2001.

They realized that better and cleaner data, coupled with a healthy respect for the email channel and their customers, would show them more advantages of using email in their marketing efforts.

Updating “set it and forget it” automation also breeds new respect for email

During COVID, brick-and-mortar brands, ecommerce and DTC companies, and hybrid enterprises started rethinking their marketing automation strategies. The Apple Mail Privacy Protection feature forced us to revise “set and forget” automations. (For the record, I hate the term “set and forget.” Nothing you do in marketing can run without oversight at some point.)

B2C companies had to redo “join us in store” messages that went to areas where stores were  closed and even now are operating on reduced hours or with smaller staffs. Apple MPP is forcing B2B companies that base their message track automations on email opens to revise that tactic.

Right now, companies of all kinds should be rethinking their out-of-stock communications to address global supply problems.

Companies have to do more than open up those automations and update the content, timing and targeting. Now they also have to think about what’s being said, and how it’s being said, and the messaging process itself.

That reveals greater intelligence about how we use automation. In the past, it just ran.

We’ve been fielding requests from clients and prospects who want to update and expand their automations because they didn’t have to think about them before now.

This respect for email’s power falls on the transactional side as well as the automation side. People are asking, “How do we monetize email when our physical stores and supply chains are compromised? How can we maximize everything through our transactional messages and in every touch with the customer?”

Companies have become greater stewards of the channel by not over-messaging some segments because they don’t want to burn out and lose those customers.

This kind of examination in our industry is positive because it produced change. It also got marketers and strategists thinking about what they want to change.

How the email community pulled together

Over the last two years, email people once again came together from all corners of the industry. I haven’t seen that since the beginning of my career in the late 1990s.

Back in my day (Oh, man. Did I really just say that? I’m old now!), was a resource for many of us who were quickly trying to learn everything we could about our nascent industry.

Everything was new. Everybody had questions but didn’t have anyone to ask. And then this listserv popped up.

We could post questions, and people in the community would offer advice. It was Slack before Slack was Slack. I got significantly smarter about email based on the conversations my questions started.

Today, OI has grown into a valuable resource for email marketers. And now we’re seeing the community come together around conversations COVID, data privacy and other sensitive topics.

We’re not asking, “What’s the best day to send email?” anymore (well, most of us aren’t). Instead, we’re asking, “How can I market to my customers when some of them are still in lockdown and others aren’t?” And “How do I adapt to a zero-party-data, MPP and cookieless world?”

These are higher-level questions that require well-thought-out answers. Sure, we still get the “abandon cart ideas” emails, but we’re seeing a much better balance between these tried-and-true questions and the truly evolutionary discussions.

It’s the same asking and answering, the same sharing of solutions. I remark on this unique quality all the time – in the email markerting community, we help each other without looking at who you work for or who your provider is, and without billing for our time.

Our email community pulled together, not just helping each other through the daily challenges  but also launching  deeper conversations over doing email better and respecting the channel.

It’s not as easy as “Send another email.” It takes thought and strategic guidance, which we have been preaching about for years (or decades, for some of us). Like more relevant messages are better for our customers, and data is central to execution of the channel.

Wrapping up

Every year, just before we plunge headlong into the madness of the holiday email season, I prepare a motivational pep talk to help marketers get through the weeks ahead. This time, I’m going to ask you to think back over the last 24 months and reflect for a moment.

When you need strength to get through another chaotic workday, look at the last 24 months. Understand that you, as a digital marketer ,have gotten this far already. So you can make it to the end of the next 30 days.

We can all get through, but we don’t have to do it alone. Lean on your team and your company. Ask for help, and offer it. Buy doughnuts for the development team (always a good plan when you need things done the rest of the year, too).

When you have some quiet time, think about how to make email better in 2022. Start a list. Pin it to your cubicle or your office wall. Count on the hope that next year you can make your program even better than it was in the last two years.

For now, let’s focus on what’s in front of us. Good luck, Godspeed, may the Force be with you, and see you on the other side!