Grunts and groans in the e-mail sector.

Want to work as a drone for middling pay? Then a job in e-mail marketing may be right for you!

There’s an oft-repeated axiom that success in business is 20% inspiration and 80% perspiration.

If that’s the case, then the field of e-mail marketing is proving the rule – in spades.

Recently, e-mail service provider MessageGears surveyed workers in the business-to-consumer e-mail enterprise space. All survey respondents worked in companies that deploy 10 million or more e-mails per month.  More to the point, two thirds of the respondents worked in companies that send more than 50 million e-mails monthly.

So, we’re talking about companies that are on their game when it comes to the e-mail discipline – presumably aware of the latest operational and analytical tools to make their businesses as efficient as possible.

Here’s what MessageGears discovered in its survey:

  • More than 90% of respondents that have purely strategic roles in e-mail marketing are “very satisfied” with their jobs … and ~81% would again choose the e-mail discipline as a career.
  • More than two-thirds of respondents who are unhappy with their jobs spend 50% or more of their time on operational work tasks … and half of those would choose a different career if they were starting over.

Clearly, the creative and strategic parts of e-mail marketing are more popular than the operational aspects. Indeed, respondents rated the following job tasks the most fulfilling ones personally:

  • Designing customer-centric e-mails
  • Creating e-mail content
  • Devising new ways to engage with customers via e-mail communications

On the other hand, the lowest marks were recorded for these tasks:

  • E-mail testing
  • Analytics
  • Data segmenting

Unfortunately, it’s these latter types of tasks that take up the majority of daily job responsibilities for many workers in the e-mail sector: According to the survey results, nearly half of the workers spend more time on testing, analytics and data segmenting than they do on anything else.

MessageGears claims that there’s a direct link between the heavy proportion of operational tasks and the lack of creativity and strategic thinking in the field of e-mail.

Whether this linkage results in a loss of efficiency may be open to question … but what it does suggest is that working in e-mail isn’t the most personally fulfilling path for a marketing career – at least for most people.

More about the MessageGears survey results can be accessed here.

What’s the very latest on e-mail open rates?

Here’s an interesting factoid to consider: there were an average of 247 billion e-mail messages deployed each day during 2009.

With the plethora of commercial e-mail communications – accompanied by groaning inboxes and all – it’s only natural to wonder if what’s happening to the ones you send correlates to the experience of others.

The Direct Marketing Association helps answer that question with the results of a survey it just completed. The DMA’s 2010 Response Rate Trend Report, conducted with ~475 respondents in March and April, is the group’s seventh annual survey. It found that average open rate for e-mails sent to a company’s “house” e-mail database list is just under 20%, while the clickthrough rate from the e-mail to a web landing page is ~6.5%.

And the average “conversion” rate – taking whatever additional action is desired – is ~1.7%.

[Those figures are for “home-grown” e-mail databases. The percentages would be lower when working with outside/purchased lists.]

How does e-mail performance compare to response rates encountered in direct mail marketing pieces? The DMA research studied that, too. These days, direct mail response rates are running about 3.5% for house lists … but less than half of that (~1.4%) for outside prospect lists.

Commenting on the survey findings, Yuri Wurmser, the DMA’s research manager, said, “Traditional channels are holding their own in terms of response, but it is a multi-channel market out there where everyone is using a lot of different channels,”

Amen to that.

The DMA survey also found – not surprisingly – that while response rates for B-to-B campaigns tend to be higher than consumer campaigns, e-mail tactics are used less often for direct sales compared to postal mail. Which goes to show that despite their added costs and longer lead times, traditional direct mail marketing techniques still have a role to play in the marketing mix.

And what about telemarketing? The DMA survey reveals that outbound telemarketing to prospects provides the highest response rates — around 6% — but also the highest cost-per-lead at more than $300.

A full report is available for a fee from the DMA, and can be ordered here.

The single most important success factor in e-mail marketing …

Marketers are continually looking for ways to tweak e-mail campaigns to improve their success. From direct mail tradition, we know the “list” and the “offer” are highly important success factors, followed by the creativity and appearance of the promotional piece itself.

But what’s different about e-mail marketing campaigns? Doesn’t a compelling and informative “Subject” line in the inbox also have a lot to do with their success?

Well … yes. But in field research conducted recently by Epsilon, a leading direct marketing agency and consulting firm that queried more than 600 North American respondents, the findings revealed that there’s another factor that is far more important than the “Subject” line. It’s the “From” line on the e-mail.

In fact, nearly 70% of the respondents cited the “From” line as the single most important factor determining whether or not they’ll open an e-mail message. And this figure is up from 60% in Epsilon’s 2002 survey, so the trend is clear.

By contrast, the “Subject” line is the most important factor for only about a quarter of the respondents.

What this means is that people are looking to see if they know (and trust) the sender before they do anything else … even before reading the subject line of the e-mail. Thus, a poorly performing e-mail campaign might have less to do with the campaign’s specific marketing elements than it does with the sender’s familiarity and reputation.

With groaning e-mail inboxes, is it any wonder that people are inclined to eyeball the “From” column, quickly scanning for the (few) e-mails they’ll open as opposed to the scads of other messages they’ll delete without a second thought?

In short, the “From” line offers comfort. It’s the familiarity of people they know … companies with which they have a relationship … brands that they trust.

That’s also why it’s so important for marketers to send “welcome” or “thank you” e-mails to new registrants without delay. Why risk having someone forget they signed up, and then hitting the unsubscribe button (or worse, lodging a spam complaint) when your messages hit their inbox later? That’s snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.