MediaPost Blog

by David Goetzl

Many in Utah deem the beer offensive, maybe rightly. Still, it was too bad the bar didn’t have Polygamy Porter. The local favorite’s label features a nude guy surrounded by six women. And its tagline is hard to top: “Why have just one?” So, it would have been fun to watch people react as a bartender handed over a bottle. And maybe a keg of laughs if a battle of the punch lines broke out.

Alas, the marketers who gathered in snowy Park City had to entertain themselves with talk of conversion rates and analytics dashboards. Dash that. The bar was bottomless with plenty of other libations. And at the Email Insider Summit’s opening reception at the spectacular Chateaux at Silver Lake, people laughed with old friends, reveled in the European-chalet vibe and made plans to go snowmobiling.

There was also a little time to talk shop. And one topic may have caused more amusement than if Polygamy brew were on tap: Is email marketing dead? The industry has been buzzing over a Wall Street Journal article that offered up: “Email has had a good run as king of communications. But its reign is over.” Facebook, Twitter, Google Wave would be the future. Soon, no one would hit a “reply to sender” button. The Journal article two months ago was high-profile, but it wasn’t the first time in 2009 an email-marketing obituary was written.

“I have laughed about it,” said David Bronson, lead engineer at Turner Broadcasting. People can tweet away, poke an entire nation. Bronson said the social media revolution is actually being fueled by email. “It seems like all these new modes of communication just reinforce email … email is where people discover (them),” he said.

Bridge Worldwide’s Marty Boyer mused: “You want to cause havoc at work, take down the email server.” Hard to argue with that. Boyer came to the reception with fellow associate director of technology at Bridge, Kevin Gerl. Like many, Gerl is bullish on the chance to synch email with social media — one of the main reasons he came to the Summit. “If I had figured it out, I wouldn’t necessarily need to be here,” he said. A bonus, however, comes with the skiing and other outdoor adventures available right outside the Chateaux’s door. Gerl wasn’t sure what he might do, but Boyer said he was looking forward to snowmobiling.

Motoring through the wild like that concerns some people, but he’s not a bit worried. He used to jump out of airplanes in the Army. WebMD’s senior director of marketing Jon Deaner said he wasn’t sure what sports he might try, but he’s prepared nonetheless. “I already bought a pair of wool socks,” he said. At WebMD, he said email is far from being on life support. “Thriving,” in fact.

WebMD sends out 40 to 50 newsletters covering various conditions. Recently, it launched a content initiative having to do with pet health, whose newsletters keep producing the highest open rates. That has led to a crack diagnosis. “I guess people care more about their pets than they do themselves,” Deaner joked.

Marketers are likely among the dog-loving set. But they also care more and more about metrics. And if social media continues to grow, they are grappling with how to measure its effectiveness.

Then again, should it matter? After all, how much does putting up a Facebook page cost? It’s not cheap, especially when using a top-notch social media agency, according to Sheryl Biesman, internet marketing manager at Naturemade.com. “Everything needs to be measured if it costs money,” she said. “Our brand managers control the budget and they request ROI.”

Not far from Biesman amid the clinking glasses was Eloqua’s Dennis Dayman, who felt the Utah trip had already yielded excellent ROI for him. As a chief privacy and deliverability officer, he travels frequently. But this time, he was able to bring his twin eight-year-old boys and wife along.

Many Summit attendees were happy to connect with his wife, who’s gaining visibility through her once-a-month posts on Deliverability.com — a blog Dayman co-runs. Under an “Ask my wife – She’s always right” banner, she serves as sort of a one-person focus group, offering email marketers advice from a regular mom’s perspective. She’ll weigh in on what types of subject lines grab her and which special offers entice her.

And she is starting to take questions.

Speaking of which, the second panel on the Summit’s first day should spark plenty of those. Michelle Prieb, a project manager at Ball State’s Center for Media Design, will moderate a discussion looking in part at recent graduates’ changing attitudes towards social media now that they are in the workforce. At a previous Summit, a Prieb panel with three Ball State students proved to be a smash. As they spoke about Facebook, one mocked a suggestion that students would use the site as their email hub. No way, she said, email offers a certain level of professionalism that can’t be replaced. ”

“You’re not going to poke your professor!”

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