Why C-Suites Are Agonizing Over the Death of Email

The higher on the corporate totem pole the executive who leaped to a premature conclusion of email’s demise, the less likely he or she is to have the time and patience to carefully drill down into the data.

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There is no question that many of the fat cats inhabiting C-suites today are nervously scratching their heads and trying to conjure up strategies to protect their empires against the possibility of an economic downturn. The barbarians are not yet at the elevators; but with all the changes happening in the marketplace and Cassandra predictions that the happy days of the strong economy are coming to an end, probably sooner rather than later, the day of reckoning may not be too far off.

It is probably a good time to start worrying — if not a bit late. While the macro data and quarterly earnings calls — which always seem to be the focus of our corporate leaders — are clearly important, they often reflect superficial understanding of what’s really going on. Or the micro profit dynamics that fuel their businesses.

“I´m afraid that email is already a dead platform” complained a senior executive, having seen her company’s latest dashboard — showing a pronounced decrease in the number of responses, compared to the previous years. The conclusion: “Nobody reads emails anymore.”

That’s what we used to call, in less politically correct times, “mother-in-law research.” Suffice it to say that, on the basis of available information, the paraphrase of Mark Twain’s classic remark when he read his own obituary in the newspaper is appropriate here:

“The reports of my death (or in this case, the death of email) are greatly exaggerated.” That doesn’t mean it’s as healthy as it might be, but it may be a little early to call the undertaker.

Rodrigo Mesquita, of Return Path, a company that has an admitted preference for email as a medium, likes to quote the initial paragraph of his company’s useful study, “The State of Email”:

“Studies show that a vast majority of consumers prefer email for brand communications, and current projections indicate that by 2021, there will be more than 4.1 billion email users, worldwide.”

The trouble is that the higher on the corporate totem pole the executive who leaped to a premature conclusion of email’s demise, the less likely he or she is to have the time and patience to carefully drill down into the data and discover such critical factors as its overuse, its increasingly dirty data, or sub-optimal delivery rates — to say nothing of the creative quality of the communications.

What is more likely is an edict issued from on high, cutting the very resources that could make the email regain its place as the least expensive medium per thousand with the greatest reach and the ability for personalization, known to be a critically important element of today’s marketing and the medium with the highest ROMI (the M is for “Marketing) and the least up-front cash investment. But that’s a level of detail that seldom makes it up the last flight of steps to the C-suite. It’s too micro for management attention.

Haven’t we all seen it happen dozens of times?

Who is easier to blame for the figures that don’t come up to budget than the marketing team?

It is well-known that as public corporations look toward the end of any given calendar quarter and the estimated profit figure looks below forecast, the easiest way of instantly cutting significant expense is to cancel a large chunk of the current marketing budget. As costs come instantly down, the other end of this seesaw, profits, rise magically up. And does it really matter to the company’s success in the long run? There have been lots of learned MBA thesis on this subject, but no one is certain.

What is certain is the tendency of many companies to still view marketing as an “overhead.” The useful publication, Digiday, recently headlined an intriguing piece: “ ‘Overhead’: Why marketing is still seen as a cost-center,” which looks at some of the reasons why marketing often gets the blame when things go wrong.

Despite chief marketing officers making the case for how important marketing is to an overall business, marketing’s reputation as a “cost center,” versus one that actually drives profits, is hard to shake off …

Reducing marketing overhead became the standard approach for troubled brands following the 2008 recession. Procter & Gamble, Unilever, and General Mills, among others, cut their marketing spend, slashed their agency rosters and gave procurement departments much more power putting cost above all else. [My bolding.] That approach hasn’t always proved successful — look at what cost-cutting has done to Sears or Kraft-Heinz — but it hasn’t dissuaded the C-suite from slicing and dicing marketing.

Are companies going to be any smarter the next time? Your guess is as good as mine.

Conclusion

Until the C-suite executives stop “putting cost above all else and do the work of truly understanding how, in today’s increasingly B2C environment, marketing is the only bridge between the business and its customer, they are often falling into the water. Bean counters in the procurement departments are trained to buy as cheaply as possible. Not understanding the economic process that is data-driven marketing, their knee-jerk reaction is to cut expenses. Those cuts are often counter-productive. Procurement can always save a bundle getting the order to the customer in a week rather than the same day. And what’s all this wasted expense for CRM actions?

“Overhead” need not be a dirty word; especially when the majority of what is often labelled “overhead” is often the cost of the fuel which powers the total sales process.

Simplistic as it may sound; the bottom line should always be “the bottom line.” Before discarding an effective medium like email or decimating an effective marketing program by mislabeling it “overhead,” C-suite executives might do well to look carefully at the micro issues — what actually happens with each customer — instead of only at the big numbers.

It might be worth knowing that according to the Wall Street Journal, “Average Tenure of CMO Slips to 43 Months.”

Bonus

If you crave success and justified adulation, glory may be waiting for you at echolatam.org.

As data and AI increasingly drive our industry and there is increased focus on the bottom line, I’ve developed a special respect for the International ECHO Awards. They were born in the United States 80 years ago and are now also present in Latin America and Brazil.

We all know there are many advertising awards, wonderful for our egos and our CVs when we win one. The best known is the Cannes International Festival of Creativity. Cannes celebrates creativity, while paying lip service to strategy and measurable results. That’s great, as far as it goes.

But as you know, our targeted business has other dimensions that deserve to be acknowledged and rewarded. That’s the purpose of the International ECHO Awards, the only ones that consistently rate campaigns on the three pillars of Strategy, Creative and Res,ults, giving equal weight to each of these components. The type of results ECHO measures are business results, the bottom line.

Entries are open through Aug. 27. Get all of the details at echolatam.org.

Author: Peter J. Rosenwald

Peter J. Rosenwald is an expat American living and working in Brazil; founder and first CEO of Wunderman Worldwide, International Division of Wunderman agency) and first chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi Direct Worldwide; strategist and senior executive in charge of building subscription and data-driven marketing for Editora Abril, Latin America's leading magazine publisher; founder of Consult Partners, active strategic marketing consultancy working in Brazil, U.S. and U.K. International keynote speaker on data-driven marketing and author of "Accountable Marketing" (Thomson), "Profiting From the Magic of Marketing Metrics" (Direct Marketing IQ), and "GringoView" blog author for Brazilian Huffington Post. With an international perspective, my blog's purpose is to share my maverick views of this business I've spent the last half-century working in, enjoying and observing.

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