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Mark Brownlow is the creator of E-mail Marketing Reports, a blog that provides information on improving and understanding e-mail marketing. He is an independent web publisher, writer and journalist. Here he tells us of changes in e-mail marketing over the past few years, how e-mail marketing compares to other social media platforms and much more.

You have a post about “future-proof e-mail marketing.” You provide six principles, but what do you think are some of the most common mistakes businesses make while e-mail marketing?

Three that stand out are:

1. Not selling the sign-up. If you want people to opt-in to get emails from you, give them the opportunity to do so and give them a reason to do so. That sounds self-evident, but you often find sign-up forms tucked away out of sight in website footers. Or limited to a bland statement like "sign-up for our newsletter"...to which the natural response is "why should I?" People need a reason to sign-up for your emails. Tell them how they will benefit: will they get discounts exclusive to email subscribers? Perhaps insight that will help them do their job better? Whatever the benefit, tell people.

2. Neglecting the basics. The media, bloggers and vendors get carried away with all the new tools and tactics available to email marketers. But even the most advanced campaigns need to be built on solid foundations, and these can get lost in all the excitement about what's new. This means first ticking the boxes on basic issues, like sending a welcome message to people who just signed-up, or ensuring your emails read and display properly, even if the images within are suppressed at the recipient's end (as they usually are).

3. Forgetting the "other" impacts of email. We tend to focus very much on the immediate, direct response to email, largely because it's normally pretty good. So we look at how many people clicked on a link and then bought or took some other action right that minute. With time, we've learned that email is also incredibly powerful at supporting long-term response, loyalty and action elsewhere. Not every email needs to get an immediate online sale: think also how it might build the customer relationship, nurture a lead along the sales cycle or get people to attend events, buy offline, share content with their social network, etc.

How important is it to track your numbers/traffic/e-mail responses while you're trying to gauge the reach of your product/service?

Numbers are obviously very important, but a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they tell you so much about where you might be going right or wrong with your emails. So you can, for example, look through responses to past emails and identify the elements that drive success (subject lines, offers, etc.). There are traps for the unwary though. In particular, there's a temptation in email to focus on one or two "intermediate" numbers, like the size of your address list or the number of clicks an email gets. All of these intermediate numbers are important, but your efforts do need to be judged by the end goal...typically sales or downloads or similar. Curiously, it's the important numbers that are sometimes ignored when we spend too much time obsessing over the mechanics of email. Nor do the numbers tell you everything. For example, a lot of people will get a marketing email and then type in the sender's web address by hand or do a related search at Google: an email response that is not normally picked up in campaign reports.

How do you think e-mail marketing fits in with other social media marketing platforms like blogs, Facebook, etc?

For a long while there was a big debate about which was better, but now we're finally understanding that it's not an either/or situation. Social media and social networks have their particular characteristics and are suited to particular business goals. Ditto email. As always, it's "just" a question of finding the right tool for the right job. For example, email is very good for driving conversions, social for driving conversations. And the two can work together, if that makes sense for your business. So you can use social networks to grow your email list, for example by embedding the sign-up form in your Facebook page or mentioning email content to your Twitter followers. Or you can use email to drive social success, for example by encouraging subscribers to share email content with their friends, followers and connections. You might promote Facebook competitions by email or simply ask subscribers to follow/like you. Or you can share content between social and email, for example by distributing blog posts by email, or using email content as a starting point for a discussion at Facebook. Social marketing has enormous potential, but people should not let that cloud the benefits of email marketing. After all, just about everyone online has email and the competition for attention in the average inbox pales into significance beside the chaos of, for example, a stream of Twitter messages.

Your “14 predictions for email marketing in 2031” is certainly entertaining, but do you feel that one day emailing and marketing may reach this point?

You know, I have difficulty making real predictions just for the rest of this year. The joy and challenge of marketing and selling online is adjusting to the ever-changing dynamics. But I do believe there will always be a place for those who deliver value to their customers (whether through email or elsewhere). We can certainly say there will be and more competition for attention online. While creativity, innovation, humor and a host of other things can grab attention in the short-term, long-term it's the value you offer with your products, services and web presence that builds lasting online success. On the other hand, by 2031 we might all be slaves to our smartphones and tablets, who'll make the marketing and purchasing decisions for us.

How have you seen e-mail marketing change over the past eight years or so since you’ve started your blog?

It's changed and also stayed the same. There's still a lot of people sending fairly basic, regular newsletter-type emails out. That's not a criticism - they do so because it works. And then there are those who have taken advantage of the huge array of tools that appeared over the last decade to send email where the content, sending times, offers etc. might be customized according to subscriber data or to the subscriber's individual behavior. In the last couple of years, there's been a positive trend toward automated campaigns. For example, when an email is sent to a customer who placed items in an online shopping cart, but didn't complete the transaction. Those kind of campaigns do extraordinarily well. I've seen examples where you're getting 200 times the costs in new revenue. In the next year or two, I expect the impact of mobile devices to grow. We're moving from one-device email (basically a desktop computer) to multiple-device email, where people are chopping and changing between their phone, tablet, laptop and/or computer. That has implications for what your email should look like, but I'm curious how mobile also affects subscriber behavior. The way people use email surely changes when it's accessible everywhere and at any time. The industry has certainly become more self-confident and there's now wider recognition that email is more than "just" a workhorse for pulling people back to websites or giving a quick sales lift. It's become a broader discipline, recognized as a versatile tool able to support a range of sales and marketing goals.

Daniel Milstein is the author of The ABC of Sales and the #1 Loan Sales Officer in America.Interview with Mark Brownlow