An ongoing discussion in the email marketing industry regards whether or not email marketing can be a conversation. The notion that it should be a conversation has quickly evolved into what almost amounts to a philosophy for some. You will hear some very smart people evangelize this way of doing things.

I suspect this view developed from a way of driving home the point that in general, email marketers are often damn lousy at doing anything other than shouting sell lines at people over a megaphone. The message needed to be driven home that if your marketing email content lacked relevance, you were unlikely to have success with it. The nice thing about relevancy, it is usually a win-win for both the sender and subscriber.

Part of being relevant is being sincere in my opinion. The email marketing industry in general hasn’t done a great job of demonstrating that they do want a conversation with subscribers. How many “no-reply@” addresses do you see in a week from marketers? Subscribers are going to be less and less impressed with an industry which espouses a philosophy of interaction while telling people not to talk to them. “Please do not reply to this address as it is not monitored” – that logic has never made sense to me.

Email as a conversation starter

Recently, Scott Cohen of The Inbox Group jumped into the conversation (irony!) and offered his two cents on it. He makes a fair point that while email may not by definition be a conversation, it is and should be a conversation starter. Regardless of who’s right or wrong, Scott (as usual) makes some sense.

Let me offer you an example from another, older medium about conversations and why starting them is so important. In morning radio, what you want to do is spark conversation and discussion because it can be very effective in building and keeping audience. Around the water cooler you want people to be asking others if they heard what you said this morning. Now that water cooler is covered in dust and people are sharing the conversation you start online via social media which makes this tactic even more effective. Word-of-mouth is coming into its own with social media amplifying its power far above what it ever was in the past and that power should be respected and leveraged.

Bonnie Raitt once sang about giving people something to talk about and that’s what you have to do with email marketing! Spark that discussion and keep it going on your blog, Twitter and Facebook.

If people are subscribed to your list then they obviously think you have something relevant to share. Don’t assume that relevancy is so narrowly defined that all you can talk about is the latest shoes to hit your shelves. Create some general profiles for your subscribers and then consider how you can expand your content a little to offer them more sparks for those conversations. Tack those profiles up on your wall and use them to create a content calendar which you can apply as a guide to ensure you are the centre of attention at their water cooler.

Read Scott’s post here.