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Ken Magill

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You Say Relevance; I Hear Blah, Blah, Blah


By Ken Magill

I’m with Andrew Kordek.

The co-founder and chief strategist of email consultancy Trendline Interactive recently stated in a blog post that he despises the term “relevancy.”

Amen, brother.

Though I will admit I didn’t always despise it. I’ve even used it. I simply have come to despise it.

Why? Because it has become a term email’s pundits—I hate that word, too, but can’t think of a self-explanatory replacement—use to bludgeon email marketers into segmenting their lists, an activity most aren’t engaged in and won’t be anytime soon.

Relevancy refers to a best practice, but not a common practice. As a result, when a columnist touts relevance, the message is lost on most of the marketplace. Moreover, once a reader determines “he’s not talking to me” with one column, the reader will lose interest in everything else the columnist has to say.

So much for moving the marketplace along.

When I worked for a cataloger in the early 90s, I would read the trades and think we sucked.

“We are the Goofus of direct marketing,” I would say, jokingly referring to the long-running Highlights magazine “Goofus and Gallant” cartoon where rude, bully Goofus always does things wrong and the biggest-begging-for-an-ass-kicking-cartoon-wussy-of-all-time Gallant does them right.

But we weren’t Goofus. We were average. And by average, I mean just fine. We were a collection of people—collections of people by definition are dysfunctional—who did a lot of things wrong and a lot of things right.

It was only after I began writing for the trades that I realized why I had such a sense of direct-marketing inferiority at my old catalog job: The trades tend to cover only the best marketers in their case studies, and only the best things these marketers have done.

Why? Because often we get our case studies from vendors and vendors—quite understandably—only put forward their best clients for interviews.

And these clients never share—on the record at least—all the stupid crap they did on their way to marketing spectacularness.

As a result, case studies are always exceptional.

To combat this, I try and find case studies where a marketer has done something simple that anyone can do and has achieved dramatic results.

From what I’m hearing, striving for relevancy—segmentation—isn’t one of those things for most marketers.

Moreover, the concept of relevancy in email marketing simply refers to 80 percent of traditional direct marketing’s 40/40/20 rule, the rule that says a campaign’s success is determined 40 percent by the offer, 40 percent by the list and 20 percent by the creative.

Relevance is simply another way to refer to the offer and the list, or the offer and makeup of its recipients. Yes, it can refer to timing but timing also refers to offer and list—making Mary the right offer when she’s in the market to buy, for example.

Timing is one of the reasons new-mover lists are so popular with direct marketers. New Movers invariably spend a ton of money.

So to clarify, I don’t despise the concept of relevance. I despise the way the term has come to be used.

It gives too many marketers the impression they’re way behind the curve when they’re not.


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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by: Ken Magill
Date: 2011-07-23 08:28:56
Subject: em dashes

I did go a little em dash crazy with this one. Thanks, Karen!. I'll work on it.
Posted by: Karen
Date: 2011-07-19 14:50:15
Subject: I love you, but...

Ken, Each week I look forward to The Magill Report and your insightful yet entertaining prose. Love the messages, hate the em dashes. Sorry.
Posted by: chet dalzell
Date: 2011-07-19 14:45:37
Subject: on relevancy... and permission, too

Relevancy can be an analytics excercise (modeling and segmentation), but you're spot on -- it's also about topic, offer, timing, and other "observed" facts that direct marketers (can) do so well, each and every day. That's why I've always believed "relevancy" trumps "permission." You can have all the permission in the world, and if you're not relevant, you'll lose it. In fact, you may not even have permission, but if somehow, some way, a consumer or business individual finds you and sees your offer is relevant -- then BAM! -- chances are you'll have a customer. That's not an argument to throw away permission as a consideration, it is an argument to have a plan to establish relevancy (in any context) in addition to having permission. Segmentation, by the way, can help marketers make distinct offers, timing, media mixes, etc. Email marketers should be doing more segmented offers, not less of it.
Posted by: Andrew Kordek
Date: 2011-07-19 14:33:07
Subject: Thanks for the Props

Ken, Thanks for the props on my post as I had a fun time writing it. Since I have nothing more to say that is relevant, I will now end my comment. Andrew