It was August 2000, and I was in a conference room with a number of newspaper circulation and advertising executives.

I had just finished a presentation describing how permission-based e-mail and the Internet were poised to forever change the way we do business.

The silence in the room was deafening.

Then the questions started:

  • “Isn’t it true that only a small percentage of consumers have an e-mail account?”

  • “Do you believe advertisers would prefer e-mail and the Internet over the personal service provided by our ad reps?”

  • And finally: “Have you ever worked with a market our size?”

I’ve learned a lot about e-marketing – and the news media industry – over the past 13 years, but the three keys to successful e-marketing have remained constant since before that meeting back in August 2000:

  • An integrated database.

  • A plan with measurable goals.

  • The capability to transact business online in a secure environment.

These three keys to successful e-marketing are like the legs on a stool; when one is missing, you’ll likely find yourself – and your results  on the floor.

I hate lists almost as passionately as I love integrated databases. Any list – or database, for that matter – is old the second it is created.

For this reason, many companies decide the resources required to develop and maintain an accurate database (whether consumer or business) cannot be justified. Still others launch database initiatives and invest in the capabilities required to develop integrated databases, but with no final destination in mind.

The truth remains that local news media companies are still in the best position to build and maintain an accurate and up-to-date database of the consumers and businesses in their market.

The biggest barriers to database success have been and always will be internal: organisational structure, competing objectives, inconsistent execution, etc.

Yet, without an integrated database that reflects relationships across departments, brands, and channels, we are left with out-of-date lists that stand in the way of capitalising on the benefits of e-marketing; reaching the right person with the right message at the right time.

A list is data that becomes information only when we are able to relate it to our world: Are they a customer? Do they live in town? And information becomes knowledge only when we use it to change the way we make decisions: Who should receive this message? When should they receive it?

An integrated database changes the way we make decisions – for the better – and is the first key to successful e-marketing.

If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there. The same is true for e-marketing. Without measurable goals and a specific plan (directions) most efforts (journeys) will never reach their full potential (destination).

A 90- to 120-day e-marketing sales and service plan – that is integrated across departments, brands, and channels – is the second key to successful e-marketing.

If e-marketing is something we “get to” when we have the time, it will be doomed to fail. When e-marketing consists of a string of non-related “projects,” the likelihood of long-term success is diminished.

Successful e-marketing requires measurable goals – known to all involved – and ongoing updates to tactical plans that reflect changing market conditions. When e-marketing “stands alone” or is isolated or detached from our day-to-day business, it will never help us reach our final destination.

Easy is an expectation, not a unique selling proposition. It is so easy to be a consumer today with the ability to search, find, review, order, receive, and return merchandise or services without leaving your chair.

E-marketing is all about making it easier to do business, and that is why integrating secure online response across channels is the third key to successful e-marketing.

Local news media companies reach more consumers and businesses each day than any other business. Integrating secure online response across channels (in-paper ads, single copy inserts, point-of-purchase, postal bills, e-bills, Web sites, etc.) not only extends the reach of product and service offers, it increases response.

This generates more revenue at a lower cost per sales and service transaction.

Now that’s a destination most would agree is worth the journey.

Take a minute – or two – to step back and take an objective look at how your organisation has approached e-marketing. While there are a number of factors that can impact short-term results, e-marketing’s long-term success requires an integrated database, a plan with measurable goals, and the ability to integrate secure online response across existing channels to maximise results.