e-Mail is free, relationships are incredibly valuable

As on most days, Seth Godin has an insightful observation — today it’s about e-mail. Seth’s post is a cautionary note to marketers (Seth’s audience) about the trap e-mail lays for them (us): it’s so enticing to believe e-mail is “free” to send out, but the ease with which someone can unsubscribe from your distribution list (or ignore what you send) can easily turn “free” into hundreds, or thousands of dollars lost in the value of one relationship.

I’ll be posting more on this topic in about a month or so, as I’m currently doing a great deal of research (and pondering) about e-mail: what it is, what it’s isn’t, what’s wrong about it, what’s right — and how it is being greatly altered by things like Twitter and, someday in the future, developments like Google Wave.

Part of my personal research into the role of e-mail is to unsubscribe from as many marketing and “pitch-oriented” email lists as possible. (Note: I haven’t tried to unsubscribe from “spam” e-mail lists, as the unsubscribe process for spam is merely a means for them to know it’s a working address, so they can send you more. I have other ways to deal with spam.)

After a week of unsubscribing, I’m probably only 60% of the way there. But already, I am feeling that a heavy burden has been lifted off my e-mail inbox. I’ve already re-subscribed to a couple of things I’ve realized I missed. But I’ve also discovered that most of what I was getting was redundant or fluff or irrelevant. But the most important thing I’ve learned is this: We’ve let e-mail become a huge part of our lives, but we don’t really understand it.

And like Seth says, we think it’s free, but in reality it’s an incredibly valuable (i.e., expensive) thing. That’s important to marketers for this reason: If you think something is free (i.e., it doesn’t appear as a cost on your budget), you take its value for granted. It’s more important to view an e-mail list as the lynchpin of what your most important business asset really is: relationships.

Do that and you realize that every time you hit that send button, it could be costing you thousands of dollars.