In January of 2007 Jeanniey Mullen wrote a column for ClickZ entitled, “Who Owns Email?” rightly pointing out that no one “owns” the email channel in a universal sense.  While that’s true, at every entity sending email someone or some department will have ownership over the email channel.  In that same article, Jeanniey makes the statement, “An effective email marketer must understand not only contact strategies but also good layout elements, technical functions, database transfers, deliverability factors, and more.”

Contact strategies and layout elements sound like marketing functions.  For fear of sounding redundant, technical functions and database transfers sound like they should belong to technology.  And deliverability factors will include the monitoring of system logs and some of the “more” may include other reporting metrics from operational aspects to conversion and results reporting that are often handled by business or marketing operations.

So who owns the email channel at your organization?  Technology?  Marketing?  Operations?

Over the past dozen years I’ve spent time on the client side, the agency side, and as a consultant.  In that time I’ve experienced ownership by each of the three and here’s my take….

When Technology owns email, marketing waits.  In one instance an organization wanted to send a simple email invitation to visit their booth at a trade show.  Copy and design were pretty straight forward and basic, and didn’t take much time to generate.  The only links in the invitation was to the company’s home page and an opt-out link.  Doesn’t sound too complicated, right?  And it wasn’t.  “Business” put this project as a high priority.  Copy and design couldn’t have taken any more than 15 minutes.  Three days later congratulations abounded for turning this invitation out in such a short amount of time.  Three days was considered a quick turn-around.

When marketing owns email and is under pressure they sometimes throw caution – and good sense – to the wind.  “I know you made a million dollars for me yesterday, but what have you done for me today?”  Under pressure to generate more and more, marketing often looks at email like it’s a corporate drinking fountain where they can quench their thirst for some quick cash.  Stephanie Miller, of ReturnPath, explains some of the impact such an approach can have.

So what about operations ownership?  Done well, this is my favorite approach.  Operations has a tendency to take a more holistic view of the email channel and how it interacts with the business as a whole.  It looks at emails impact on retention, call center SLAs, and credit card charge backs; it keeps closer tabs on acquisition costs and churn – things that technology are unaware of and a lot of marketers overlook.

Just because you don’t have an operations group doesn’t mean that you can’t start looking at the email channel from an operations perspective.  And just because you have an operations group doesn’t mean that they know all of the ins and outs of all of the moving parts of the email channel.  It really just comes down to who you report to and what they do with the information that you report to them.

It takes a long time and a lot of trial and error to understand contact strategies, good layout elements, technical functions, database transfers, deliverability factors, and all of the other moving parts and targets of the email channel.  And just understanding it is not enough – you have to put it into practice and learn from it every day.

The email channel is not just a technical exercise; it’s not just a marketing experiment; it’s not just operational oversight.  It’s all three….