Email deserves better than the ‘old reliable’ treatment

The rush to keep ahead of trends means digital marketers are missing out on making the most of an already successful channel


I want to talk about email. Please don’t stop reading already; I’ll include a bit about social media too. The problem with the relentless pace of digital marketing is that everyone is desperately chasing the latest shiny thing, pouring resources into keeping up. People panic that their brand will miss the chance to jump onto the bandwagon that will actually drive change through their business.

There is some sense to this strategy. You can’t sit still when it comes to digital. You need to keep pace to ensure you’re ready to spot the right opportunity for your business. But acting so fast can sometimes lead you to take your eye off the basic building blocks of your brand strategy.

Email marketing could be one of these areas. The problem with email marketing is that companies often view it as a hygiene factor within a digital marketing strategy. Most brands have been running email marketing for years and it delivers solid bottom line results. So with email remaining such an old faithful, surely your time and money should be spent trying to understand this new social media thing?

The problem with marketing’s frenzied obsession with social media is that it can obscure the core principles of marketing that any brand needs to adhere to – to serve both its shareholders and its customers’ best interests. The most important of which surely is to deliver to the bottom line.

While brands continue the struggle to prove return on investment from social media, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA)’s annual email report this month found almost half of respondents reporting that email was driving 30% or more of their total revenues.

This is the sort of figure social media marketers can only dream of, which begs the question: why did the same survey find 38% of brands citing internal resource as their biggest barrier to success with email marketing? Indeed, the report found most businesses allocated less than an hour a day to email marketing.

The biggest challenge reported by email marketers wasn’t the bread-and-butter issues of deliverability and click-through rates but conversion. Email marketers simply want to make this already highly efficient channel drive even more sales.

This needs investment. Email marketing has proved its value but it needs to be viewed as more than your reliable marketing warhorse. Email marketing always delivers solid results. Its return on investment can be startling. However, to really leverage the power of this channel marketers need to ratchet it up a notch. Personalisation, for instance, is critical. Driven by clever segmentation, still amazingly far from universal among brands, turning your email broadcasts into a personal, relevant brand experience can reap huge rewards.

It was, therefore, incredibly refreshing to talk to a marketer recently who said he had no interest in investing anywhere near the same amount of resource into social media as email. It wasn’t just that email was delivering such impressive sales; it was also the strength of relationships that were maintained through the regular contact of creative email communication.

The problem with marketing’s frenzied obsession with social media is that it can obscure the core principles of marketing that any brand needs to adhere to – to serve both its shareholders and its customers’ best interests

Email by its very nature was seen a far more trusted channel for brand communication than social media. Social media, he believed, was much more a customer service channel. In fact, he said, social media couldn’t touch email for level of engagement. Quite a shocking thing to hear, given social media is continually hyped for its engagement power. But your customer has already bought into their relationship with you if they’re interacting via email. It’s potentially much stronger than the fly-by ‘like’ or ‘follow’ that you gain through social media channels.

This trust is indeed one reason why email remains so important to any brand. In the week Facebook pulled off the biggest tech flotation to date, huge questions remain around its ability to monetise itself. Commerce, the natural fit for channels like email, is a huge unknown for social media. US brands including JCPenney, Gap and Nordstrom have shut their Facebook stores and waves of research continue to highlight the fact consumers aren’t happy to start buying over social networks.

While there are a huge number of successful examples of widely diverse adoption of social media by brands, it’s true that social media is today probably most successful as a customer service channel. It’s also true that we are nowhere near seeing the true impact it is likely to have on marketing.

Social media holds huge potential for any brand. But its shiny lights shouldn’t let you ignore its hugely successful, if less glamorous, predecessor – email marketing. After all, in today’s increasingly tough economic environment, would you rather be covered in glitter or sell more products?


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