Email Marketing Isn't Dead - You're Probably Just Using It Wrong

  |  December 26, 2013   |  Comments

Your challenge as a marketer is to understand these savvier consumers and reach them with relevant, engaging content that speaks to them individually - not as a demographic.

There are rumors floating around the marketing world that email marketing is "dead" - those rumors could not be further from the truth. Not only is email marketing alive and well, it is actually one of the most important and effective avenues of communication.

To the rumor's credit, outdated "batch-and-blast"-style email marketing has certainly reached its expiration date, making room for transformed email marketing that reflects the changes in digital buyers. Today, buyers are better informed, understand how to opt out of unwelcomed communications, and see bad marketing for what it is. Your challenge as a marketer is to understand these savvier consumers and reach them with relevant, engaging content that speaks to them individually - not as a demographic. Keeping it old school and bombarding them with deals and sales will not only relegate your email to the spam folder, it will blow any shot you have to build trust. Without trust, marketers have no chance.

By no means should email be your only channel, but done well, email marketing can have the greatest ROI compared with other channels. Consumers across every age demographic prefer email for promotional messages to other marketing channels. That's good news for marketers who do email well and not so good news for those who don't. If you're not sure which category you fall into, here are three clear signs that your email marketing just isn't working.

Nobody Reads Your Email

Ignoring basic metrics is the most obvious error in email marketing. Fortunately, it's an easy problem to solve. If you're getting 2 percent click rates (the total number of clicks divided by the total number of emails delivered), you're not engaging with 98 percent of the people you're emailing. Something's clearly wrong. Even a 25 percent click rate (which is thought of as good in some industries) still means 75 percent of your list isn't engaging with what you have to say. Marketers should think of this as a problem.

Monitor your open and click rates to determine the efficacy of your campaigns. In today's data-obsessed marketing industry, there's no excuse for ignoring the data.

Your Email List Is Weak

Beware implicit opt-in marketing. This might occur when a potential customer fills out a form, perhaps to register for an event. Sometimes this happens when a potential customer registers on a third-party site, and the site shares the email addresses with sponsors. Or perhaps you scanned attendees' badges at a trade show. These practices are perfectly legal, and widely used among marketers, but remember that those people haven't explicitly asked to receive your emails. They might not even know they tacitly gave permission. If your list is made up of entirely implicit opt-ins, you're in trouble.

You have to build and constantly cultivate an engaged list. Avoiding shortcuts such as using third-party lists or data vendors and using clear opt-in methods will help potential customers trust in your brand. There are many easy ways to build valuable lists. Explicit opt-in marketing is a great example. This occurs when a potential customer voluntarily signs up for email marketing, like checking the "I want to receive news and updates" box on a registration page. This form of single opt-in process requires the least amount of effort from both you and the potential customer - she does not have to do anything further, like confirm her opt-in, so she is automatically registered for the follow-up email. Adding a welcome email helps protect against spambots - if the welcome email bounces, filter the address out of your list!

Only offering single opt-ins is certainly not a foolproof email marketing tactic, but it is a great place to start.

You Blast Everyone With the Same Message

Batch-and-blast. Spray-and-pray. Whatever expression you prefer, the results are the same. They're not personalized, they're not engaging, and people won't listen. Don't do it. It might seem cheap and easy, but the negative effect to your brand and reputation can be difficult to overcome.

The most effective email marketing has content that looks like it came from a human, is personalized, solves a problem, and is timely and educational. As consumers in general are comfortable with targeted ads and personalized content, they expect marketers to create customized experiences. A smart marketer will use email, not as a one-off messaging tool, but to foster conversations that listen to the potential customer's needs and respond to those needs over time.

Simple metrics will shed a lot of light on whether your email marketing is missing the target. It's wasted effort, but what's worse, bad email marketing can do irreparable damage to your brand. The relationship between a marketer and her audience, like any relationship, starts with trust. Act irresponsibly, and that trust can be impossible to mend.

If you want to learn more about email marketing do's and don'ts, please read my most recent e-book, "The Definitive Guide to Engaging Email Marketing."

Editor's Note: As 2013 comes to a close, we're pleased to share our top email columns of the year. This article was originally published September 2, 2013.

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Jon Miller

Jon leads strategy and execution for Marketo. Before co-founding Marketo, Jon was Vice President, Product Marketing at Epiphany and held positions at Exchange Partners and Gemini Consulting. He is executive editor of the popular Marketo blog, Modern B2B Marketing, and author of the comprehensive handbook, The Definitive Guide to Marketing Metrics and Analytics. In 2010, The CMO Institute named Jon a Top 10 CMO for companies under $250 million revenue. Jon holds a bachelor's degree in physics from Harvard College and has an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

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