The New Email Marketing Rules

Chad White is one of the better known email marketing experts and has long been the go-to voice for retail email marketing research and analysis. He launched The Retail Email Blog years ago and now serves as principal of marketing research at ExactTarget. He recently wrote “Email Marketing Rules” and remains a champion for email subscribers, even delivering opinions that email marketers may not want to hear. I talked with Chad in this two-part interview where he covers a wide range of subjects – from his book to the notion that more email can cure any email program.

Simms Jenkins: First of all, how would you sum up your new book, “Email Marketing Rules,” and what made you want to write this book? I certainly know it can be a brutal process.

Chad White: “Email Marketing Rules” is my attempt to bring some clarity to what email marketing best practices are and to specifically identify and discuss 108 of them in a way that’s simple, direct, and matter-of-fact. I wrote it so it’s accessible to newcomers and executives with little email marketing experience, but the way I’ve broken down best practices should help even veterans identify areas for improvement.

While part of my motivation for writing the book was just to assemble all my thoughts on email marketing best practices in one place rather than scattered across thousands of blog posts, columns, and white papers, the book is undeniably my response to all the outdated and just plain wrong advice that’s circulated on the Internet, and in particular to the attacks on email marketing best practices. The assertions that there are no best practices, no rules, no collective wisdom, no institutional learnings is really harmful to our industry, and do a huge disservice to all the new practitioners that come into our rapidly growing industry each year. I hope I can convince folks of the tremendous value of email marketing best practices.

Regarding how “brutal” the process was, in the end I spent nearly two years on and off outlining the book and collecting notes, and then a good three months writing it. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart. Kudos to you, Simms, for publishing your second.

SJ: Why should anyone in the digital world care about new email marketing rules when many follow the tried-and-true email methodology of sending email and waiting for the money to come rolling in? Many say email’s biggest curse (and blessing, to some) is it works even when it’s not done well.

CW: This is sadly true. You can be pretty bad at email marketing and still turn a profit. I suppose it boils down to whether you’re happy making a little money or would rather make a lot more; whether you’re happy providing your customers a so-so email experience or would rather provide a much better one.

A lot of marketers just don’t realize how much better they could be doing by improving their practices. We’ve all heard that email returns about $40 for every dollar invested in it on average. And many brands are happy getting a $20 ROI. But I know of brands that generate ROIs north of $80 and are pushing higher. There’s lots of untapped potential there once you wake up to the possibilities.

Considering that subscriber expectations are always rising and that the effectiveness of broadcast emails continues to fall, there’s actually strong competitive urgency to improve practices. There’s a growing gulf between the less sophisticated marketers who tend to think of email as a cheap channel and the more sophisticated ones who think of email as a high-ROI channel worthy of ever-more attention and investment. In a few years that gulf is going to be huge and you definitely want to be on the right side of that chasm.

SJ: Related to the previous question, some say sending more email is the best thing you can do to improve your email efforts. Do you agree, and if not, what are the best things that can be done?

CW: The issue is more complex than simply saying you should send more email. Some subscribers should absolutely receive more email, but some should receive less. It’s all about engagement. More engaged subscribers should receive more messages, particularly segmented and triggered emails. But less-engaged – and especially inactive – subscribers should receive less and potentially none. We’ve seen many large brands suffer major deliverability problems from endlessly sending emails to subscribers who stopped opening and clicking their emails years ago. There’s a very real cost to haphazardly increasing email frequency.

In Part 2 of the interview we’ll talk about what is truly important, why marketers should leverage Twitter for email, and what fires up this email veteran.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.

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 June 27, 2013.

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