The E-Mail Chicken or the E-Mail Egg?

Here’s an old question: which came first — the chicken or the egg? Lately, I’ve found that conundrum applies to email marketing: Which comes first, the delivery technology platform or the strategy?

After 12 months’ of analyzing various client uses of email marketing platforms, I’ve found, on average, only 35 percent of the core technical capabilities are being utilized. Though it’s not a scientifically derived statistic, it brings up the question: Why?

When you can send segmented campaigns, dynamic content blocks, response-based-triggered messaging, even a survey, why wouldn’t you leverage these powerful, personal features? Why are most strategies so very basic?

In most cases, the answers are based on perceived limitations of an email delivery technology or the internal company databases that feed them.

Most of my clients have issues such as those listed above. The technology’s perceived capabilities lead the strategic development. In other cases, I find the opposite scenario: A client or agency has designed a contact flow or campaign strategy that leverages many of an email deployment vehicle’s bells and whistles. Yet when the strategy is handed to local offices or the production team, the plan is instituted as the most basic program. In these cases, this is typically due to a lack of knowledge about how to use the email delivery tools to generate the desired strategy without significantly increasing resources.

Which is the right way to go? Below, some pros and cons of both.

Using Current Perceived Technical Capabilities


  • There’s already an approved process in place.

  • You can measure against comparative benchmarks.


  • The strategy is limited by a lack of knowledge about the tools.

  • Competitors may be leading email efforts thanks to technical elements your company doesn’t use.
  • Needs for enhancements to your technological process or platform often aren’t identified. They’re managed via a workaround instead.

Using Best of Breed Technical Capabilities


  • The strategy is designed to push the campaign or initiative to perform at the highest level.

  • Plans utilize the latest best practices.
  • The design of the optimal strategy encourages frequent, critical review of technology process and capabilities and generates a future needs list.


  • The deployed strategy may be so different from the original strategy that the impact is lost.

  • Strategy adaptations generate reporting inconsistencies.
  • Your data process may not support the desired strategies.


My preferred solution is to design an optimal strategy, then use it to help identify technical gaps or needs.

Your opinion may be different. The right solution varies by company. Your optimal solution may not be the best for another organization. Yet if you struggle with this dilemma, weigh the pros and cons to help you reach a decision. Make sure the end result offers short-term abilities to act and keeps people’s eyes open to longer term needs.

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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