Tough Love Comes to E-mail and Social Marketing

Inboxes are cluttered. People are turned off – and tuning out marketing messages. Instead, everyone’s hanging out on Facebook or exchanging text messages with friends.

So, what can e-mail, social media, and direct marketers do?

Bring in entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk for some tough love to inspire, berate, and cajole marketers who attended the Email Experience Council’s annual conference in Miami.

As a warm up, Direct Marketing Association CEO Lawrence Kimmel pointed to developments that are part of the “revolution” – not just the evolution – of e-mail marketing:

  • Amazon’s e-mail service, a bulk and transactional email-sending service for businesses.
  • Facebook Messages, where people can get their Facebook messages, chats, texts, and e-mail in one place.
  • Google’s much discussed plan to launch a daily deal platform like Groupon.

Vaynerchuk picked up from there. E-mail is not broke, he said, adding that e-mail marketing is. “We all broke it,” he confessed.

Because e-mail is an effective tool, marketers overuse it. Vaynerchuk related his own experience at, a retail website he launched in 1997. Thanks in large part to e-mail, the company’s annual revenue jumped from $4 million to $60 million over five years.

“We started [with e-mails] once a week. You know the game. Then it went to two times a week. Quickly it became five…We lost equity,” he said.

Similar problems face marketers using social platforms such as Twitter.

“Ninety-nine percent of the people doing social media [marketing] are screwing it up,” he said. For instance, conference exhibitors should ask, “What can we do for you?” instead of saying, “Come see our exhibit at this conference.”

“We cannot help ourselves…It’s the nature of brands to talk,” he said during a presentation where he pimped his new book, “The Thank You Economy.”

What Can a Marketer Do?

Humanize your business: To put his money where his mouth is, Vaynerchuk said he hired three employees for to make “old school” phone calls to people who unsubscribe from Wine Library’s customer list. The results? They’ve “reconverted” 40 percent of those who had unsubscribed. (One challenge: As a commerce site, Wine Library collects a customer’s phone number. But many other sites do not have subscriber phone numbers handy.)

Keep it simple: Contributing to Groupon’s success is the fact that it offers only one deal a day. “Customers don’t like options. We are overwhelmed,” he said.

Cut spending on stupid stuff: “Cut shit that doesn’t matter,” Vaynerchuk ranted. That stupid stuff could be a $1 million TV ad campaign or an unproductive employee. “Fire a slouch. Bring in people that put heart and soul [into your business],” he said.

Be multi-channel: A person may initiate a conversation with a business on e-mail, but then want to follow up with an instant or text message. “Customers are moving in between these channels,” he said. And customers expect businesses to be available immediately on these multiple channels as marketing communications and customer service continue to evolve.

Find new ways to connect with customers: Vaynerchuk used his family business, a mom-and-pop liquor store in Springfield, NJ, as a springboard to launch during the dot-com boom. He initially sent faxes to contact customers, but soon embraced e-mail. In 2006, he launched a video blog about wine; today there are nearly 1,000 videos in its archives. Fans can also catch Vaynerchuk on Ustream, via Twitter, Facebook, and other social communities.


Be helpful: Vaynerchuk trolled, a search engine now owned by Twitter, to look for wine-related questions based on keywords such as chardonnay and pinot grigio. And he’d answer questions on Twitter, but did not drop in links to his website or video show. Today, he has more than 800,000 followers on Twitter.

Other Takeaways From #EEC2011

So if e-mail is not dead, where is it headed? I reached out to marketers at EEC to address that question and to discuss their takeaways from the conference. Here’s a snapshot of what they said via e-mail:

There is no definitive way to do digital marketing right, but many ways to do it wrong because we all have different audiences and need to tailor our programs to them…Given the integration of tactics that is needed, the many disparate systems involved on the back end, and the level of customer control (preferences) involved in all those, we just need to be constantly evolving and testing new ideas. — Laurence Rothman, senior consultant, brand reputation, Nationwide

Email is going mobile…Checking email on a cellphone is quicker, easier and often done on the go. It’s important to evolve with our subscribers and optimize our messages to fit their engagement methods. — Patricia McCune Bolam, director of e-mail marketing strategy, Fathom SEO

Email will continue to be an integral part of digital marketing. Social media is forcing marketers to consider how they talk with consumers instead of talking at them. Together, email and social have the potential to revitalize and evolve marketing to the benefit of both the consumer and marketers. — Jay Jhun, director of e-mail services, Engauge

Of Special Note

Congratulations to Loren McDonald, VP, industry relations, at Silverpop. The EEC awarded him the Stefan Pollard Marketing of the Year Award for excellence in creativity and contribution. For many marketers, last year’s EEC conference marked the last time they met up with Stefan Pollard, an e-mail deliverability expert and ClickZ contributor, before he died.

Related reading

Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.