Why Facebook and Twitter Won’t Kill E-Mail

Pity e-mail marketers.

Disgruntled customers call them spammers.

Their bosses demand to know why click-through rates, open rates, and conversion rates aren’t higher or why the subscriber list isn’t growing faster.

Yet, those same bosses swoon when another marketing manager mentions that she wants to promote the brand on Twitter, Facebook, or the next new service and asks for a blank check.

So is e-mail marketing on a death watch when “The Wall Street Journal” publishes an article headlined, “Why Email No Longer Rules…“?

No way.

The WSJ.com article provided grist for ExactTarget’s user conference in Indianapolis this week. With 1,300 people registered, the vendor-sponsored event is one of the largest annual gatherings of e-mail marketers in the United States.

After listening to presentations and chatting with attendees — recognizing their allegiance to e-mail — it’s very clear: E-mail marketing is not stagnant or dead. E-mail marketing continues to evolve; its practitioners are eager to innovate and tap emerging channels such as Twitter and text messaging on mobile phones.

Papa John’s: The Works

At Papa John’s Pizza, the marketing team added Twitter, Facebook, and mobile text messaging to its marketing mix. “We want you to order a pizza wherever you are,” said Jamie Tomes, an online marketing account specialist.

E-mail remains as important as ever. Earlier this year, Papa John’s turned to Facebook to build its e-mail list. Here’s how: Anyone who signed up as a fan of Papa John’s on Facebook during a nine-day period in March 2009 had the chance to win two tickets to the NCAA Men’s Final Four in Detroit. The result? Some 45,000 people signed up as Facebook fans. Using a social forward tool provided by ExactTarget, the campaign is credited with recruiting 130,000 new e-mail subscribers.

While the March Madness Facebook campaign was a slam dunk, Papa John’s continues to build its presence on the social network. For instance, the national strategy on Facebook may be brand building with ads about the pizza chain’s fresh ingredients, while a franchise in Maryland promotes local events such as a fundraiser for a local nonprofit.

Papa John’s also is able to track pizza sales to the delivery of an e-mail marketing message — even if a particular message isn’t opened. All the while, the pizza chain, which has more than 3,300 restaurants in the United States and other countries, continues to rely on print advertisements, including direct mail, inserts in coupon mail packs, and pizza box tops.

E-Mail: Its Death Is Greatly Exaggerated

Much like Mark Twain’s quip that the report about his death was an exaggeration, so too is e-mail’s demise. (For the record, Twain made that quip in 1897; he died 13 years later.)

After I asked BrightWave Marketing CEO Simms Jenkins about the WSJ.com report, he followed up with this e-mail:

    “Email has been declared dead too many times to count. Whether it is blogs, RSS, or social media, the fact is email remains the digital communications driver and hub of activity both on the user and marketing side…

    Social media, much like search, provides email marketing programs with perfect complementary tools to pursue additional digital avenues for meaningful and measurable conversations. Rather than pursuing one or the other type digital strategies, the savvy marketer will leverage all platforms to deliver the right message at the right time to the customers inbox of choice. Talk of email’s demise is pure hyperbole.”

E-Mail: Too Much of a Good Thing?

Like most e-mail marketers, Tamara Gielen, a consultant based in Belgium, is bullish about e-mail’s future. “It’s a proven channel. It brings in revenue,” she said. What’s more, she points out that she relies on e-mail to alert her when someone sends her a direct message from Twitter or asks to connect on LinkedIn.

But she speculates that e-mail’s effectiveness could decline in the United States. Why? The law in the United States allows marketers to send messages to a consumer unless she opts out of receiving future e-mails from that business. As a result, businesses send e-mail to a consumer even if she hasn’t agreed to receive messages, resulting in an influx of unwanted e-mails. In Gielen’s book, that’s spam. In contrast, Europe requires businesses to obtain opt-in permission from a consumer before adding her to their e-mail list.

“The biggest threat to e-mail is e-mail,” Gielen said, referring to unwanted e-mail.

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