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Does email marketing still work?

September 1, 2010
Passport to Pimilico

Passport to Pimlico? Are your email campaigns chasing shadows?


In his handy guidebook, Sales and Marketing 365, author James Obermayer presents marketers with an interesting array of statistics in Tip 138. Here, he says boldly, “Email blasts can be effective, but they can’t replace direct mail”. Interesting…  

The first thing to point out is that Obermayer was writing this in 2004 so we need to bear in mind that the world of internet marketing has moved on in leaps and bounds since the days of banner ads and email campaigns. But in spite of everything, he raises some interesting points about response which are still relevant today. He states:  

  • Opt-in lists still go to only 25% of the total available market for most B2B products
  • They have a low click-through or conversion factor – 50% of people won’t register because they aren’t interested in the products
  • The offer in email blasts can entice an unusually high number of qualified people who want to register for greed-based offers
  • The opening rate is less than 10% on the majority of email blast promotions
  • Email blasts have their place in quickly finding buyers from a limited universe. Just don’t think you can replace direct mail entirely. “Low cost” is another form of vaporware”

While the percentage rates cited in his list vary from company to company, product to product, I would imagine that as bench mark figures they are reasonably reflective of the current time. Indeed, in my conversations with marketers, there is a growing disillusion with email marketing. Reasons include:  

  • Email tiredness
  • Low click-through rates
  • Low conversion rates
  • Inability to track eventual orders linked to specific campaigns
  • Brand erosion

The effectiveness of any form of sales and marketing depends on credibility and delivery. If your brand is credible and can be delivered to customers promptly, then this is the secret of effective and profitable conversion. Now, as ever, for marketing to work, companies need to target the right product to the right people at the right time.  

Yes, social media permits a grand spread of consciousness in new and often untrackable zones. Yes, it’s an exciting development. But in the end, when the prospect comes into contact with your brand, he/she needs to believe it to be relevant to them. When the bragging’s over, people still have to make the decision to purchase.  

For email marketing to work, indeed for any marketing to work, the end message needs to be clear and believable. When the customer receives an email. When the customer receives a brochure. When the customer lands on your website. when the customer reads about you in the press.  

Consistent, contiguous, branding messages are crucial to conversion. In recent weeks I have received numerous email pieces from companies offering me “sale” prices, special discounts and spurious offers (“end of July super offer”) which focus on one thing: low price blasted to as many people as possible. 

Blunderbuss marketing of this kind comes out of the ark. Seth Godin talks of the new marketing to “tribes”. There’s actually nothing new about what he says. It’s commonsense. It’s commonsense whether it’s direct mail, email marketing or social media tribes. 

In the end, the answer to the question about the effectiveness of email marketing is this: once you’ve sorted out your email lists, your template design, your landing page look and feel, your registration processes, what are you actually saying to the customer?  

In the online world, success depends on what you read about what you want to buy. If the message is poor, if the list is unfocused, if the value is week, if your copywriting is shoddy, then your email marketing won’t work.  

My advice to all email marketers is to ask themselves every time they write: “apart from the price, what’s in it for the customer I’m writing to?” If the marketer cannot answer this, they should find themselves another job. And quickly.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 1, 2010 7:42 pm

    A friend of mine just emailed me one of your articles from a while back. I read that one a few more. Really enjoy your blog. Thanks

  2. September 2, 2010 8:43 am

    Hi Ben, great to hear from you. I really apppreciate your comments.

    Best regards

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