Email marketing: timeless classic or just horribly old-fashioned?

I recently chaired the Econsultancy Client Roundtable for email marketing specialists. Over an afternoon in London, we discussed email marketing – trends, challenges and best practice. Attendees were people who know; they do this stuff every day for major corporations and charities.

The discussion was very stimulating and wide-ranging.

The whole session was held under ‘Chatham House Rules’; so I won’t associate specific comments with individuals.

For the expert practitioners who attended the Roundtable, the big issues in email marketing currently include:

Best Practice

·       Deliverability – still a problem: (ISP throttling, Sender Score, data quality etc.)

·       Email challenges with a range of email clients (e.g. MS Office)

·       Customer segmentation models (behavioural triggers and targeting)

·       E-mail as a customer acquisition tool is virtually dead, whereas for Abandoned Shopping Cart reactivation and customer retention, it’s thriving

·       Multi-channel marketing e.g. e-mail + direct mail, + call centres. Lots of evidence of 2=2=5

·       E-mail Video/ audio growing but still problematic

Research and Measurement

·        Open rates are not a great measure  (consider the rise of image-blocking software) but still widespread. Clickthrough rate is a better metric but not enough on its own

·       List, creative, timing make a difference: normally in that order

Budget and Resource allocation

* E-mail marketing still believed to be under-invested (money, time, people) given the revenue it generates. Attitude seems to be  “It’s not broken, so why fix it?” in some organizations

* Resourcing – What to outsource? Where to find people with the right skills? Generally an HR policy decision. Marketing needs to get more involved.

General Discussion

* Deliverability : do emails even reach the inbox? Still a challenge, with ISPs increasingly keen to protect their users from ‘unwanted’ commercial messages.

* Integration of email and social media – some suggest email is just ‘another social channel’?  Others consider Facebook and Twitter as eCRM channels. It was noted that you need an email address to sign up for Facebook…

* The rise of mobile email – becoming more important, and in some cases, more likely to be opened and read by a mobile user ‘killing time’. But most email is still not optimised for mobile…  Few email senders seem to be treating mobile email recipents/ viewers as a separate segment (yet).

* Amazon’s Simple Email Service – picture not clear, but may lead to big drop in deliverability prices?

* Gmail Priority Inbox: email marketers need to get their messages into the ‘top part’ of the inbox. Along with Microsoft’s Windows Live Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail, email clients are increasingly providing webmail interfaces which make it easier for users to sort email and better integrate social media, videos, and photos. It’s all about protecting the user from ‘less important’ commercial messages, even if they’re not strictly spam…The challenge for email marketers is of course to get into the ‘Important and Unread’ section, preferably because the recipient actually wants to read the message.
* New Facebook Messages: can’t be ignored owing to Facebook’s scale, but consensus seems to be that the interface may confuse some users, that take-up of the new service will be patchy and that there is no guarantee that significant numbers of users will want to use the new addresses.

* There’s a general feeling that email has lost some status within digital marketing departments. It may not be as ‘sexy’ or fashionable as Social Media BUT: it’s still quietly making big money for those who know how to get the most out of it. CFOs like this, and they tend to come out on top…

Overall, email marketing appears to be alive and well. Perhaps we should bear in mind that in 1976 Punk Music didn’t kill The Rolling Stones, Elton John or Paul McCartney. (And indeed some might even suggest The Bay City Rollers weren’t such a big loss). In 2011, following the Social Media Revolution, email marketing is certainly changing, but looks to be here to stay.
2011-09-02T13:28:15+00:00 May 24th, 2011|Email marketing|11 Comments


  1. Anonymous May 25, 2011 at 10:34 am - Reply

    “'unwanted' commercial messages” don’t fool yourselves (though I suspect you know very well). There should be inverted commas around your inverted commas. Marketing emails are – by a reasonable generalisation – UNWANTED. Yes the ISPs block them, and the client software block them – and there is third party cloud industry in sifting and blocking unwanted email (see MessageLabs and GooglePostini). For end users there is a lot of agonizing and effort spent trying to decide which of these tools to use and how tightly to configure them. The issue is how much real wanted valuable email (communication with real people we want to talk to) can we afford to risk flushing simply to block your SPAM.

  2. Ahmad El Sabeh May 25, 2011 at 1:39 pm - Reply

    I think email marketing is a smart way to reach customers and provide them with relevant products and services if we invest money, time and people (effort & skills) in a good way. Email did not die and will not die easily even with the existence of social media the one that is “driving people crazy” nowadays and supporting freedom in some totalitarian countries, yet it a channel that does not attract all businesses. Some businesses are reluctant to such changes and still prefer the old school of doing and running things; ad campaigns, sales and marketing, etc… Such businesses and people should be taken into consideration because reaching a 100% scale of success has to go from 1 to 100%. Schools, big businesses and charities still rely on email marketing as a best source to be visible and to generate traffic to their website locations. I met many people in UK who have good jobs in the market and I was shocked when I asked them about their Facebook or twitter accounts, they just said we do not use it because “we hate it” and “we do not trust it”. wawww
    By putting more investment and developing more tools, I think we can reach a better email marketing results and when errors are being reduced then email marketing can stand up again and compete with what they call ‘sexy’ or fashionable as Social Media.
    Let’s focus on the big picture and give every channel its real value because companies cannot survive using single channel but rather multi-diverse ones.
    good blog Mr.Berry.

  3. Cristina Dresch May 25, 2011 at 3:45 pm - Reply

    I think you answered the question with the information you just shared.

    Email is definitely a timeless classic.

    I'd say email is like Madonna – very adaptive. It used to set trends, now just follows them. But definitely, it continues to be a hit.

  4. Guy Crouchback May 25, 2011 at 5:43 pm - Reply

    Email marketing is incredibly powerful. Email features in the recipient’s life as an obligation. “I’m behind on my email” – who says “I’m behind on my Facebook” ? (well OK – for FarmVille perhaps). So it is powerful (and may be offensively intrusive) in exactly the same way as only physical paper mail. Mail demands/extorts attention – other media is passive. Until we abandon the notion of being obliged o read our email it has a unique place. It is not too far from walking up to someone and talking to them – classic indeed.

  5. Mike Berry May 29, 2011 at 2:08 pm - Reply

    Thanks for your comments guys. Someone wiser than me once said "It's only spam when you don't want it". The challenge for marketers is of course to deploy email in such a way that it is welcomed as useful, timely and relevant. When I train/ teach email, even the 'haters' can normally think of at least one regular email which they welcome and don't consider to be spam…

  6. martiuk June 7, 2011 at 12:55 pm - Reply

    As a Creative, I think Email is a media that allows you innovate in different ways, not as easy as other media, but creativity is the key to make Emails attractive again.

    Sometimes adding images or videos is an obstacle, as there are size limitations. But there is always a way.

    I want to share a nice idea for an email, that recently won in The Webby Awards 2011.
    Long live the email.

    New white strongest

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