Is email marketing really dead?
Email marketing has long been a contentious subject, ever since Gary Thuerk sent the first unsolicited commercial bulk email in 1978 to just 400 people. For his troubles Gary earned himself the nickname, ‘The Father of Spam’, not quite the legacy most would like to leave behind.
Theurk actually prefers to think of himself as ‘The Father of Email Marketing’, and we’re inclined to agree with him, even if his initial attempts spawned those annoying emails we all receive from time to time (wholesale viagra or free money from a Nigerian Prince, anyone?). It’s rare to get anything 100% right on the first time of asking, and the only real problem was that the emails were unsolicited.
That campaign, although unsolicited, actually generated $13 million worth of sales for DEC, the company that Theurk worked for. He also gained a few complaints for his troubles, including one unlucky guy who couldn’t use his computer as a result of the spam “using up his company’s disk”.
Whilst spam still exists today, email marketing itself has come a long way, and it’s best to think of the two as completely separate things. Which brings us to a phrase we’ve heard uttered many times: “email marketing is dead”.
Now, before we start eulogising a once beloved marketing tool, it’s worth mentioning that we as marketers tend to have a flair for the dramatic. It’s what we do. Not only that, we’re all obsessed with the cutting edge and we’re not happy unless we’re dangling from the precipice of marketing innovation by just our little fingers. It’s entirely possible that those guilty of speaking this phrase do so simply because they feel it needs to make way for newer, often more exciting technologies.
If email marketing truly has bitten the dust, then why did 72% of marketers state that they feel email is “great for developing loyal and active customers”? (EConsultancy Email Marketing Industry Census 2017) The truth is that email marketing, like many things, has evolved over its 40 year tenure. Marketers have learned that the hard way that hard sell no longer works, people are switching off and filtering out marketing messages with increasing ease. That’s where marketing automation comes in, closely related to behavioural email marketing.
Approximately 269 billion emails are sent each and every day (Radicati Group, February 2017) With only 7.4 billion people on the planet that’s a considerable number of eyeballs on screens, can we really afford to lose that kind of audience? Most of us spend an inordinate amount of our day in our inbox, both professionally and for personal reasons. Many businesses are reporting their open and click-through rates higher than anything they have ever experienced before.
But, how exactly do you sell to an audience that refuses to be sold to? You don’t. Jay Baer, digital marketing consultant and author of New York Times bestseller, Youtility, once advised to “make your marketing so useful people would pay for it”. And that’s exactly what modern marketers, the good ones at least, have done. Instead of bombarding a tired, ill-gotten subscriber list with uninspiring marketing messages, we’re serving them with useful content that they actually sign up for.
By creating a content funnel and observing 80/20 principles that mix entertaining and engaging content with subtle, unobtrusive marketing messages, email marketing has gained a brand new lease of life. It just has a shiny new name. Marketing automation gives marketers the tools they need to put down the soapbox and the megaphone and proceed with something that’s more akin to a cup of tea and one-to-one chat.
So, if you’re ever in the presence of someone who declares the death of email marketing, be sure to take it with a pinch of salt. Email is still an incredibly important medium that marketers and businesses can neglect at their own peril.
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