A practical approach to modern marketing.

Email Pronounced Dead Yet Again (So Why Is It Still Making So Much Money?)

Pity the poor email.

It’s been pronounced “dead” a half-dozen times since spam almost killed it for real in the mid-90s, and today you’ll find it trampled underfoot by hordes of inexperienced marketers eager for the Next Big Thing.

For businesses — even small ones — that’s a shame.

One longtime small business client knew their email program made the phones ring, but didn’t know the extent until we spent a year measuring their results — and discovered their four quarterly emails accounted for better than 40% of their annual revenue. (They’ve since gone monthly.)

Email marketing; not dead yet...

Email refuses to die, and for good reason

In fact, email might just be the single most effective, highest-ROI online marketing channel for businesses and nonprofits alike.

When the recession landed on the economy, large marketers cut advertising and promotion budgets to the bone — yet spending on email marketing (alone among the traditional marketing channels) actually increased.

Clearly, experienced marketers recognize the ROI of email programs, especially once you integrate it with emerging social media channels like Google+, Facebook, Twitter and others (the channels that “killed” it the last time it died).

Frankly, it’s a natural fit. Here are three reasons why:

Email’s On Demand; Social Is a Stream

Email sits in that inbox until someone reads or deletes it; social media is a stream, and notices are easy to miss.

The two channels balance each other beautifully. And our friendly, versatile email is wholly capable of driving traffic to your social media channels, which isn’t exactly true in reverse.

Email Addresses Are More Valuable Than “Likes”

A customer’s email address is almost certainly more valuable than a Facebook “Like” or Twitter follow; pushing a “Like” button is a simple act, and according to this study, doesn’t signify much in terms of brand loyalty.

Plus, if the social media channel fades or the customer stops visiting, their social media contact has little value.

And should you leave that social media platform, all those hard-won customer contacts don’t go with you — the price you pay for participating in social media, which is essentially a series of walled gardens.

By contrast, a customer’s email address is yours until orphaned or unsubscribed.

Email Offers More Scope for Message Delivery

Simply put, emails can deliver a prettier and more complete messages than most social media channels, and that’s a real advantage to email marketers, especially if they’re lucky enough to sell products featuring high visual values.

It’s Not All Roses

Despite a host of new tools designed to make it easier, good email programs can be time-consuming — a real problem in smaller organizations which lack a dedicated marketing grunt.

And while many focus on the difficulties of generating content and crafting the email, that’s really on half the story.

To be effective, you need to build your email list.

Pretty much all the time.

And a lot of small organizations can’t (or won’t) bother.

That’s one reason why so many of the new online marketing consultants can’t or won’t talk about email; it’s not as easy as Facebook. (The other reason is most of them don’t know anything about email, which is not something you admit to a client.)

My Recommendations

I push my more sophisticated clients towards MailChimp; they offer a free account for lists under 2000 names, which means a client can kick the tires on an email program without the pressure of a monthly charge bearing down.

MailChimp is also relatively easy to use (it’s not the easiest, but it is the most fun), and offers excellent social media integration.

They’re always innovating new gadgets, a personal favorite being their OnStage system, which hosts prospective email campaigns online so any number of people (at least those with the right link and password) can leave comments right on the design.

(That’s the kind of timesaver that makes email people cry.)

There’s still a learning curve involved, and for those needing a little less power, I’m suggest TinyLetter, which makes sending simple bulk emails almost as easy as sending a note to your Aunt.

MailChimp recently bought TinyLetter and are continuing it as a free service, and I can’t think of a better way to introduce my less-practiced clients to the wonders (and high ROI) of email marketing.

Email isn’t dead, and certainly hasn’t been killed by social media.

It’s just sitting in the corner and quietly making money — for those who know its secrets.

Market smart, Tom Chandler.


  1. hi Tom,
    just discovered your blogs. nice display of insight – thank you.
    i write content for one particular on-line fly shop. i also put together monthly emails/newsletters. much effort is put into the newsletters – trying to create an interesting landscape for people. it seems we have a small core of folks who take the time to explore and appreciate. but the stats are pretty bad. 2 out of 7 people actually open it. and of those who open, only 24% (max) actually click on a link.
    I have been thinking lately about the commitment level of email viewers vs. blog viewers… seems to me, of the two, the one reading the blog would have a higher level of interest – after all, they are already interested and have put aside time in their busy day to explore this type of content. i picture the email opener (at least the majority in our case) taking a quick glance, getting the immediate jist and then marking it as “read” and moving onto the next one in the stack. For most, i think, the timing is not perfect for this initial opening. they may tell themselves that they’ll return later when they have more time – but i fear not for the majority. so when i think about what i should center my efforts on i feel that the blog might be most important – because it involves a more captivated audience? they have already scheduled you into their busy day… what do you think Tom? i do understand the part about “2 out of 7” having the potential to be a big audience and that is always better than not sending one… just thinking about the importance of blog vs. email and how to spread my resources.
    much thanks for the content on your sites Tom,

  2. Look, the trick is to leverage whatever content you’re generating across multiple media channels so your readers can experience it any way they want (email, blog, Twitter, mobile, etc). Speculating about the different commitment levels of blog vs email readers isn’t all that helpful; the ties between email and the blog are so tight, you should never have one without the other.

    Basically, you use the blog for what it is — an exceedingly easy-to-use digital publishing platform that also serves as a very handy landing page generator for all your other media (including email).

    And everything that goes on the blog gets tweeted and put on Facebook too.

    For example, best email practices suggest you don’t place whole articles in the newsletter, but post them on the blog, then write a teaser paragraph and link to them from the newsletter.

    Automate as much of the interconnection as possible, and keep sending the email, which remains an extremely valuable tool for online marketers.

    Finally, your open/click rates aren’t stellar, and while I hate to suggest it, it might be a reflection that your content isn’t competitive (you’re competing for time after all) or a little off target.

    One client who operates in the fly fishing world has seen their open rates climb steadily to 50+% — a sign they’re giving their readers what they want.

    Good luck, Tom Chandler