New research shows why your email campaign may not be working


Advertisers will spend more than $12 billion on email marketing this year, a figure which will almost double (to $23.5 billion) by the end of 2018, according to an October 27 report. But unless email marketers change their way of doing business, huge chunks of those billions will be wasted.

Email is by definition (low cost-to-audience-size ratio) a very efficient advertising medium. But that’s because it’s dirt cheap, not because it’s particularly effective. And the reason it’s not particularly effective, writes Kath Pay at MediaPost’s EmailInsider [link unavailable] is that “many email marketers…don’t use many of the basic principles of marketing…[They] are not actually focused on marketing at all, but instead simply emphasize creating and sending.” As a result, they bore recipients into ignoring them

That’s because in one way, email marketing is like its paper direct-mail ancestor, and in another way it isn’t.

The way it isn’t, says Pay, is that it doesn’t think about what it’s doing. “I have yet to hear of a direct-mail campaign that has not identified its objective, created a strategy to enable this objective to be met, and identified what metrics would be measured to identify whether it was successful or not,” she writes. “Yet the lack of these marketing essentials is a common scenario for many email marketers.” Hence all the concentration on literally unbelievable offers. Or all those mindless emails bombarding consumers over and over again about one weird cure for some disease or other, or ways to reverse the diabetes they don’t have, or how to seal the floor of the garage their homes were never built with.

The way it is like paper direct mail is that it emphasizes technique over strategy and content. For nearly half a century paper direct mail has been more about production technique than about message: where in the mailing the application goes, whether this kind of fold or that kind of fold will produce an extra 0.00001 percent of response. Now, says Pay, “email is often seen as being technology-driven, not necessarily a marketing channel,” with technology driving the campaign strategy instead of the other way around.

So it’s no wonder that in a Forrester Research survey of 33,456 US online adults last month,

  • 42 percent said they deleted most email advertising without reading it.
  • 39 percent said they receive too many email offers and promotions.
  • 38 percent said that most marketing emails they received didn’t interest them.
  • 37 percent unsubscribed from lists they never registered for.
  • Only 7 percent said they often buy things advertised to them by email.

Marketing Charts drilled down the Forrester data and found some more bad news: Only 13 percent of respondents manually turned on the images in promotional emails during the past 12 months. That’s down from 18 percent two years ago.

With so much effort devoted to getting a continuous stream of formulaic emails into inboxes and so little to what happens next, when consumers see the subject lines, email has marketing succumbed to the “And then what?” effect. The way to avoid this, Pay writes, is to make the audience, not the technique, the top priority; to stop “work[ing] backwards and creat[ing] programmes [sic] based upon these [technical] features” and instead “starting at the beginning and identifying our objective and strategy first. By applying the principles of persuasion and psychology that make other forms of marketing work, your email campaigns can “harness the strengths of this very personal push channel and to deliver emails that resonate with… consumers and trigger the desired responses” – namely, sales.


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