Email marketing is dead. Long live email marketing!


Like many people, I had a bit of a break over the holiday, and like many people, I did a little early Spring-cleaning during my time off. But unfortunately, my house is still messy, because the cleaning I did was electronic: After recently merging my four email accounts into Outlook, I noticed the incredible amount of irrelevant marketing emails I was receiving. I made it my mission to unsubscribe from as many of them as possible.

Email is dead

When will email marketing finally be obsolete but still quaint?

I’m sure that you’ve noticed that many websites ask for your email address before you view any of their content. This is where the trouble starts. If I’m just browsing, I might be interested in a single article or post, but I don’t really want a long-term relationship with the content provider. But once you’ve provided that email address, you suddenly find yourself attached to what seems like zillions of emails from organizations you’ve never heard of (oh yeah, that’s because they sold your email address to other providers). The default option for many websites is to sign you up for every email subscription that’s available and then it’s your responsibility (that’s right – YOU!) to determine whether the content is relevant or not. Even if it's a company that you like doing business with, you're likely to be bombarded with content. I’ve seen some organizations where the marketers are actually incentivized on the number of emails (or "leads") that go out, not the quality of the lead or the relevance of the content to a target audience.

The industry term for this effect is “contact fatigue,” which is what led me to my electronic housecleaning. Too many irrelevant messages clogging up my very important inbox. But email is still an important marketing and communication tool if the message is meaningful to your customer!

  • In a 2014 global executive study by Quartz Insights, 60% of executives read email newsletters as one of their first three sources of daily news information; news apps came in at just 28%.
  • According to a study by McKinsey, email is still a more effective way to engage with customers and prospects than social media: 91% of US consumers use email on a daily basis. Email conversion rates are three times higher than social media and average order rates are 17% higher.
  • Forrester Research estimates that the number of marketing emails sent out in the 2013 will be close to 850 billion. In a recent user experience review of 98 email marketing programs, 94 received failing scores. Primary improvement opportunities included the subscription process, the ability to share content, mobile support and preference management.
  • Marketing service provider Experian found that email personalization lifts transaction rates and revenue six-times higher than non-personalized email, but 70% of the brands in their study fail to personalize email messages. Sixty percent don’t give customers the option to select the types of emails they want to receive.

There’s obviously a lot of room for improvement. Online retailer Gilt sends out more than 3,000 personalized variations on their daily sales email. Each message is tailored based on user preferences, browsing and transaction history. By getting the right message to the right customer, they were able to increase customer engagement by getting them to view other product categories; lift conversion rates for women predicted likely to shop in the men’s section; and increase new member purchase conversion rates.

My inbox is a little emptier today, but I would like to hear from you. Make it your New Year’s resolution to send me more relevant emails!

Editor's note:

Recurring themes for marketers over the last few years include both the demise of email marketing, and the enduring importance of email. So when Rachel first submitted this post, a red flag went up for me about the title - I could have sworn I'd seen it before.

Unbeknownst to Rachel, on November 18, 2010, we published this post by Kelly LeVoyer: Email is dead. Long live email! And even after several hundred billion emails over the last 5 years, both Rachel's and Kelly's viewpoints on email are relevant.

Let's zero in on Rachel's point about finding a better way à la Gilt's example - using analytics like marketing automation is how to get there. How about it?


About Author

Rachel Alt-Simmons

Business Transformation Lead - Customer Intelligence Practice

Rachel Alt-Simmons is a business transformation practitioner whose expertise extends to operationalizing analytic capabilities vertically and horizontally through organizations. As the Business Transformation Lead for customer analytics at SAS Institute, she is responsible for redesign and optimization of operational analytic workflow, business process redesign, training/knowledge transfer, and change management strategies for customers. Prior to SAS, Rachel served as Assistant Vice President, Center of Excellence, Enterprise Business Intelligence & Analytics at Travelers, and as Director, BI & Analytics, Global Wealth Management at The Hartford. Rachel Alt-Simmons is a certified Project Management Professional, certified Agile Practitioner, Six Sigma Black Belt, certified Lean Master, and holds a post as adjunct professor of computer science at Boston University’s Metropolitan College. She received her master’s degree in Computer Information Systems from Boston University.

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