After over a decade in successful use there is abundant proof that email is not only the connective tissue of all data-driven marketing but also the revenue-producing juggernaut of digital efforts. Yet despite claiming the highest ROI of all direct marketing channels at 28.5%1, the highest driver of online conversions2 and the number two spot (second only to search) in new customer acquisition3 email marketing is still too often swept out of sight, called upon only when we need miracles worked. In my nearly 15 years of experience with the channel, I am too frequently surprised and dismayed that email is not receiving nearly the attention and investment it economically deserves.
Like Cinderella in the classic fairy tale, email dutifully goes about its business quietly completing a wide variety of marketing tasks without complaint - from prospect qualification to lead nurturing to direct sales. It also does plenty of less attractive, more menial labor in the transactional messaging realm such as conveying confirmations, notifications, reminders and alerts and just like Cinderella, is frequently under-resourced and kept out of sight until needed. But when it’s needed, batten down the hatches, for email will be heavily (if not impossibly) leaned upon to achieve quarterly or annual revenue goals, save jobs and launch new products. Also like Cinderella, email marketing professionals will be expected to work nearly twenty-four hours a day with barely enough energy to stumble into bed long after midnight only to wake before sunrise to do it all over again.
I recently led a training workshop for mid-sized businesses on integrating inbound marketing channels, a lynchpin of which was email. In showing the many campaign examples I included in my teaching materials, I was surprised at the reaction from some of my audience members. “But so-and-so is a well-known company/brand with an army of marketing staff,” said one. “They’re a big retailer with far more people to do email than we,” moaned another. What most marketing professionals don’t realize is that even large, glitzy retail brands that pump out the highest volume and most visible of email marketing campaigns are often thinly staffed when it comes to the professionals in the trenches. True, their budgets for email software and tech services might be heftier, but their staff responsible for executing email campaigns and triggered messaging is often less than five people.
To their credit, retailers have always been among the earliest adopters of the channel largely due to their ecommerce nature, so investing in the marketing and automation needed for high volume messaging isn’t news to them – they know well the (usually) linear connections between email message frequency/volume/segmentation and revenue. However, even they are found lacking when it comes to investing on the professional side, whether from budgeting for adequate staff, to email marketing strategic direction and support from agencies and consultants, to employee mindset and skillset training and professional development.
Loren McDonald, VP Industry Relations of Silverpop, recently agreed in a comment on an Only Influencers discussion, "While under attributing revenue from email is likely a problem at many/most companies, it may not be the main reason that email marketing is under-resourced. Email marketing in many companies is actually highly valued as a channel, but it is under-invested in because it is thought of as inexpensive and easy to do. Many companies’ email strategy is ‘batch and blast’-based and is often on auto pilot. Management sees it is working well with existing resources and when we have an underperforming in-store promotion or product SKU, we just ask the email team to ‘send another email’ - and it works. What is needed is analysis and a roadmap that clearly lays out how email marketing supports strategic initiatives and the ROI that will result from increased budgets and resources. "