Is Email the Cinderella of Your Marketing?

Is Email the Cinderella of Your Marketing?

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 conversions2and 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. "

Unlike the prince in Cinderella, we know the mysterious glass slipper fits email better than its social and search stepsisters, yet that doesn’t mean acceptance – or belief – of that fact will come easily to upper management power and purse-string holders (who are usually far more kind-hearted than evil stepmothers). So, how do you migrate email out of the servants’ quarters and up to the manor house without causing a Downton-Abbey-style upheaval? Focusing on these five objectives will, I believe, take you more quickly down the road to obtaining the attention, resources and budget email marketing deserves – without having to rely on a prince to come to the rescue!

1.   Benchmark email performance over time AND against other marketing channels

We all know we’re supposed to be bench marketing email performance over time (by campaign, year-over-year) or against itself, but are you also measuring and benchmarking key metrics such as AOV, ROI and RPS (revenue per subscriber – whether email, social, mobile or print) by channel? How does the economic value generated by your email in terms of cost-per-meaningful-action measure up against that generated by other marketing channels?

Challenges in channel-attribution aside, if you can assign a monetary value even to an email click, or if you know what an email subscriber is worth to you in a year (revenue per email or RPE) then you have a way to demonstrate email’s economic efficiencies over offline marketing, social and search, and as a result a means of justifying more budget for the channel. Better yet, if yours is an ecommerce-enabled company and email directly drives sales and revenue, you have an even more compelling story for email to tell.

2.   Earmark funds for email strategy and performance improvement

When budget-planning, don’t forget to include funds for this category separate from basic email marketing operational and deployment needs. You want the latitude to bring in a strategic, analytical or deliverability expert if performance deviates from the norm or the unexpected occurs. Plus, don’t assume that your current ESP or agency can handle the kind of testing you might need for performance optimization. Give your company the latitude to engage an outside testing/optimization service.

3.Invest in an email marketing coaching, advisory or mentorship service

Like having an email marketing fairy godmother but far less reliant on magic, such programs (offered by many industry consultants and service providers) are priceless in a host of both anticipated and unanticipated circumstances. Program expansion in the form of new publications, types of email or more advanced triggered messaging can cause growing pains that an outside impartial professional can ease you through. Reorganizations, mergers and acquisitions can create new demands on limited resources, and overwhelm, that a dedicated outside resource can be focused on and alleviate. Additions or changes to staff can mean that key stakeholders responsible for the day-to-day of “getting email marketing done” might not be as up to speed as you need, so having an expert on call ensures you’re never leaving them without guidance and education.

4.Create a formal email/digital marketing training protocol for new employees and an annual refresher for teams

      Speaking of education, with evolutions in digital marketing and email technological advances accelerating, continuous learning is a must for staying up-to-speed. Most students at my certification seminars and training workshops are so inundated with the day-in and day-out deployment of email campaigns that they have little time to focus on either strategy or learning. Unless their companies make education a priority they often don’t receive it at all. So, budget for both funds and time to send key employees to outside training and conferences or better yet, contract with an outside professional to create and conduct your own customized training and education program in email and/or other digital channels for entire groups at once. If yours is a company at which email marketing is a cross-functional and cross-departmental responsibility (product managers, channel managers, brand managers and creative staff may all be collaborating) team and group workshops become an even greater priority.

5.Celebrate Successes to Create Cultural Change

Finally, for email to get the true royal treatment it deserves will take a grassroots approach to changing upper management mindsets about it. If we’re to dispel management blind spots about email we need to promote our successes and make some noise about them! I realize it can be challenging to find the time to do so, but it’s well worth using your bench-marketing data to document compelling success stories or create performance dashboards that spotlight ways for busy managers to see desired results and positive trends. Writing-up case studies on successful campaigns and promoting them internally is an excellent precursor to also promoting them externally. Most email-centric conferences and publishers are hungry for client-side marketers to tell their stories and offer complimentary conference access to speakers who do.

Even if you’re realizing that email has been or still is the hard-working Cinderella of your marketing, take heart! Remember, Cinderella - like most fairy tale heroines - ends up a princess in the end. My goal is to inspire and guide you to take email from servile to royal status faster and with a minimum of hardship, all the while remembering that the hallmark of true nobility is to lead by serving the greatest good of all.


1       DMA 2012 Response Rate Report

2       Monetate’s eCommerce Quarterly Report for Q1 2013 (

3       Custora Customer Acquisition Snapshot