I'd be lying if I said that I didn't ask myself "is email marketing dead?" weekly. And I'm an email marketer who has always loved this marketing channel.
But times, they are a-changing.
Email marketing has been a mainstay for brands since the late 1990s. You know, when we as internet users had Hotmail accounts and rarely, if ever, received an email from a brand, let alone a friend (cue the you've got mail clip).
Nowadays, it's a constant battle to get in front of consumers, as email marketing has hit its highest saturation point in history. In fact, according to email receiving statistics, the average person receives over 100 emails per day (source).
Imagine trying to break through that kind of clutter as a brand. Yep, that's gotta hurt.
The State Of Email in 2022
Let's face it: email users nowadays have a blend of personal and professional emails they're receiving on a daily basis.
It's no surprise that email has become the preferred method of communication for consumers over phone calls (who even has time for that anymore?), creating a Hunger Games-esque fight for attention in the inbox.
Think about it.
Not only is there email correspondence from doctors and daycares, but also from bosses and coworkers. For most people, that's a lot to tackle. It's no surprise that brands are usually getting snubbed.
But regardless of consumer preferences and email saturation, the real question is: can brands still be effective when it comes to email marketing?
The Big Shift
Email marketing isn't dying. Yet. At least. It's just shifting, and unsurprisingly at lightning speed.
This means the email marketing strategy you leveraged last year probably isn't going to be as effective this year.
And that comes down to a few trends:
1. Saturation point
As noted above, email frequency has reached an all-time high for consumers. Not only do consumers love email, but they're receiving a lot of it, too.
2. Fragmented consumer attention spans
Given the high saturation, consumers are less likely to dedicate devoted headspace to all of the emails they receive on any given day, resulting in branded promotional emails being deprioritized.
3. Platform evolutions and shifts
In 2022, Gmail is the most popular email service provider (ESP). So if you're a brand sending marketing emails, chances are your email campaign is at the mercy of Google's algorithms and sorting technology.
If you haven't built an engaging relationship with a subscriber (i.e. they haven't opened or clicked within your email content) the likelihood you end up in Gmail's Promotions folder is pretty high.
The reassuring part of all of this, though, is that all brands are on the same playing field. No one can really game the system to achieve better email performance.
It's important to note that some brands might think that they can get ahead by engaging in poor email marketing practices like not including an unsubscribe link in emails (this is illegal), but this will only hurt their performance in the long run.
The Most Common Mistakes Brands Make
To build on the above, there are plenty of mistakes that brands make when they tap into email marketing. Here are just a few.
Mistake #1: Email marketing campaigns are too frequent
A truth that all brands should come to accept: nobody loves your brand as much as you do. Especially as the founder or marketing manager(listen, I get it).
While you might've been told to up the frequency of your email blasts to every other day, or send a long-winded email sequence of five emails in five days, whatever it might be - consumers just don't care that much about you.
And the proof of your success, or lack thereof, will show up in your email performance data.
Mistake #2: Subject lines that suck
Sorry, but it's true.
Subject lines matter.
Mostly because they're the first impression you have the opportunity to make if someone happens to come across your email.
And when I say come across, I'm referencing how Gmail sorts your email (if you end up in the Promotions tab). Poor subject lines mean that your email isn't getting opened. So if your subject lines suck, you pretty much wrote that email for no reason.
Mistake #3: Including too much stuff in emails
OK, so let's say people open your email (thanks to a strong subject line). We'll take it.
But wait. Your email has 12,000 images, it's been clipped (meaning the entire email isn't loading because there's too much stuff) and there's nary a call to action.
What the hell is a consumer supposed to do? You just decreased your email marketing ROI.
Mistake #4: Lack of optimization for mobile users
This one pains me to say. Email users spend more time in mobile than on desktop.
So if you're not optimizing your email marketing for mobile devices, you're shooting yourself in the proverbial foot. Mobile friendly is everything - don't forget when you're creating your email to test different formats.
And while we're on the topic of common mistakes, let's just get this out of the way...
Common Email Marketing Misconceptions
There are plenty of excuses brands and founders make as to why their emails aren't performing well. Spoiler alert: they truly are just excuses. Let's talk about where assumptions go wrong in email marketing.
Misconception #1: (List) size matters.
It doesn't matter if you're emailing 50 people or 10,000 people, size doesn't dictate your potential for success.
The Substack platform, in fact, is a testament to size not being a factor to success.
You might have an incredibly engaging, niche community newsletter that you send out that has all 200 people opening and engaging your email. And that might convert better than a list that has 10,000 people.
Misconception #2: Emojis work better in subject lines (or any of these types of "findings")
I'm not bragging. The truth of the matter is, I've heard all of these, and then some. Let's go back to referencing what we discussed in the last point.
Just like creating content for your social media marketing campaigns, no two brands are created the same.
That means one email marketing tactic that works for one brand may not work for another, purely based on the problems that the brand is trying to solve, and the intended audience receiving that communication.
This is where email marketing case studies can be insightful, but not necessarily directly impactful for your own brand.
Simply put: test for yourself before you guess. That goes for emojis or any other email marketing "finding".
Misconception #3: Direct mail is dead. Long live email campaigns.
Also just not true.
Email marketers might love to say this because it gives them a leg up in this digital age, but in reality, direct mail vs. email marketing is all just situational.
Direct mail effectiveness in and of itself is situational. One brand sending direct mail might have much stronger brand recognition, therefore making it more influential to a consumer.
Similarly, a brand might have an appealing call-to-action that piques someone's interest as they're flipping through their mail.
The content is what makes or breaks either of these marketing channels, not the delivery (literally or figuratively).
The Biggest Email Marketing Truths
There isn't a single email marketing software, marketing hack, or a collection of email marketing tools that are going to make your email marketing perform astronomically well.
So if someone proclaims that email marketing is dead, they might just be relying on the wrong tactics or metrics.
At the end of the day, high-performing email marketing just comes down to tried-and-true smart marketing.
A successful email marketing campaign grabs consumers' attention and gets them to take action.
And yes, as noted above, email marketing is still at the mercy of major email service providers such as Google, but that doesn't mean that there aren't a few universal truths about email marketing that can make your brand stronger.
Email marketing truth #1: email is still a powerful addition to your marketing funnel
Just as social media platforms help brands gain top-of-funnel awareness, email marketing plays a crucial role in middle-of-funnel consideration and bottom-of-funnel conversion (and can even play a role in top-of-funnel with Gmail's ad buys).
Once you've found a way to effectively engage your subscribers, your brand name showing up in their inbox will be another touchpoint that keeps you part of a consumer's consideration set in a sea of other emails.
Email marketing truth #2: people want what's in it for them
There's a difference between spammy promotional emails and marketing emails that make someone feel special and valued.
Promotional emails that scream "JUST BUY FROM US" aren't as appealing as a thoughtfully written note from a brand's founder with a discount code, for example.
Desperation is a stinky cologne, and that extends to email marketing, too.
The spray and pray approach is not a sound email marketing strategy when consumers are selfishly, and superficially, invested in you.
Email marketing truth #3: actions speak louder than words (or design)
Plenty of brands get tripped up over crafting the most beautiful designs for their emails.
The problem? The most beautiful design might not be what gets people to convert!
So here you are spending time on perfecting design when it might be too overwhelming for someone to sort through, and then they decide not to take action.
As a brand, your email marketing focus needs to be on getting people to take action. Whether that's through open rates, click-through rates, or conversions on your website.
You might even find that writing an incredibly boring plain-text email like the founder email example in sections above actually end up earning you more actions from your subscribers than something pretty but overly branded and perfect.
Email marketing truth #4: the optimizations lie in the data
No need to send out a survey to your email subscribers to ask them why they're not engaging with your brand. You'll know exactly what you need to fix from the data you're getting back in your email service provider.
For example, we talked about the importance of good subject lines earlier. The subject line is the entry point to the rest of the email, where a reader can then take further action with your brand.
If people aren't opening emails, it's safe to say that they've either died (unlikely) lost access to their email account (also unlikely) or they just didn't feel interested in opening your email (highly likely).
Therefore, it's in your best interest to test, test, test, to figure out which subject lines are going to reel in your subscribers.
This might not be something that you nail overnight. Instead, it might take repeated tests to see what ends up performing best.
Something else to consider: if the subject lines aren't enticing subscribers, consider changing who the email is from.
Instead of your brand name, put your founder's name, and see if that's an optimization that helps improve your open rate in addition to modifying your subject lines (per the data we showed earlier.)
Email marketing truth #5: it's not the email marketing platform you use - but how you use it
If you follow me on TikTok or Instagram, you probably know already that I have a few favorite email service providers.
And it's true that some offer subjectively "better" features and offerings from one another.
But by and large, you're not going to see a drastic difference in email marketing performance when you decide to sign up for a particular email service provider. As much as I'd love to say differently.
Most email marketing platforms...
- Have a subscription payment model based on how many subscribers you have (or they do a flat monthly rate)
- Allow you to create email marketing lists, campaigns, and flows
- Give you the ability to see email marketing analytics (and they report those analytics in real-time)
- Provide you with email templates you can use - or have a builder that allows you to create emails from scratch
Also consider what's important to you when paying for an email service provider that might go beyond these table stakes.
For example, one quality I am always seeking in any tech or marketing platform I use is excellent customer service.
I want to be able to chat up a customer service representative with any questions, comments, or concerns I might have and get a fast response back. While this might not be something that ALL brands are seeking, there are slight nuances in what might drive your decision-making toward one platform over another.
Outside of that, most email marketing platforms ARE created equal, and chances are you're not going to screw up your strategy by choosing one. Just make sure that they're GDPR compliant, they enforce the CAN-SPAM protocol, and you're good to go.
So Is Email Marketing Dead?
While the thought still lingers, email marketing isn't dead in 2022. Just as other marketing channels are evolving, email marketing is doing the same.
The definition of a marketer in this modern age includes someone who is able to adapt to the constant changes happening across every tactic. There will always be changes. The question then becomes: how can your brand keep up?
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