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Posted on 01.16.2014

Rethinking Email

So just as marketers are getting comfortable with consistently bulking up their social media budgets, comes along a McKinsey & Company study reporting that email marketing is delivering superior ROI on virtually every measurable front.

Even as email usage declined 20% between 2008 and 2012 (ground that was captured by social media and instant messaging), the researchers report that email:

  • was 40 times more effective than Facebook and Twitter combined as a means to acquire customers;
  • was three times as effective in triggering purchases;
  • resulted in purchases that were, on average, 17 percent higher.

So maybe email isn't dead after all?

The takeaways from the McKinsey study are compelling - but they'll be followed by another intriguing report in a few months, and another new 2.0 platform a few months later, and yet another shift in usage after that. So what's a marketer to do? 

Stay relevant. Pay attention to this stuff and understand that not only will your budget need to change every year, so will many of your strategies and tactics. Marketing was never a static science - but it's increasingly dynamic now.

Understand who you're reaching and why. The McKinsey study reminded me of a New York Times piece that looked at how irrelevant email is for college students, who typically prefer 2.0 media for communication. Point taken. But with nine out of 10 US consumers using email on a daily basis, we're still talking about a highly viable medium. Even if college students consider email for older folks, let's remember that older folks have great buying power and are more likely to make purchasing decisions - at home and at work.

Have a good message and keep it personal. The authors make an important qualitative observation that effective marketing emails are 1) personalized to the recipient and 2) connected to a dynamic website. If you achieve a fantastic open rate - but send recipients to a banal or clunky website that doesn't compel them to make a purchase or contact a salesperson, your marketing dollar was converted into a diluted branding effort.

Though the McKinsey researchers do not specifically reference it, the report certainly brings like to social media's naggingly consistent shortcoming in regards to ROI - not just in actual return, but even in the measurement of it. That reality certainly hasn't hindered social media's meteoric rise - and rightful relevance - in the marketer's toolbox, but nor has it hammered nails in the coffin of email marketing.


Rosemary Plorin is President of Lovell Communications.  You can view more of her blog posts here. Connect with her at rosemary@lovell.com or @plorin.  

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