Adventures in Mobile Marketing

Oh No the Sky is Falling, or, the Demise of Email… to Search?

Interesting thread on FaceBook between a few folks, namely Sarah Brown of Guru of New & my social marketing talk partner, Janet Fouts of TatuDigital. The launch of the thread was a report on eMarketer generally showing a lack of responses over email and an uptick in paid search, which these gals likened to social marketing’s final glory day as the top marketing channel.

“Consumers Opening Fewer E-Mails…Fewer consumers worldwide are opening marketing e-mails, according to a November 2008 study by MailerMailer.”

“Online retailers worldwide surveyed in July and August 2008 by E-Consultancy and R.O.EYE said that e-mail was second only to paid search when it came to driving high volume. “

Paid search! Ow, that’s gotta hurt. (smile to all of my SEO pals). A couple of things about this report:

1. Image suppression is the elephant in the middle of the room. It dramatically affects metrics, and namely, open rates. With more and more people using webmail email accounts, this increases, and the effects increase. I know I’m a broken record on this, but until analysts figure out a new method of measurement, I’m going to suspect any report on open rates.

2 This study was done prior to the holiday season. The recent onset of holiday surge emailing has nothing to do with it.

3. But the main gist, for me, is not that consumers aren’t opening emails (if that is indeed what is happening, which we can’t tell for sure because of my point #1), but that retailers are sending to them. Retailers are still not filtering out inactive subscribers. And, that’s going to come back and bite them, not just by diminished returns and low ROI, but by missing the boat completely on lifecycle emails. Retailers are using a perfectly good medium- email- and using it to have a boring conversation. “Wanna buy this? Wanna buy this? Wanna buy this? Wanna buy this?” You see my point.

Folks on our thread were talking about how they “don’t open emails” anymore, and how useless newsletters are, for their own PR. To me it’s not the demise of email, but the profusion of poor marketing- retail treating email as a cheap 4-color printing shop- instead of what many companies are doing, which is sophisticated, tailored email messages to individuals, not mass bulk mailings. When I say “tailored,” I’m not biasing this to mom & pop’s versus corporations. The size of the company has very little to do with how they address communicating to their customer, I’ve found. An example of lifecycle emails: what to send your subscriber when they haven’t opened an email in ages. Don’t keep sending them an email every week (or day!), but in a few months, send them a “do you still want to be subscribed?” email. Examples, here.

As for trends in marketing channels- I’ve seen slide after slide showing social marketing trending upwards at astronomical rates. I haven’t quite seen the ROI meet email’s- and in a broader vertical than online retail. That, I think, remains to be seen as social marketing matures.

My sources: the presentation by a Julie Katz of Forrester last year at a StrongMail seminar. Also, MarketingSherpa analysts on the future of email, from their presentation at the Summit last February. I can’t reproduce here as they were all-rights, etc.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • Sphinn
  • Facebook
  • Mixx
  • Google Bookmarks
  • StumbleUpon
Written on Tuesday, 02. December 2008 at 16:19 In the category SEO, other_blogs, social networks, strategy. Follow the comments via RSS here: RSS-Feed. Read the Comments. Trackbacks- Trackback on this post. Share on FriendFeed

«  –  »


  1. As always you’re right on Anna. In my opinion, it’s not that email is dead, it’s that most people ignore the retail emails we get too much of. I get emails from some of the vendors on a daily basis, almost all of them end up in my junk mail immediately until I finally un-subscribe.

    So, lesson #1 for retailers is to quit auto-subscribing us when we buy or shop and lesson #2 is to send out an email once in a while (as you suggest) to ask if we still care.

    I highly doubt this is the end of “social marketing” especially in favor of paid search. Organic search is rising to the top quickly and that is all about social marketing isn’t it?

    Comment: Janet – 02. December 2008 @ 5:17 pm

  2. Janet-
    Mostly I object to eMarketer’s chicken-little behavior, as well as such a meaningless report by MailerMailer.

    Comment: banane – 02. December 2008 @ 7:22 pm

  3. You make some excellent points. Image suppression and list management (inactive former subscribers) are certainly important factors. I think the larger issue is relevancy. Over time as marketing vehicles prove their worth, marketers rush to implement the new vehicle. Email’s value at a high level is understood. The perception of “cost” versus benefit makes email particularly attractive. The average marketer uses email as a cheap “4-color” print shop. In turn the average consumer receives lots of irrelevant messages. The value of email as a marketing vehicle on “average” declines. It will be the same story with social media. Marketers are still largely testing social media, but as more firms adopt social media as a mainstream vehicle social media’s value in the marketing mix will “decline.”

    Comment: Frank – 02. December 2008 @ 8:40 pm

  4. Anna,
    As with other die-hard email marketers I am always up for discussing the health of what the DMA calls “one of the most profitable direct channel available to marketers…” Email! At the end of the day email is simply the victim of many of its own core value propositions, it’s easy, it’s fast and yes, it can be cheap. The challenge for the marketer is to avoid the pitfall of “easy, fast and cheap” and invest the time and resources necessary to do things like data segmentation, personalized content development and lifecycle messaging. Here is an interesting thought; we have at least one client that no longer sends the broadcast, newsletter type emails mentioned by your colleagues. Rather, every email they deliver is transactional in nature. Everything from password resets to purchase confirmations carry the brand and marketing message to the recipient, in an extremely relevant fashion. Should we as email marketers stop sending campaigns? No, but as you mention in your post we do need to continually make them better! See you in Utah!

    Comment: Ryan Deutsch – 02. December 2008 @ 9:40 pm

  5. Thanks Frank & Ryan.

    Ryan- glad you chimed in, as I feel sometimes like I get in the email marketing echo chamber, always talking about topics we’re concerned about but not as it looks from the outside. I’m always evangelizing transactional & lifecycle messaging with my clients, but then I do see great results in broadcast newsletters by some die-hard clients. Email is a good old workhorse, in a lot of respects, and doesn’t get respect when it’s done well… see you in Utah!

    Comment: banane – 02. December 2008 @ 11:47 pm

  6. Anna, I can appreciate your frustration with the “sky is falling” interpretation of our metrics report. We certainly did not characterize it that way. We reported that we saw overall open rates decline ever so slightly, with open rates of emails to consumers declining more than those in other industries. More importantly, we saw click rates remain very stable, which suggests that people are still reading their emails, just not with images enabled as you pointed out.

    One of our main findings was that emails are being opened sooner than ever before, with one-third of all opens occurring within the first two hours of delivery. This is likely because many people are reading emails on a Blackberry or other mobile device. As a result, fewer opens are being reported because most of these devices suppress images to save bandwidth. Our full report is available at My hope is that you will find some meaningful information in it. Either way, I would love to hear your feedback on how we might improve our next edition.

    All the best,

    Raj Khera
    CEO, MailerMailer

    Comment: Raj Khera – 03. December 2008 @ 8:38 am

Leave a comment

Recent Posts


Recent Comments


Recent Trackbacks


Follow Me

  • Add to Google

WP-Design: Vlad -- Powered by WordPress -- XHTML 1.0
© 1998 All Rights Reserved