March 16, 2008

Profit Week: E-Mail Marketing

Might it be time to completely rethink the concept of e-mail marketing?

Think about this medium for a moment. We celebrate the outstanding ROI of a marketing medium that inspires one out of every seven hundred recipients to purchase something.

Seriously. We celebrate a 0.15% response rate. We celebrate a medium that only one in five individuals bother to even open. We celebrate best practices that improve e-mail response rates to 0.20%.

Maybe we should judge e-mail marketing on its ability to get a customer to visit a website, to "engage". Maybe the goal of e-mail marketing is to train customers to regularly visit our website.

If the purpose of e-mail marketing is to train a customer to interact with us, we would re-think e-mail marketing, wouldn't we? We wouldn't gouge our customer when the economy was good, then offer free shipping when we were desperate to generate sales, would we?

E-mail marketers might market the company blog, encouraging the loyal customer to interact with the brand.

E-mail marketers might educate a customer about how to use the products and services the brand offers, offering planting tips for the seed marketer as an example. The goal isn't to sell seeds ... the goal is to tell somebody how to be successful with the seeds they purchase.

E-mail marketers might share stories about the loyal employees who serve loyal customers.

E-mail marketers might share stories about loyal customers, helping loyal customers feel special. Instead of selling product, sell the loyal customers who buy merchandise.

The goal of e-mail marketing could be about making people feel special. This could generate word of mouth, generating sales with minimal incremental cost. This could also generate reasons for customers to visit your website.

Of course, all of these ideas could be worth garbage.

Conversely, one in seven hundred customers are buying what we have to sell today. What do we have to lose?


  1. Very timely! There's an undercurrent of thinking that email could return a little more to its roots, when the email newsletter arose as a way of keeping the relationship going once people left the website.

    We've possibly been sucked into the direct response / technology approach too much. In the sense that we've forgotten what else email can do.

    Another issue is the increasing power of the recipient in determining whether your email gets through (with ISPs looking at how people interact with your email to decide if that email is "good" or not).

    This has reminded marketers about the need to focus on providing value in more ways than just a discount or coupon.

    Couple of related posts:

    Return of the e-newsletter
    [re]Considering Old Skool Email Newsletters

  2. Thanks for sending the links along to our readers!

  3. Anonymous12:34 PM

    Enjoyed meeting you at the Executive Forum.

    One point: even though the response rate for email is low, lots of companies make significant revenue from email (at least, that they allocate to email). So I think this is a hard sell up the ladder.

    Also, I think you can do a lot with email segmentation to counteract the low response rates. Maybe there should be a formula that says if your response rate is below x%, then you aren't engaging your customer base enough and you need another segment (or four).

    Segmentation can be hard, but it's worth it. (I know it's not the point of your post, but I have to throw it out there . . .)

    Jay Allen

  4. Yup, I agree. We made $200,000,000 a year in sales at Nordstrom on e-mail, $0.19 at a time, using targeted campaigns based on a segmentation scheme using prior purchase history.

    We measured e-mail via mail/holdout groups, which consistently showed better results than the click-through and purchase reporting we normally received.

    Good suggestions!

  5. Anonymous1:10 PM

    You certainly have some agreeable opinions and views.
    Your blog provides a fresh look at the subject.

    You might want to take a look at my blog and possibly become a regular reader.

    A cool clip from my blog…

    Many business owners who opt to try email marketing make the mistake of believing any type of email marketing is beneficial. This is simply not true; there are a number of mistakes business owners can make when they organize an email marketing campaign.

    Examples of these types of mistakes may include allowing promotional materials to be tagged as spam, not following up with promotional emails, not being prepared for an influx of customers after an email marketing effort and not marketing specifically to the target audience.

    The full post can be found here…

    See you there,
    Richard Donlevy


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