Is It Time To Rethink Email Marketing?

by Jason Falls |
Two small cans of Spam. One is closed and the ...Image via Wikipedia

According to the Email Marketing Metrics Report from MailerMailer published early this year, the open rate for email marketing pieces stood at 13.98 percent in the second half of 2007. That number was down from 16.11 percent in the first half of the year and 17.20 percent in the last half of 2006.

MailerMailer’s analysis is of their own customers, but generally match numbers from around the web.

Open rates certainly vary by industry. According to the same study, banking and finance have a 28.84 percent open rate. General consumer products, though were at 13.66 percent, even lower than the overall average. Heck, even computer and Internet companies notched a 10.41 percent open rate while the consultant (pay attention social media “expert” friends with your ahead of the curve smarts) had a measly 7.6 percent of his or her emails opened.

And click rates? How about an overall average of 2.9 percent (of the total, not of the 13.98 percent opened, which is perhaps the only positive statistic I gleaned from the report).

So if you send an email to 100 people, you’re lucky if three of them click to visit something you’ve asked them to.

And you email marketers out there are welcome to argue that most emails aren’t written well and you didn’t develop the strategy and your numbers are higher. I’ll just go ahead and call bullshit now. If you were so great, you wouldn’t be clamoring for approval on a B-Lister blog. Save it.

Less than three percent? Think of that, then consider that, according to research firm IDC, 97 billion email marketing messages were predicted for 2007. Surely it will be over 100 billion this year.

Is it just me or does the math not seem worth it? Are marketers that stupid?

Okay, now it’s time for Jason to bring it back to center a bit. Smart people like Malayna Williams pointed out to me this week that open rates are a flawed metric. Open rates are dependent upon images being accessed and viewed. If images are blocked, as they are in many email software’s preview panes, or if the email is accessed on a mobile device, the message may be seen and read, but not “opened.” For the preview pane reason alone, Malayna contends that design is critical.

“I think every single email should be designed so that anyone viewing it through a preview pane with images blocked can see all the pertinent content. I look at open rates every day and I can tell you that when the content is good and visible through the preview pane the open rates are much higher.”

The simple fact of the matter is that spam filters were created to get rid of email marketing. Name an email provider or company server that doesn’t have one. We as a people have said, “I do not want this.” Yet marketers continue to produce them. Why?

If the success rate to click through is less than three percent, certainly the conversion is lower. By attrition alone, you would think companies would wise up and toss email marketing out the window.

Oh, wait. I’m talking about the same people who still budget money for pay-per-click and static banner ads. My bad.

Now, not all email marketing is evil. There are opt-in programs. If our customers raise their hand for something, we give it to them. I would argue we should find more engaging methods of delivering our messages, but generally have no issues with this type of outreach since our publics have asked for inclusion.

Harry Hoover at My Creative Team (and if you’re not reading his blog, you should, by the way) had an interesting thing to say about the opt-in version of email marketing:

“Email is not a customer acquisition tool anymore. It is a customer retention tool. This is still marketing, but you are sending something to people with whom you have a relationship, and it is something they have asked for: content.”

He reports his email newsletters have an open rate of 35-45 percent and that’s his key metric since they aren’t full of links to click through.

So, opt-in programs aside, isn’t it time we realized that as much as we hate spam in our inboxes, we deserve 1,000 times more if we keep recommending email marketing solutions to clients?

Perhaps I’m unreasonably biased. I think of social media as the anti-spam. It’s about relationships. It’s about dialog. It’s about listening to your customers individually and collectively, not yelling at a bunch of them all at once.

It’s also about being human, even as a company or brand. You wouldn’t take over the PA system of a plane to try and sell that antique lamp your aunt left you that you can’t stand would you? (Don’t answer that out loud. You’ll embarrass yourself.) Why would you let your company do the same thing?

Just like public relations professionals using the BCC field to reach a number of media outlets is, and will always be, spam, using it to reach a group of potential customers is as well. No matter the intent.

I would even argue that the BCC field in an email should be called the Spam Field. It’ll give us pause before using it, that’s for sure.

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About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).