Email is still king. Let’s show some respect.

Despite all the attention given to social media and Web 2.0 these days, that old workhorse email remains the most effective online marketing channel for generating conversions and influencing brand perception. According to Econsultancy’s Email Marketing Industry Census 2010:

  • For respondents that are aware of the figures for their email marketing efforts, 61% said that email delivers ROI of 300% or more, while 30% reported ROI of more than 500%.
  • The vast majority of respondents (75%) rated email as either ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ in terms of ROI, higher than for any other digital marketing channel. Only 4% of respondents said email is poor for ROI.

Email provides more than twice the ROI of other Internet marketing channels, but gets only 2.5% of the investment.

Bill Nuseey, CEO, Silverpop

The ubiquity of email is its main strength. While Twitter claims over 75 million users and Facebook over 400 million, there are 1.6 billion email users worldwide, making email the top online activity, just ahead of search.


Chances are, while you’re agonizing over how to monetize your Facebook and Twitter presence, there is money to be made right now by improving your email communications practices.

Barriers to effective email performance

According to most studies, the major barriers to effective email use are:

  • Quality of your email lists (This is the single most important influencer of email performance). Not creative as is commonly thought)
  • Lack of strategy
  • Lack of segmentation
  • Poor measurement
  • Inadequate staffing

In other words, while many e-marketers focus on tactical creative improvements to improve email performance, strategic and operational issues are holding them back even more. If you’re mailing the wrong message to the wrong audience, better creative won’t help.

Take the 3-minute email strategy test

Following are some questions to ask yourself about your email marketing programs. If you answer no to any of them, you’ve just identified your areas of opportunity.

Your Business

  • Do you have a defined and documented email communications strategy in place?
  • Is your email strategy focused on meeting customer needs?
  • Do you segment your mailing lists based on customer type, preferences or behavior?
  • Have you defined metrics to measure your email effectiveness?
  • Do you use analytics to measure and improve your email performance over time?
  • Do you manage your email delivery frequency?
  • Do you regularly test and improve your email performance?

Your Customers

  • Is it easy for people to sign up for your emails?
  • Do you clearly communicate the benefits of subscribing to your emails?
  • Do your emails provide unique and valuable content?
  • Does your email content deliver on the expectation you set at sign-up?

Things you can do now to improve your email ROI

  1. Improve your list quality by better merchandising the value of your emails at sign-up, and building your lists via opt-in rather than opt-out. If your lists are getting bigger while your response rates are going down, you have a list quality issue.
  2. Segment your lists where possible based on customer type, preferences and behavior.
  3. Adopt a subscriber-centric perspective. Everybody pays lip service to this one, but the few who walk the walk by consistently providing valuable, relevant content to their subscribers are rewarded.
  4. Relentlessly measure and optimize performance through creative experimentation. Another seeming no-brainer, but amazingly, almost half of companies still don’t regularly track their ROI from email.
  5. Staff and budget adequately. Quality email creative requires time and skill to develop, yet many organizations continue to run their email operations on a shoestring.
  6. Finally, don’t overlook the business opportunity in routine transactional emails. According to a 2008 study by Jupiter Research, the average retailer can generate an additional $2.9 million in revenue annually by integrating promotional offers into their transactional messages.

A final note of caution…

After you’ve followed our advice and are running on all cylinders with your email communications, resist the urge to use email as an ATM machine by constantly emailing to your lists. Over-emailing will eventually backfire as subscribers opt out in increasing numbers, mark your email as spam and spread negative word-of-mouth about your organization.