Blog post

Email: The Once and Future Marketing Channel

By Noah Elkin | October 26, 2016 | 2 Comments


What if I told you that email was the channel that would drive your marketing into an uncertain future marked by disruptive technology and rapidly shifting consumer behavior? You’d probably do a double-take and say “Huh?!? Email? Really??”

Yes, really.

With the World Series under way, let me offer a baseball analogy. Email is like that player in the middle of your lineup who hits .280+ every year, hits 20+ home runs, drives in 90+ runs and has an on-base percentage of .375. Not superstar stats, but rock-solid and remarkably consistent, year in and year out. Doesn’t get a lot of attention, but gets the job done. Without such an anchor player in your lineup, your team would be considerably less competitive. That’s email in a nutshell. Not flashy, but what would you do without it?

If baseball analogies don’t work for you or if you’ve already switched your attention over to football or basketball, think instead of the classic Simpsons episode where Bart and his classmates watch an educational video in which they’re asked to picture a “world without zinc.” They learn that without zinc, people can’t start their car or make a phone call. For the protagonist of the film, a world without a zinc turns out to be a virtual nightmare.It's difficult for marketers to imagine a world without email

Now imagine, for a second, a marketing world without email. It would be an actual nightmare! How would you communicate with all your customers? How would you knit together your different cross-channel marketing initiatives? What would you use to drive prospects to your store? Yep, all very difficult in a world without email. The loss of transactional emails alone, like those delivery confirmations that tell recipients that their package is waiting on the doorstep, would be painful.

Ok, you can relax — it’s only an imaginary thought. Your email service provider is still there. Your delivery confirmations are still queued up and ready to go. Customer experience preserved. Whew.

Email invariably serves as the point of departure for multichannel marketing, and remains the leading channel marketers deploy. It’s both a starter set and an essential building block for more connected programs, and with good reason: Email is a proven connector to a user ID. Customers who opt in to receive your communications have given you explicit consent to connect with them. With their every email click, you can learn something about them.

Yet if anything, email remains underutilized, not to mention under-heralded. We rely on it to such an extent that we almost forget it’s there, doing its job in a quietly effective way.

Lacking the patina of innovation associated with social media and mobile marketing and other digital techniques such as marketing analytics, email marketing may appear stale when it’s anything but. Think about the Internet of Things (IoT). When those millions going on billions of sensor-equipped objects trigger an event, chances are that many of them will generate … wait for it, an email. Most emerging technologies have a similar trigger-based component, with email as the output. That means you’re going to continue to need email as a learning platform for other channels, especially those that are still unproven, and as a proving ground for realizing event-triggered marketing programs.

That’s what makes email the once and future marketing channel.

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  • Joe Rizzo says:

    Bear in mind that .280+ every year, 20+ home runs, 90+ RBIs and an on-base percentage of .375 probably leads to a $15MM/year contract over 5 years!

    • Noah Elkin says:

      That’s true, especially in an era in which players who only play sporadically are making multiple millions per year. But what price consistency?