9 April 2016

Social media has killed email marketing - long live email marketing

Robert Stead
Written by Robert Stead

Robert is a highly skilled Business to Business marketing director with over 13 years interim and part time experience. A believer in the “if you cannot measure the improvement it doesn’t exist” approach to marketing; completely focused, pragmatic and practical. Energetic, friendly and culturally adept, Robert has substantial European and international experience and is able to engage with the whole business, not just the marketing function. With a good strategic and operational marketing balance, Robert is always happy to roll up his sleeves and get stuck in. Marketing Centre Marketing Director of the year 2014.


Social media is undeniably a potent part of the modern marketing strategy, and it’s understandable that businesses have scrambled to build a presence on each popular platform as it emerges. Has social media killed off email marketing, though? The Marketing Centre’s Robert Stead is unconvinced: here’s why.

Do people really think that social media has killed off email marketing?

I suspect some do; mainly those who’ve been told this so many times that they’ve come to believe it - and they’re often told this by people in the marketing industry.

If you are Coke or Nike or another large and strong B2C brand, then it’s got some truth to it. If you are a smaller B2B or B2C brand, it simply isn’t correct. The majority of social media hype plays directly to the biggest myth in marketing: “there is a huge market, and if I address it all I’ll get a small share, and that will be valuable.” In reality the opposite is true: target everyone and you’ll hit no one.

Is email marketing still useful for businesses?

Absolutely. According to the most recent edition of the Chartered Institute of Marketing magazine, email is seventeen times more effective at generating online orders than social media. Think about it for a minute. With email, you know exactly who you are talking to, and you can manage exactly what they see: it’s completely personal and you know if they’ve read what you sent. None of this is true of most social media activity.

Is there a downside to email marketing?

It’s easy to do email marketing badly: poor data, emails with spelling mistakes, not tracking the results properly, over sending, under sending…the list goes on. Again, people believe what they’re told, and they’re told that email marketing is all about the highest opening rate and the most clickthroughs. It’s not. It’s about the conversion. You need to focus on the downstream activity, what you want people to do with your email once they’ve opened it and what journey you want them to take. Email send platforms like CommuniGator, MailChimp or Campaign Monitor make it possible, even easy, to do that effectively.

Why are businesses so excited about social media?

Marketers talk about push and pull, outbound and inbound. Sending outbound messages to a known audience or putting out messages that pull previously unknown customers in.

Push vs. pull: Social media is often effective when used with other marketing techniques

Email is a push technique, social media mainly a pull one; both are great ways to have a conversation with prospective customers and in this sense they are quite complementary. Social media used well with other marketing techniques is often very effective.

The problem begins when social media marketing is the only thing that a business does.

Why do agencies push social media?

I have both a reasonable answer and a cynical one.

The reasonable answer is that a good long-term social media and blogging approach, integrated with PR and associated with great web content, will contribute to brand building and lead to increased business, some of which comes directly from the social activity.

The cynical answer is that agencies typically charge £1000-£1500 per month for a weekly blog post and associated Twitter/LinkedIn/Facebook activity, and they need to do this every month for it to have any impact. £18k per year is a good income. Building and sending email campaigns is much less remunerative. I’m sure no agency with integrity would take this approach, but I’m aware of one business which was spending £1500 per month on social media and blogging for each of their three websites “because social media is essential for SEO”. Circumstances meant that they could no longer afford £54k per year, so they stopped - and the results from the website and social channels barely changed.

Why should businesses still consider email marketing?

If I had £5 for every time I’d heard “emails don’t work, we sent one email and they didn’t buy”, I would be a wealthy ex-marketing director on my yacht. Email marketing is controllable, it’s measurable, it works, and the ROI is good too. What’s not to like?

Email marketing will live long and prosper, thanks to advancements in technology and increasing data literacy among users. With the right attitude and a clear objective, it can serve a business well.

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