Long Live Email Marketing
October 10, 2018
Todd Henderson

Long Live Email Marketing

Pop quiz: what’s the most common activity on smartphones?

If you guessed web browsing, social media, local search, or even watching TV—you’d be on the right track, according to BuildFire. Those are indeed some of the most popular activities on smartphones. But they all fall short next to sending and receiving emails.

Marketing expert David Newman once said of email: “[It] has an ability many channels don’t: creating valuable, personal touches—at scale.”

Email marketing gives a company an edge: it connects them directly with their potential customers, giving them prime real estate in the daily inbox. That special connection doesn’t only show up in the ROI numbers, but continues to drive many of today’s top companies to seek out new, exciting, and personal email campaigns.

Is email marketing dead? Quite the contrary. Today’s digital world has made email far more effective both for consumers and the marketers who serve them. If anything, the adage should be: “Long live email marketing.” Here’s why.

Why Email Marketing?

If you spent a dollar on radio ads and had a 43% chance of realizing a 1-5x return on investment, would you be interested in hearing more?

According to 2015 data, that’s exactly what email marketers see. But it doesn’t end there. In the top segment, one-third of all email marketers produce 51x their investment.

Why the staggering ROI numbers? Because email marketing is remarkably cheap. Acquiring an email marketing tool for a basic subscription and sending email blasts to a group of fans who have already expressed some degree of interest in what you have to say is about as low-risk an approach to marketing as the digital age can provide.

These numbers provide a clear answer for why you should invest in email marketing—but they don’t provide the entire context. Email marketing is a type of marketing supported by the rest of your digital infrastructure. Your website, your social media following, and your content marketing all feed into the success of each email marketing campaign.

But if you do it right, email marketing can be a high-ROI, low-risk way to do something with the leads you routinely generate. And that means your web presence can serve a long-term purpose other than giving your potential customers something to look at.

Reasons to Reconsider Email Marketing (If You Already Haven’t)

When we say, “email marketing,” there’s a significant portion of readership that might imagine corny “download our FREE REPORT!” marketing ploys.

Yes, that’s one element of email marketing today. But it’s a small element.


  • Some 72% of consumers report preferring email as their primary method of communication. This doesn’t just refer to receiving company memos via email, but also consumer promotions such as coupons, special deals, and holiday updates.
  • According to Radicati’s 2016 report, by 2020, some 3 billion people worldwide will be using email—or about one-half of the world’s entire population. As Internet use becomes more commonplace, email will continue to supplant older forms of communication as our preferred messenger.
  • Email marketing is easy. It doesn’t take much to establish an email list—only the acquisition of one of the well-known marketing tools like Campaign Monitor or MailChimp. These services are inexpensive and make it easy to manage one’s list without investing a lot of time and intensive labor to create a professional touch.
  • Email marketing offers fast results. Establishing a campaign and sending it off can happen with the click of a mouse—all an email marketer has to do is wait and watch the results.

Email Marketing Done Right

Email marketing will only improve as marketers get more sophisticated—and, as the examples below show, these improvements result in better experiences for the consumer as well:

Charity: water – How to Create More User Engagement

It’s easy to put up an email campaign that “drips” new promotions to a list of consumers. This is a fairly straightforward email campaign—you introduce a storyline and continue to develop it through the course of your regular emails.

But this isn’t an exceptional way to handle email.

Consider the case of charity: water. This nonprofit advertises itself as being on a mission to change the widespread lack of access to clean water.

If this charity were like any other, it would create a promotional campaign with minimal user interface. They would state the problem, state their solution, and then tell you where to go to donate.

But charity: water takes it to another level. In their email campaigns, they actively update users as to the use of their money. With these regular “progress updates,” they show their readers where their money is.

Not only is this a better way to increase each donor’s individual sense of accomplishment and pride for their donation, but it actively engages them with the process. That means that users are more motivated to open each and every email because they know there’s a special update in it just for them.

Bonobos – Bringing Back the Art of Minimalism

What about a more straightforward commercial campaign? How might a brand generate more cooperation from its readers via email?

In the case of Bonobos, the attitude became “less is more.”

Rather than writing a long form email about the state of the trouser industry, Bonobos opted instead for a customer-centric approach to its campaigns. They cut out the clutter and introduced a simple message: “Select your size and get 25% off all shorts.”

Then, Bonobos listed 11 sizes.

That’s all they did.

This simple and straightforward approach succeeded because it required little to no upfront investment from the reader. A simple click of a personal size would yield a substantial discount, bringing the consumer to the website—which was Bonobos’ goal all along.

What Great Email Marketing Campaigns Have in Common

What do great email marketing campaigns all share? There are a few common elements that you can pay attention to:


Admit it: if an email subject line promised an element of personalization—that if you were to open that message, there would be something in it specially-designed for you—you would be more likely to open that email.

That’s one element that great email marketing campaigns share: they’re personal in a way other email campaigns are not. And while it can be useful for brands to send out email blasts and promotions about their latest sales, those campaigns that personalize each email as much as possible will tend to succeed over the competition.

This doesn’t mean you have to know the name and tastes of every single individual on your email list. But it does mean that you should think about what it is that you offer. For example:

  • Craft headlines that appeal on a personal level. UncommonGoods elevated their “Mother’s Day” email marketing campaign by asking a simple question: “Don’t you think Mom would’ve liked A Faster Delivery?” This simple question—referring to “Mom” instead of “your Mom”—feels more personal.
  • Frame your offer in a personal way. Bonobos succeeded by taking an existing link—their sizing options—and putting it up front. They realized that the customer didn’t want to hear what Bonobos had to say about pants. They just wanted to find out what discounts they might be eligible for in their size.


Cutting through the clutter of the inbox can be difficult. A consumer signed up for dozens of offers and memberships will likely cut through their daily email without a second thought as to which they delete. Getting through that challenge requires personalization, yes—but it also requires a campaign worthy of enthusiasm.

Charity: water was able to create that sort of enthusiasm through the investment it creates in its readers: by involving them directly with their updates, it generated an organic sort of enthusiasm that’s hard to ignore. But what if you’re a company in search of that type of enthusiasm and aren’t sure how to generate it?

The first step is to brainstorm. There are plenty of ways to create new enthusiasm: coupons, new offers, contests, sweepstakes, free giveaways, new downloads, and exciting announcements about new offerings. Exclusive previews (for example, chapters of an upcoming book) can also generate some serious enthusiasm for the product you’re about to sell.

The key here is to keep the consumer at the center of your email campaign. What do they want? What are they looking to achieve? What sort of headline might cause them to open an email with the hopes that you’re providing an answer to a question they’ve been asking?

How to Get More Value Out of Your Email Marketing Campaigns

The ROI on email campaigns is relatively large because your emails often go to warm leads—those people who have already opted into your email list.

To get the most out of your email marketing campaigns, you don’t just have to do them well. You have to have enough volume to make them worthwhile in the first place. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Give something away. Generating an audience starts with giving them an incentive to join up. What can you give away that would incentivize new email newsletter signups? What would you want in exchange for signing up to an email list?
  • Take the time to craft engaging emails. Even if you acquire plenty of new leads, you’ll often find that if you don’t take the time to create outstanding emails, people will tend to drift away from your email list. Really take the time to brainstorm new ideas, new offers, and fun new ways of crafting your emails.
  • When in doubt, keep it minimal—and keep it customer-focused. Bonobos’ campaign is a testament to the power of keeping the customer in mind first. Not only were they able to do away with volumes of writing that their customers wouldn’t want, but they were able to create a campaign that people enjoyed.

Email marketing is not only alive and well—it’s positioned to become one of the primary focuses of digital marketers in the next decade. If you want to position your company in the same fashion, it may be time to pay more attention to your email list.