Email marketing results measured in basis points, and it’s all our fault


This is post is for all my colleagues in the marketing biz. I want to tell you that we collectively destroyed email.

What did we do that was truly stupid?

Simple: we have so overdone email that now it’s useless for all of us. Have you noticed that no matter what you do — text or HTML, links at the top or bottom, a great discount offer or the promise of everlasting life — your response rates have gone down? Have you noticed that no matter what “marketing automation” system you track email with that since 2005 your response rates have declined from whole percentage points to basis points today? (A basis point is 1/100th of a percentage point. They’re used to track minute changes in bond rates.)

Marketing programs that decline this precipitously this quickly do so only because we have completely overwhelmed consumers and they can’t take it any more. They’re the ultimate marketing failure: one hand clapping in an empty auditorium.

We don’t seem to remember how resistant we all were at first. We didn’t believe you could sell lumps of coal via email blasts. “Our audience doesn’t have email…and won’t ever get email.” Remember that? But, of course, that 55-year-old CFO and that aircraft mechanic and that Mom at home with stinky diapers all got email. So, what did we do?

First, those of us in big companies spent too much on email (because you can’t help yourself and you were afraid of missing the boat), driving CPMs out of reach. Next, we “institutionalized” email…added people whose only job is to generate email blasts. We linked it to our CRM systems…we became “email experts.”

Because we’d spent real money on people and systems, we needed to measure what we were doing. So, of course, we needed “infrastructure” like Eloqua, Vertical Response and Constant Contact to manage it all. And the (physical) direct mail industry needed a place to go because we had previously crapped up direct mail, so guess where they went…with all their “direct marketing science” and purportedly effective techniques.

Having built a hugely expensive house of cards around email, we forgot one thing: anyone can send email because the Internet made it essentially free. While we were adding cost to email and being profligate to boot, the spammers discovered that basis points of response can impact US dollar flows into Nigeria. We encouraged the spammers, actually gave them the idea, while they laughed at us for “systematizing” it and making it a “core marketing practice.” Any fool can write a good email and find 10K people to send it to. Between us and the spammers, there’s not an iota of tolerance left in anyone for more email pitches.

Worse, the customer service people decided email — along with out-sourcing call centers to India — would be the ideal way to reduce costs (and, incidentally, ensure that artificial measurements of responsiveness replace actually talking to customers).

Now, we have all the people, tools and expense…and it’s all worthless. Pay-per-click and search-engine-optimization are now nearly ruined as marketing programs as well. (Is anyone paying less per conversion?) And that same weak, lemming-herding instinct is all over social media (which already has enough corporate Twitter feeds to tempt a new generation of spammers).

Creativity still counts. Someone will think of something clever soon…and then have to stand back and watch the masses of marketing experts foul it up as well.





One response to “Email marketing results measured in basis points, and it’s all our fault”

  1. Kaye Avatar

    Email marketing is my preferred way of selling products coming from the affiliate programs that i have signed up with. it just takes time to get a good mailing list

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