We use email in our everyday lives and it has certainly been around for a while, since 1972 courtesy of Raymond Tomlinson.

Email allowed us to seamlessly send electronic communications then, and today it is a common marketing tool to drive customer engagement.

So why is email seen as the poor relation in the world of digital marketing?


Today email is a common marketing tool to drive customer engagement.

I specifically say 'customer engagement' as we all know it requires not only opt-in but more importantly a common identifier in this case an email address.

Compare that to search or display advertising where neither of these elements are required.  

So why is email often overlooked in favour of other digital channels? 

Volume of email

Looking at the recent 2015 Email Marketing Industry Census from Econsultancy the number of organisations sending more than 1m emails a month has increased from 15% back in 2010 to 22% in 2015.

This might be due to organisations with larger customer bases adopting email however it is more likely to do with the cost of emails being seen as a simple and cheap option to contact customers.


What about email budgets?

Looking at the same Econsultancy survey we can see the annual spend on email remains steady at up to £5,000 per year.

Nearly 40% are only spending £5,000 per year on emails. This seems like quite a small amount to spend on contacting your customer base. Is this because email doesn’t deliver a positive ROI?


So, does email work?

A lot of email marketers claim it generates a huge uplift with one study showing for each $1 spent on email it generates an average return of $44.25. 

However, Econsultancy’s report shows 44% of respondents said they only attributed up to 10% of sales to email.

This initially seems like a small amount.

But let's put this into context and look at the total amount of monthly website traffic email represents for some of the largest online businesses:

  • Amazon.com – 2.4%,
  • Ba.com 5.3%
  • Ebay.co.uk – 3.2%

Source: Similarweb

Given the volume email contributes from a website traffic perspective, it is certainly punching above it’s weight in terms of sales contribution, if we take into account the conversion rate.

So this means the conversion rate is not only significantly higher but it also drives returning customer visits, with a lower cost per acquisition.

Is it a poor relation then?

If we look at the proportion of the marketing budget allocated over half of the respondents said email only accounted for no more than 10% of the budget. 

It is certainly not getting a lion’s share of the revenue.


Are the needs fundamentally not being met?

Taking a closer look at what is important in an email technology company a 'user- friendly interface' came top.

Interestingly in terms of email related services measurement and analytics came top, so it is a surprise this is did not come top or was not covered within the technology.


Is there now a time for change to help use email as a channel for enhancement?

Can it offer anything else? 

I have one question which regularly gets asked when I am working with email campaigns:

What does success look like and is this a good campaign?

One thing I would love to see email platforms provide is richer data insights. Interestingly not open and click through rates on email performance at an individual client level, but actually at an aggregate level to help inform my future campaigns. 

This would then allow me to answer this single question to help marketers to say if the campaign is successful from a like for like basis 

  • On businesses of a similar size.
  • On my peers in the same industry.
  • The best performer in my industry.
  • The overall average for UK sent emails (amongst the other clients on the platform).
  • By type of campaign.
  • By time of day or day of week.
  • By length of subject line.
  • By template type.

From here it would accelerate a couple of things.

  1. The learning and fine-tuning of specific campaigns based on if they are working. Surely understanding if email campaigns are generating a positive Return On Investment is key, however understanding if this campaign performed as well as it possibly could is a different story.
  2. A reduction in the guesswork needed within the email test plan. From types of content, subject line, time of day/week and type of template. Why not shortcut the creative testing plan by using historical evidence.

Given some email platforms have a large number of clients, suchas Pure360 with over 1,400 (source Komal Helyer)) and constantcontact with over 500,000 customers worldwide, imagine the insight which could be gleaned from their respective databases.

Not personal information but aggregrated insights. 

What would you like to see?

These are just my initial thoughts on how email could change to provide marketers with greater insight.  

I have specifically looked at how marketers can start to answer some of the questions we cannot see by looking at data from within our organisation.

I would love to hear from other marketers out there and ask this one question:

What would be the one thing you would like to see you email platform provide for your business?

Ben Salmon

Published 16 June, 2015 by Ben Salmon

Ben Salmon is Founder at Attributely and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

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Comments (6)

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Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

Q. "What would be the one thing you would like to see your email platform provide for your business?"

A. Speaking as someone who uses a lot of ESPs, the answer to your question is a no-brainer. Nothing else comes close. It's "answer my support calls the same day".

about 3 years ago

Jason Klein

Jason Klein, Director of Marketing Communications at StrongView

It looks like you have the wrong image under "Are the needs fundamentally not being met?"

about 3 years ago

Jennifer Watkiss

Jennifer Watkiss, Head of Marketing Communications at Adestra

Benchmarking can be a double-edged sword. We do have some stats available internally that compare clients and industries, but we've been reluctant to make them a public-facing feature, for the simple reason that *their* data is not *your* data.

By all means, benchmark against your own results, and across your existing campaigns to see where you can generate better results. But unless you can say that your data acquisition practices, list demographics, or communication styles are the same as every other business in your chosen segment, you're comparing apples and oranges. A result that benchmarks favourably against other results in a segment could actually be terrible, compared to what you might be able to achieve. And a result that looks fairly grim on its face could actually be a significant improvement/achievement for you.

Bottom line: are you measuring your ROI? Are you achieving results that make email make sense as a revenue-driving channel for your business? Are you committed to testing, iteration, and constant improvement? Then why do you care about what everyone else is doing?

Also, Pete - are you talking to Adestra? A day is actually unusually long as far as support query response time for us. ;)

about 3 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

Hi Jennifer, I've checked with the team and we like Adestra. You should get in touch - we integrated with MessageFocus from Adestra a couple of years ago, back when this company was called Triggered Messaging, but there are not many common clients.

ESPs vary a lot. Some are good at customer support, but some can take over a month.

about 3 years ago

Jennifer Watkiss

Jennifer Watkiss, Head of Marketing Communications at Adestra

Of course! I knew Fresh Relevance sounded familiar. I'd forgotten about the rebrand. :)

about 3 years ago

Ben Salmon

Ben Salmon, Founder at wearecrankSmall Business Multi-user

Thank you everyone for your feedback. Pete it has been a very long time, I have been in touch with Eddy recently.

Jennifer interesting to hear you take on benchmarks. Interestingly I speak with a lot of marketers who use the compendium here on econsultancy to get their benchmarks which, as you say can be very misleading. They regularly have to justify what is good in their industry.

Jason, the image I think it correct. The title is talking about what is being asked for by marketers is different from what they want in their technology selection.

about 3 years ago

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