Want better email results? Invest more and demand more
We email marketers can argue about everything, from acquisition to frequency, AI to organic content, and even what to call the emails we send. (I will go on record now and forever to maintain that we must never, ever, call email campaigns "blasts.")
But one thing we can all agree on is that our channel is undervalued and under-appreciated. That's not breaking news, of course. But these have a consequence that we marketers don't talk about enough. Because our channel is undervalued, the marketers who work in it are undervalued.
I see this problem in the work I do with email marketers but was reminded of it recently when I came across a provocative sentence in a post by lifecycle marketing guru Drew Price, who counts Grammarly and his own agency, JRNY PPL, among his brands:
"The email channel being highly ROI efficient has negatively impacted lifecycle and retention marketers."
Even though these marketers are responsible for key functions and have broader scope than others, he writes, "salary ranges for FTE leads in these disciplines oftentimes land 2X lower [emphasis mine] than many disciplines (engineering, product, etc.). Bottom line ... lifecycle leads are undervalued compared to leads in many other functions because of bias and lack of deep awareness of the ROI."
Whoa! Drew just expressed my own frustration. But what can we do about it? How can we get more respect and more budget for email whilst also being recognized and compensated for the value we bring to our organizations?
There's no easy answer but I'll try to work out a course of action. Let's consider these three points:
1. Email is its own worst enemy
We marketers don't set out to sabotage the channel that has the highest ROI (US$36 for every $1 spent, according to Litmus) among all marketing channels, immensely trackable and far above its nearest competitors. But that's what happens when we brag about how much we can accomplish for so little investment.
That, after all, might be music to your finance people's ears, but the takeaway for the C-suite is that the company does not need to spend any more money on email because it's doing very nicely, thank you, on this niche channel that brings in some extra income without breaking a virtual (or financial) sweat.
That's exactly the wrong message we should be sending, but that's what happens when we focus on email simply as a transactional channel that drives incidental sales.
We often joke that even a mediocre email program delivers a very ROI, but really, it's not that funny anymore. It means the company is not inclined to pay for strategically driven marketing automation, sophisticated list hygiene and deliverability programs, and skilled people to run them.
The fact is, because email outperforms all other channels, the C-suite cannot conceive that it can do better with more investment.
2. Let's stop comparing email to other channels and start looking at it as a business builder.
As I mentioned above, email delivers far and away the highest ROI per amount spent. That might have been a good argument to launch an initial investment in the channel (several decades ago). But today, it's more important to look at what those channels deliver and why having a high ROI is not the only measure of a valuable business program.
The ROI of TV commercials is a fraction of email, according to Swifterm, but they're as popular as ever. Same for paid search and print media. Why? Because those channels do more than sell. They build and reinforce brands, engage customers, keep the brand name in the public eye, and more.
When we promote email strictly as a moneymaking channel to sell products and push discounts, we undersell its ability to do so much more.
Email can give new customers an up-close-and-personal introduction to your brand, its products or services, values, and business values, and then move them to buy more cost effectively than a TV commercial or radio spot. So far, so good.
Lifecycle and retention marketing: Beyond driving direct sales, email can close the gaps in your customer journey that prevent prospects from moving toward a purchase or engagement. Where do customers fall off the path? What are you doing now to bring them back to it? To move beyond that first purchase to second and third purchases and then on to loyalty, or keep them from churning?
Email can fulfill all of those roles if you can invest the time and money needed to create the programs to support those goals.
Email nudges customers to other channels (yes – just like TV, billboards and print media): Because it’s a push channel, email showcases your brand in the consumer’s inbox. The UK DMA’s 2023 Consumer Email Tracker study found that only two of the fourteen possible actions consumers could take when they receive an interesting email will be attributed to email.
Out of the top four actions taken, three will gain the attribution from these emails: search (organic or paid), website and shopping in stores.
Email is a brand builder. Optimising its frequency and content will pay hefty dividends. In a recent frequency test, my client and I discovered by doubling their frequency they were able to increase their revenue by 74.79%, with no increase in unsubscribes.
This result is one of many tests we have performed and is being compiled into a business case to prove email’s value and to gain further investment in the channel.
Audience data and engagement: Your email subscribers make up a proxy for your customer database. You can learn so much about them just by understanding what drives your subscribers.
Further, what you learn about your customers, especially through testing, can inform other marketing channels, like search and direct mail, as well as other customer-facing departments such as customer service and support. Also, you can use what you learn about customers in those other channels and departments to make your email messages even more relevant.
3. We need to destroy the email status quo.
We must stop being happy with what email is delivering for us now. Instead, we must push it to do more. But we also need to invest in email before we can demand more from it. The burden rests squarely on marketers' shoulders to do more to press email's case than to trot out the usual statistics like ROI.
This also means we need to be more strategic about how we make that case. We already know we need to give the C-suite more meaningful reports than just how many people opened our last email campaign. Those more meaningful reports center on statistics that measure business value, and what measures can be taken to increase email’s contribution to the business’ goals.
We email marketers should be in the best position to know all the ways email can benefit the business beyond direct sales. But we need to raise our sights to understand all the potential out there and develop strategies to help us win that additional investment.
While we are going for that added investment, we also need to look beyond just funding new programs. Drew Price argues that a bias against email is costing lifecycle and retention marketers compensation and company authority. "[Compensation] is not commensurate with direct impact and scope," he writes.
I don't think it's a deliberate bias – it's that we haven't adequately demonstrated email's organizational value beyond the next Black Friday extravaganza.
Email marketing teams are among the most indefatigable and productive people I've ever worked with. Email marketers deserve to be compensated commensurate with the value they bring to the organization. But that means we all must rethink the ways we measure that contribution and then search for the most meaningful ways to present it to the C-suite.
Understanding and demonstrating the value email drives in the company is one of the most important jobs for an email marketer. It might not show up in a job description or as a line item in a resume. But smart marketers know how email works, how it can work better, and how that can translate into gains throughout the entire company.
Figuring out the age-old conundrum of email attribution is one step in determining email's values. Creating a strategy that guides our email decisions is another. My advice here can help you take the logical next step: to put together a plan that will get you the respect, the investment, and the compensation you deserve.