Email marketers love to tout the benefits, return on investment and successes of our favorite channel. However, there’s something I’ve come to know through my many years in the industry: sometimes email doesn’t work. There comes a time in every business when you need to evaluate where to spend your marketing dollars. Oftentimes email is a no-brainer; sometimes it’s not.
Is there a place in almost every marketing program for email? Certainly. But too often, companies look at email as their saving grace, the Hail Mary pass, the super channel that will help them reach prospects with the right message at the right time. That’s what email does. It’s dynamic, powerful and the best channel for communicating your targeted message. And it works for many companies! But putting all your eggs in one basket (ahem, excuse the Easter bunny reference) is never a good idea. (I could go on about using an integrated approach, but that’s a topic for an entirely different post.)
There are times when it’s not a good idea to invest significantly in email marketing. Here are a couple of them:
1. Your email marketing program is really a lead-generation program, and the goal of your acquisition strategy is to give your sales team phone leads as opposed to marketing leads to nurture. If you work for a B-to-B company or a company with a long sales cycle, the key to a successful email program is lead nurturing. You have to be aware that sending regular “batch and blast” email campaigns isn’t going to cause someone to pick up the phone and order a Lamborghini.
It could take months or years of carefully curated and targeted content to get a prospect to a point in which they’re ready to take a test drive. If your organization doesn’t believe in the methodology, or is implementing a list-growth strategy in order to skip the lead nurture process, you’re going to be disappointed on the ROI of your short-term email program — i.e., a newsletter to a batch of new “subscribers” in which nobody buys a sports car.
2. You sell one product only, and customers don’t usually buy more than one. I’ve seen this time and again. A company has one product it wants to tell the masses about. It’s a simple and possibly fabulous product, but it’s only one product. There could be opportunities to give as a gift, but sending a weekly newsletter to the same subscribers with the same message isn’t going to move the needle. There may be opportunities to show different uses or features of the product in order to engage prospects, but at the end of the day, if someone bought it, likes it and then gets an email from you twice a week asking you to buy it again, you’re more likely to turn them off than keep them engaged.
In this case, if you’re sending a mass email to a list of subscribers that consists of mostly existing customers, email marketing won’t work. There are strategies to use email to sell to subscribers who haven’t yet purchased. In that case, you need to be growing the marketing list and differentiating the messaging to existing customers. In the end, there may only be so many things you can say about your product, so be prepared to develop engaging content around your industry or product type and to cool it on the cadence.
3. You have no discernible goals or metrics to measure the success of your email program. Like any marketing program, you need to define what success will look like. If you invest in email marketing without doing so, you run the risk of deeming it a failure. For example, an offline company that doesn’t define success in terms of offline metrics will see a lack of online sales or clicks as a failed effort. Let’s go back to that Lamborghini example: even a well-planned lead-nurturing campaign that eventually helps to drive a sale will look like a failure if the end goal isn’t defined as a person walking into a dealership and buying a car. That goal needs to not only be realistic, but measurable and trackable. The program goals need to be in those terms and not in the direct revenue or even clicks.
4. You only have 10 (or so) people on your email list. Any good marketer will tell you that a challenge is really an opportunity. The truth is when your list is small, you may not show immediate ROI on the time and expense it takes to create and send an email campaign. Does that mean it’s not working? Depending on your goals it might. However, by communicating with even the smallest list consistently, you’ll be able to keep those subscribers on your list for the long run and put in place practices that will pay off as your lists grows.
5. Your entire marketing list was bought, consists of your personal contacts or was acquired through some other questionable means. To me it’s crazy that I even need to address this issue, but I still get inquiries around this topic constantly. If your “subscribers” haven’t opted in to receive your emails directly, you shouldn’t be emailing them. In other words, you’re pretty much starting from square one. That doesn’t mean that you won’t get to a point where email marketing will generate the revenue you need, but you can’t expect it to in the way an opted-in list will. You’ll end up damaging you reputation and putting too much effort and expense into a program that’s not generating results. Just stop, don’t do it.
Email marketing is a powerful channel that can take your company to the next level. As with anything, you’ll only get out what you put in. Developing a strategic plan will help you create a successful program in the long run, instead of a short-term crash and burn. (I’ll spare you another Lamborghini analogy.)