Jon Thomas
Jon Thomas
Communications Director

The “Rebirth” of Email Marketing, As If it Was Ever Dead

The "Rebirth" of Email Marketing

This post originally appeared in our April issue of “Live Report from the Future of Marketing,” our monthly Post-Advertising newsletter. Subscribe for free here.

In the days of AOL, our in-boxes were cherished spaces. When we heard the computerized voice proclaim, “You’ve got mail!” our hearts leapt. “Someone cares enough to have written me an email!” we thought. And back then, when it took a good five ear-piercing minutes to boot up your 28.8K modem and dial into AOL, an email was almost as good as a handwritten letter, and faster.

Brands caught on, however, and soon our in-boxes became a seething mess of spam. Any brand communication was seen as intrusive and as annoying as a telemarketer’s call during dinner. Email marketing companies flourished at first, aiding and abetting these brand messages, but around 2007 it seemed (to me at least) as though email marketers were going the way of Myspace background designers and door-to-door salesmen. With the emergence of social media, why spend time dodging spam filters when you could talk directly to your audience on Facebook or Twitter?


Certainly the approach to email marketing has changed in the past decade. In the late 90s and early aughts, brands took shortcuts, often resorting to buying email lists and attempting to close the sale in the first contact. If you’ve ever tried to find a potential mate in a bar, you know that your pickup line can’t be an invitation to come home with you. Instead, audiences wanted (and still want) valuable content that is of some use to them, whether it informs or simply entertains. Not all brands understood this a number of years ago, and, rightly, audiences rejected their pestering, relegating them to their junk folders.

Around 2005, social media grew massively, and the social paradigm shifted. We, as an audience of consumers, embrace brands now more than ever. We let them into our social streams and email in-boxes, to which we’re obsessively tethered. The opt-in and permission-based models have allowed brands to communicate with audiences who actually want to hear from them, as long as they’re delivering perceived value, which can be in the form of a useful tip, a funny comic or a 20-percent-off coupon. There has never been a better time for marketers than now, when the possibilities seem endless.

You don’t have to be an early adopter or the first brand on the next social platform to be innovative. You just have to be innovative. Daily-deal sites are powered by email. We want to sign up to make sure we have an opportunity to snag that deal, especially if there are limited quantities. Daily-deal sites didn’t invent the idea of discounted products, nor did they invent email (that was Gore, right?); they simply connected their audience to value, and email is their powerful vehicle.

So why does email seem like an afterthought for many brands?

Every day, I’m asked to “like” something, “pin” something, follow something, “plus” something, vote something up or share something. Brands are so eager to get me to take action, you’d think that Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest were the Holy Grail of marketing, as if there were a proven direct correlation between Pinterest followers and sales in the same way there’s one between eating and staying alive. That’s not to say that those channels aren’t important, because they are (when used effectively), but email marketing is treated like an aging middle relief pitcher. Sure, he’s experienced and reliable and without him we wouldn’t have won as many games, but he’s not sexy and not new and doesn’t look web 3.0 enough!

What I don’t see is that same concerted effort by brands to get audiences to opt into their email lists, where they send content of great value (there’s a difference between that and simply baiting audiences for their email through a single piece of content and then using it for whatever the brand pleases).


It’s become a bit of a cliché to say that email marketing isn’t dead, as if people were bailing on their email clients à la the mass exodus from Friendster and MySpace and authors like myself are proclaiming an Easter miracle. We all know that there’s value in being able to connect to the one place we check more religiously than our social channels. Email is not dead, nor has it ever been, but it has definitely taken a backseat as far as headlines and tweets go. But is the backseat designation justified?

In a recent survey by ExactTarget, 91 percent of respondents said they checked their email daily, while only 57 percent said they checked their Facebook accounts every day.

Also of note: 77 percent of respondents claimed that email was their preferred channel for permission-based promotional messages. The next closest, if you can believe it, was direct mail, with a whopping 9 percent.




It doesn’t matter whether email marketing is making headlines or fading into obscurity. It’s been proven that there’s no better time than now to build your list and start connecting with audiences through email.

It’s not lost on me that we at Post-Advertising do a lot of writing about the latest social-media trends, and that we even hosted a summit about the future of advertising. Facebook, Path, Google+, Pinterest: We’ve blogged about them all. But what Post-Advertising is truly all about is discussing the best ways for brands to become publishers and create ongoing content that engages and builds audiences. So while marketers love to play with and explore the shiny new toy, they should remember not to leave the old ones behind.

If you can do it right, email marketing may be the best way into your audience’s hearts and wallets.

Are you utilizing email more than social channels? How much time do you spend on each?