4 things I’d like to change in the email marketing industry


For those who have had the pleasure (!?) of working with me over the years they’ll probably say I’m partial to a moan or a rant. I’d prefer to spin that as being a critical thinker but yes, there is a lot of truth in that!

In all seriousness though no industry is perfect, and the email marketing industry is no different so I thought I’d write down the first few things I think we can do better at. All these views are my own, you may or may not agree with any of them. And I’m no great visionary like Steve Jobs – I don’t have all the answers, I’m just easily irrationally annoyed!

1. Giving technology endless badges

ESP, Marketing Automation, CDP, Reverse ETL etc, etc.

As an industry a lot of emphasis seems to be given as to what category we put a piece of technology into. The lines between some of those above are really blurred and some vendors will try and position themselves as say, perhaps, a CDP, when they aren’t, simply because it’s the cool thing of the moment.

All of this makes it harder for marketers to work out what partners they should be working with, and I sometimes get the feeling vendors spend time copying functionality to tick a box for the category.

I’d much rather we ignored the badges we gave and just focussed on what problems the tech solves and the benefits delivered to the business.

Speaking from personal experience the tech arm of our business, Reignite, is bundled into the ‘Real-time email’ category because our functionality is similar to others categorised into that space. I hate that for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the name implies that the real-time element is our proposition which it’s anything but. Speak to OI members Matthew Dunn of Campaign Genius, or Randy Levy at Zembula, and I’d guess they would both say the core proposition is closer to automation of content and personalisation.

Leading on from that no-one seeks out a real-time email content platform. Instead, they have specific challenges they need to address to which a number of solutions could help. For example, the brand struggles to cope with the amount of email production required. One solution would be to find ways of automating parts of the content, others might be changing up the email editing suite or even finding a production agency.

2. ESP Setup Fees

I know how much work goes into the setup of a new customer on an ESP. At the mid-market and upwards this might be 10-minutes of internal support configuring an account, choosing the IP range, sending the client the DNS records they need to create and so on. Then maybe there is some training which is often standardised, perhaps a bit of advice on IP warmup, and so on.

Seeing $5K quoted for some of this when you know what is really involved behind the scenes just seems silly.

For me, this is just the cost of doing business with a new customer and if relatively minor services that are required to buy the platform are charged like this it makes you wonder what other charges will come down the line. With 24-month contracts seeming to be the norm nowadays, in reality it is here nor there in the grand scheme of things for either side, but I’ve added it on as I don’t think they are fair, and I always felt personally uncomfortable charging them, and even more having to pay them!

3. The whole 40:1 ROI quote

We’ve debated this a lot recently on OI discussions after one vendor decided to suggest their platform is upwards of 90X ROI. Traditionally, the 40X ROI number comes from the UK Direct Marketing Association research from years ago.

This looked at how much revenue email campaigns directly generated, and all underlying costs associated with fulfilling those sends. It was a great number back in the day to bang the drum for email which suffered from both not being established as traditional media channels swallowing the majority of budget, and the newer cooler channels such as social.

But I’d argue this along with optimistic attribution methods does more harm than good nowadays. Each time I see an article quoting it I cringe a little.

The idea that email easily generates a massive ROI deprioritises it. If email isn’t a problem am I going to throw more resource in other directions?

And that is before we talk about the whole problem of the 40:1 calculation – it doesn’t take into account the new customer acquisition costs that our friends in SEO, PPC and so on are fighting against – email has it easier as you are dealing with your best customers, not trying to find new ones.

Email is underperforming its potential for the vast majority. Most brands are still in 2022 running batch and blast with email marketing teams saying they don’t have the time and resources to move to a personalised world. They are leaving huge amounts of money on the table.

Instead of saying how great email is compared to other channels, should we not be a little more critical and aim higher for email? Is there a case for us as an industry talking about what you are missing out on instead?

4. Giving email marketers more practical skills

Email marketing requires you to wear many hats. One minute you’ll need to make changes to the message that needs to go out, the next you need to run a count of a target segment, perhaps later create a new automated flow, and before you go home dig into the numbers to see what is performing well or otherwise.

The speed of operation with email means it’s not always practical to get specialists to help you on each of these steps – it needs doing 5 minutes ago.

I feel fortunate that I’ve picked up lots of practical technical skills over the years. I’m from a generation that to access a computer you had to type into a command line screen. That complexity to achieve simple tasks that everyone had to learn, gives you the ability to take on other practical tasks.

That has helped me a lot in my email marketing career as I don’t have as many hurdles or barriers in front of me. But others entering the industry are perhaps more conditioned to the world of the iPhone and simple tech. Where is their opportunity to pickup the practical skills that will help them do their jobs more effectively? I know an email marketer is at heart a marketer not a data analyst, coder, or designer, but an element of practical skills in all these areas allows them to be far more efficient and effective.

Maybe this is more of a societal issue in how we ask people to choose between vocational or academic paths for training and learning. But I know how lucky I feel for having the opportunities to gain skills in both areas.

As I said I don’t have all the answers but perhaps a starting point is for the industry to clearly define what an email marketing professional does. Only then can employers map out the skills required and put in place training and development plans.

Alternatively, do we simply expect too much of email marketers? In which case any definition of what an email marketer is can highlight how it is 3 people not 1 that’s needed.

What would you like to improve in the email industry?

These are 4 random things I get irrationally annoyed or frustrated by in the email industry and very specific to my personal background and negative nelly personality. But what would you like to change in the email marketing industry?

Share your thoughts on the Only Influencers (OI) discussion list. Not a member of OI, the original community of email industry professionals? Join today!

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Photo by Pierre Bamin on Unsplash