What Can Email Marketers Agree To Agree On?

Years of participating in dozens of debates and arguments in the email-marketing industry make me wonder one thing: Can't we agree on anything?

Today, email is under attack, from within our own companies, outside perceptions and, sad to say, even other email marketers.

We will be in a stronger position to champion email as an invaluable communication and marketing channel if we can agree on some of the most fundamental issues in our industry.

This lack of agreement leaves the field wide open for other stakeholders to act on their own views and attitudes about email.  Among them:


  • Spammers and phishers who frustrate users and erode trust.
  • C-suite management who see email simply as an inexpensive channel.
  • Consumers and ISPs that label commercial email, or all email they don't like, as spam.
  • Social and mobile promoters who capitalize on perceptions that email is slow, outmoded or hard to use in order to boost their own latest and greatest channels.
  • Regulators who don't distinguish between permission-based emailers and spammers/phishers/etc.
  • Marketers themselves who abuse the channel.




Rolling out the same old "email is not dead" arguments isn't enough anymore. We need a series of messages we can use to frame the discussion with stakeholders, especially our customers and management.

Call up these messages the next time your CEO or another stakeholder challenges email's efficacy and role in the upper echelon of marketing channels.

Six Planks in the Email-Marketing Party Platform

These messages are like the planks in a political party platform. The platform lays out a party's position, frames campaign debates and guides the winning party's actions.

If the email-marketing industry were a political party, what would its platform be? These are my first six planks:

1. Permission is the foundation for email success. Permission makes email marketing powerful. It lays the groundwork to create engaged and empowered users (aside from mobile, where regulations mandate permission). 

Permission is paramount. Everything flows from that first step, when the consumer says, "Yes, send me email." I don't agree, as my fellow Email Insider columnist Gretchen Scheiman asserts, that consumers are impatient with marketers who wait for permission before emailing. 

We'll never agree on permission details, like prechecked versus unchecked opt-in boxes or single versus double opt-in. But this platform plank doesn't seek that. It just wants us to agree that permission is the first step, from which flows everything else that makes email marketing work.

2. Email is the digital glue that holds communities together. Email is about the most ubiquitous communication channel in the world, with more than 1.4 billion users worldwide.  

It's a unique identifier, a requirement in almost every digital activity. Even though people of different ages and circumstances use email differently, it is one of the main channels that connect people and institutions. 

3. No other communication or marketing channel offers more attributes. Each communication channel has something special, but none matches email for the sheer variety of attributes: 

  • Permission (ease of extending and withdrawing it)
  • Immediacy
  • Pinpoint personalization
  • The "right message at the right time"
  • Layout and use of images and text
  • Organizational properties (an effortless archive, easily searched)
  • Ability to help achieve business goals within the company as well, whether to raise revenue or cut costs.


4. Email excels as a conversion vehicle. The right blend of message elements -- images, copy, call to action, layout, navigation and context -- nudges the recipient to take the action you intend. It also helps recipients take acts they want (consider other offers, get information, solve a problem, answer a question or update a profile). 

Research also backs up the notion that email is where recipients want to receive commercial messages. Personal communication might be more likely today to happen via texting, IM or platform chat, but email is where people want to receive special offers, product news, etc. 

5. Email offers unprecedented consumer control. Combined with permission, the empowerment issue is a major reason why consumers respond to email and why email delivers a high ROI.

Email gives users the ability to control aspects of the messages they receive. This high level of control is a key differentiator and a contributor to its relevance and success.  

6. Email still delivers superior ROI. Whether it's because email is relatively inexpensive or because it delivers such stunning results -- or a combination of both points -- email still delivers a higher return than all other channels.  

This might seem to bolster management's perception that email doesn't need more investment to keep the money rolling in.  

However, research shows that investment in more sophisticated email platforms and strategies, like segmentation, personalization and triggered messaging, brings in even more money and a better return. 

What's Your Plank? 

Now it's your turn. Could you support this party platform? Or, do you have a plank of your own you'd want to nail down? I'd love to hear about it. Please explain it in the comments section below.

Until next time, take it up a notch!

8 comments about "What Can Email Marketers Agree To Agree On?".
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  1. Kurt Johansen from Johansen International, November 18, 2010 at 6:43 p.m.

    Loren this is another insightful article. Email won't go away and still IS the most affordable and economical marketing tool a business can use. It's quick, easy and sends a message to market brilliantly quickly. Sure there are other electronic means of sending messages but if you have your list right, your relationship with your client and the offer is outstanding email provides the perfect vehicle to let your customers know about it. You are not limited to a certain number of characters, you can direct people to a website or video etc. etc. etc. Don't be fooled everyone by critics of email marketing. Done correctly Email Marketing IS a powerful tool to use in any marketing mix.
    Kurt Johansen Australia's Leading Email Marketing Strategist -

  2. Reggie Brady from Reggie Brady Marketing Solutions, November 19, 2010 at 12:12 a.m.

    Excellent precis of important issues.

    As "insiders" in the industry we know the intricacies and nuances. But the C suite is more interested in how email drives the business that may start with ROI but extends well beyond that to pure business needs.

    And, while we preach the paramount importance of relevancy - I think we've failed. Don't know the answer, but we've got to find a way to convert many more marketers to the obvious benefits. With more contention than ever for attention - this is something email marketers who embrace concepts like triggered messaging and dynamic personalization can do so well.

  3. Gretchen Scheiman from Liveclicker, November 19, 2010 at 9:27 a.m.

    Calling me out Loren? :) Framed differently - perhaps saying that a foundation of permission creates opportunities to segment that don't exist in any other channel today - I could agree with your first point.

    On your fourth point, call me cynical (and jaded) but I don't see a lot of control for consumers. While companies are starting to explore opt-down options, most create the options that are convenient to them (as they should!), not necessarily ones which the consumer wants. I see little to offer in preference centers as well. And on the customer side, actions trump words - we know that few customers actually fill out preference center forms even when they are heavily promoted - whether or not they say they want "relevant" emails, targeted to their needs.

  4. Loren McDonald from IBM Marketing Cloud, November 19, 2010 at 10:27 a.m.

    Gretchen - thanks for weighing in...thanks for sturring up more debate. I don't disagree on your points about control - I struggled with that one a bit. I think perhaps the real point is that between the control to opt-in or not, hit the spam button, unsubscribe - and for those companies that offer choice - different newsletters, preferences, frequency, etc - there is a whole lot of control in the customers hand.

    But you are right, beyond the choice to opt-in or out - probably the majority of email marketers aren't offering a lot of control to the subscriber.

  5. Chad White from Litmus, November 19, 2010 at 10:28 a.m.

    A great platform, Loren. I would argue that personalization is deserving of its own plank. Segmentation, dynamic content and triggered emails powered by click data, browse data and preferences are becoming increasingly vital tools to engage subscribers and find a place in their must-read inbox.

  6. Loren McDonald from IBM Marketing Cloud, November 19, 2010 at 12:12 p.m.

    Great point on personalization Chad. What I was trying to do in point 3 is convey that though every form of marketing has its own unique benefits and value, probably no other channel has all of the different attributes that email does - personalized messages that are delivered at the right time (e.g., triggered on behavior or data) - is certainly one of the greatest email marketing capabilities.

  7. Suzanne Sanders from S2 Advertising, November 19, 2010 at 5:31 p.m.

    Email is modern day direct mail. Most of the email marketing I get I don't even open anymore. They go right into the trash! Who has the time!?

  8. Al Iverson, November 22, 2010 at 3:37 p.m.

    Great post, Loren. Where do I sign to indicate my support of your party platform? :)

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