What's more valuable, an email address in your database or a Facebook "Like?" Is it better to excel at email marketing or social-media marketing? Pick one: email or social media? Which would you rather have: a click on an email link or a Facebook Like?
Questions like these, which target the role, value and future of email marketing in an evolving digital universe, are popping up regularly these days on Q&A sites such as Focus, Quora and LinkedIn. They generate the kinds of vigorous discussions that you often get over cocktails at marketing conferences.
Not surprisingly, email people typically give email marketing their votes, while social-media types give thumbs up to "their" channel. While these discussions and debates certainly are entertaining, they get us nowhere.
Maybe people offer these two extreme positions just to get conversations started, but for me, there is no "either-or" about email and social. You can and should include both of the channels as part of your digital marketing and communications strategy.
But it goes much further than that. We live in a multichannel world. Your customers might choose to interact with your brand and communications via radio, TV, newspaper, direct mail, catalogs, email, SMS, Twitter, Facebook pages, YouTube, mobile apps, telephone and more.
How you allocate resources and money to each of these and other channels varies not only by your business lines and markets served but also by the goal of the communication and stage of the individual customer or prospect relationship.
Click versus Like
These questions, which compare things such as the value of an email address with a Facebook Like, are missing the point, because they ask marketers to compare two wildly disparate things.
A Facebook action, such as a Like, is a public confirmation of the customer's affinity toward or past experience with your company, brand or product. It doesn't necessarily indicate a propensity to buy in the future.
Just because I "Like" the Ferrari Facebook Page doesn't mean you will be seeing a shiny red sports car in my driveway anytime soon.
In contrast, a click on an email message signals intent or interest. It might be just to finish reading an article on a website, to download a white paper, to check out the daily special being promoted -- or to make a purchase.
Once you clarify for yourself, your program and your company what roles email, social and mobile marketing will play and how they interplay, you can allocate the appropriate amount of resources for each.
Asking the Right Questions
All companies have finite resources, especially when it comes to marketing. So, while pitting one channel against another in the abstract is somewhat fruitless, marketing executives do have a responsibility to continually monitor and analyze which channels and combinations provide the best returns.
Let's raise some of the current dialog up from schoolyard-level childishness and focus on the more meaningful and important questions.
I'd love to hear your thoughts, but here are a few to get you started:
· What is the role of email vs. social, mobile, print and other channels in our company?
· How do we make our emails more relevant by incorporating content, personality and lessons learned from social media?
· How do we integrate email, social and mobile marketing activities with each other to drive greater ROI across all three channels?
· How do we better leverage email to drive increased engagement in social and mobile channels?
· How do we grow our email database using social and mobile channels?
· How do we measure the effectiveness of each channel relative to its level of reach, adoption and investment?
How you frame your questions will determine whether you launch an interesting but ultimately fruitless discussion -- or spark a conversation that leads to the kind of insight we need to keep the email industry moving forward and realize its full potential.
Until next time, take it up a notch!