Commentary

Email Marketing Crowned ROI King, Beats Social -- Again

Email has once again come out on top of a Return Path survey that looks into ROI. MarketingProfs has published the charts from the global study on how marketers rate each channel, and it's good reading for email.

It very interesting to see that email and social media are the channels that are out in front as the top contenders, and not too surprising to see display and direct mail languishing behind with channels, such as search and affiliates putting in a pretty decent performance. But there is no getting away from the two leading channels -- and ultimately, email just nudges ahead at the proverbial post.

While email scores slightly better at being "excellent" or "good," with ratings of 18% and 35% compared to social's 17% and 33%, a slightly larger gap opens up when you look at "average" ROI ratings. OK -- so it's a little bit boring to look at what marketers find average, but it's email's better performance here that brings us to the main point.

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A tiny 6% of marketers believe email provides very poor ROI and 11% rate it as "poor." This is 1% lower in each category than social media, giving email a victory by the slimmest of margins. Even if you want to stick to the positives only, 40% of marketers rate social as good or excellent, compared to 43% for email marketing. Either way you look at it, email wins.

The research also shows that, naturally for the channel out on top, email marketing represents better ROI than two channels that you would kind of think were guaranteed to provide results -- PPC search and social media advertising. This is as highly targeted as the Web can be for qualifying a lead, someone is searching for something, or aligning a user's social profile with an advertiser's key demographic. There's no better way of judging intent and narrowing down an audience on the Web among people you don't directly know. Yet, still, email leads the way. 

The research does not touch on the reasons why email is staying at the top of the digital marketing game. If you were to speculate, it's likely that smart marketers are now moving into personalisation, using data analysis to segment audiences, so response rates are improved -- and crucially, they manage to avoid receiving too many unsubscribes. The other obvious point is automation, which allows brands to put apt messages in front of customers at an opportune time in the sales cycle. From saying "hello" to abandoned cart retargeting, automated email is making customers feel better served.

Put simply, the days of only ever relying on batch and blast are behind us, for savvy marketers, and the new age is accompanied by email staying top of the ROI league. It's neck and neck with social, and that's no bad thing. But tell me -- going forward, would you rather than an email list that is all yours or a follower base that is all Facebook's?

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