Email Marketing is dead – Long live email selling!

A recent LinkedIn discussion on the merits of email marketing showed the massive polarity of responses.  On one side was heard:

  • I hate spam.  I never read any email from anyone I don’t know
  • It doesn’t work – I’ve tried and failed
  • Email is dead anyway, numbers using email are declining.  Social Media is the way forward
  • No one read our marketing emails that we’ve spent a fortune having designed

And on the other hand comments like these appeared:

  • Email is a great channel to find new customers
  • We mainly use email to retain clients
  • Our email strategy gives the highest ROI of any of our marketing

So what’s going on?  How can a relatively homogenous group have such different views on the effectiveness of email as a promotions and sales channel?

I believe the difference is between those that see email as a broadcast medium and those that seek to engage contacts by sharing knowledge and advice.  To differentiate the two, I have coined the phrase email selling to describe this second activity.

The difference is stark:

Email Marketing Email Selling
Designed emails with lots of HTML and pictures Plain emails, often short with limited or no design
Content talks about the sender “we’re great”, “we’ve got lots of clients”, “look at our services”, etc… The content is focussed on the recipient:  Useful knowledge; valuable advice and relevant stories
Everyone gets the same message Recipients are segmented and receive different messages and customised content intended to be directly relevant to them.
Messages often originate from the marketing department Messages are usually created with the involvement of sales department or other line of business users
Focus is on propagating brand and being “on message” Focus is on giving great value to the recipients
Fire & forget Regular engagement with further email or telephone follow up around the topic the recipient engaged with
Campaigns don’t evolve based on user behaviour New messages are created and targeted based on engagement with past content
ROI difficult to measure Known ROI based on a regular stream of new leads and closed sales


So next time you are thinking about your email strategy think email selling over email marketing.


  1. Yep, this is exactly what I believe, too – I don’t think people who see e-mail as a broadcast medium are bad people, they just come from a different tradition, where their expertise is in finding the right listeners and channels for the distribution of their announcements. They have relationships with journalists, they have a sense of when the market is ready to hear their news… But it’s a totally different animal from, as you say, using email “to engage contacts by sharing knowledge and advice.”

    In my experience there is a huge divide between the press office and the marketing department, and while the press office and the instinct to broadcast has some value (let’s face it…there are times when announcements need to be made), marketers need to take on the mindset of being a publisher who has a commitment to educating the market. I believe that educating the market and allowing them into your thinking through engagement and content creation is what drives sales.

    (I’m going to a seminar in Ireland next month called “Should PR own social media?” – should be interesting!)

    Sheila Averbuch-ENNclick

  2. I came to this post thinking “how dare they” – email marketing certainly isn’t dead.

    But what you’re really doing is marking the difference between good email marketing and bad email marketing.


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