Why Email Marketing is Like a Pair of Old Jeans

This post first appeared on the Adobe Digital Experience blog.

I’m lucky enough to have worked in teams that covers a multitude of digital marketing disciplines. I’ve worked with specialists in SEO, paid search, social media marketing, email and more. I was once known as the email marketing guy, and occasionally, in the light of new digital channels, wearing that label felt like wearing a pair of old jeans.

But sometimes I am reminded that older can be better. Let’s take, for instance, a recent campaign I ran that promoted a webinar. In an orchestrated campaign I pitted some of the new kids on the block against our old friend email. The result? Email delivered the highest number of registrations at the lowest cost per registration by a country mile.

And, despite targeting contacts already on our database, email also contributed the highest number of new contacts to the database. Think about that for a moment: Sending an email to our own database generated more new names than investment in display advertising, content syndication, and paid social combined.

But I’m not knocking the other channels. There could be a million different reasons why email performed better on this occasion, and many different KPIs that weren’t considered that the other channels may have scored highly on. Horses for courses as I always say. But it does add strength to the ‘email is not dead’ argument.

So if email isn’t dead, what is it that keeps it relevant in the face of all the whipper-snappers keenly biting at its ankles? Let’s consider a few things:

  1. A Personalised Message
    Whilst we have become accustomed to the never-ending flow of information in our Twitter feeds, on our Facebook news feeds, and the infinite scroll of media websites, there is something to be said for a message that is delivered to a designated personal space (your inbox) and targeted directly at you. Unless I take action the email won’t go away — it demands my attention. My Twitter feed, on the other hand, will fill up with new information 24/7 whether I’m there or not.

  2. Triggered Emails for Optimal Timing
    There are few things in marketing more powerful than reaching someone at the perfect moment – the sweet spot in time – when they are in the right mindset to take action. Delivering a relevant message at this point is in many ways the holy grail of direct marketing. Modern platforms, combined with customer data, make this possible at scale.

  3. Using Dynamic Content
    When the perfectly-timed message does arrive, it needs to be relevant. Dynamic content allows marketers to define areas of an email message and vary the content that is displayed, dependent on the recipient. Add the possibility of feeding-in external data and suddenly each email can feel like a one-off personalized message uniquely tailored for that recipient. Powerful stuff.

  4. Remarketing for Revenue Recovery
    Email remarketing allows the savvy retailers out there to reach shopping cart abandoners with a ‘last chance’ email inviting them back to complete their purchase– often with a discount included. The connection between your email marketing and ecommerce platforms is the secret here.


These are just a few examples, and did you notice a common trait? That’s right, data. So email might not have grabbed the headlines in recent years, but it certainly didn’t rest on its laurels. And while everyone was talking about new digital channels and big data, email was listening intently and figuring out how to build its muscles with this new form of protein.

As new media emerged the smart marketers realized there was an opportunity to partner with, and not fight against, the up and coming heroes. Enter the era of campaign orchestration. Now, rather than having digital marketers work in siloes, smarter brands are realizing the potential of harnessing the power of each digital channel in a closely coordinated campaign, built on a foundation of data.

So perhaps slipping on the old jeans is not so bad after all. Since denim became mainstream decades ago it has always remained fashionable. It is only the cut, the fit, and the clothes worn with it that have changed how it is perceived. If email is jeans, then big data is the belt that holds them up, and new digital channels are the shoes, shirts and tops that make the outfit a success.

Is your marketing at the cutting edge, or is it time you updated your wardrobe?

Simon Plews

Simon is an experienced marketer who spent 15 years working client-side for some of the world’s leading tech brands including Adobe, Oracle and McAfee. He now provides marketing consulting and campaign management services for fast growing B2B tech companies and ambitious start-ups.