Is email marketing dead?

Ben and Jerry's has decided to do something that many companies are too afraid to do. It is dumping its email marketing efforts.

This month, the popular ice cream maker distributed its very last e-newsletter and has decided to engage with customers exclusively through social media. Many are touting the decision as smart; whereas others say the move is premature.

I don't know about you, but the last time I read an e-newsletter all the way through was probably 2005. Although the medium was effective at one time, I simply don't have the time for it anymore. Besides, I just see those kinds of emails as clutter. More "stuff" clogging up my inbox to sort through and delete. And, frankly, email is the last place I go to these days. The majority of my personal and professional dealings take place on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

One of the things I love most about social media platforms is that the content is short and digestible. And, it lives somewhere else (e.g. a Facebook page, a Twitter feed, etc.) which means no "housekeeping" for me.

Now I know that last part is what companies traditionally don't like. They want you to have to see it. But the new world order dictates that people will willingly consume advertising for products and services that interest them. That means catching up with a friend on Facebook and then visiting a company's Facebook page is no big deal. People are happy and willing to do that. What they're not willing to do, however, is to read a series of long articles touting how great your business is. That's so 20th century.

Besides, if you look at the stats, social media is the future of advertising. On Twitter, for example, 42% of users use the platform to learn about products and services. If your company is not represented (and engaging with current and potential customers!), you're missing out. 

So, what do you think? Is Ben and Jerry's just the first of many big companies to make the big move and dump email marketing? Or it is a shortsighted effort that the company will come to regret?


  1. I think they are a bit premature, but not by much. Email marketing seems like something that is being attempted now by those who have discovered direct mail marketing is a huge waste of money and trees.

    I do a monthly email that brings in customers, but I know if I sent it out any more often than that, it might have the opposite effect. I am more often annoyed by email marketing than genuinely interested. Sometimes it's nice to be reminded a site exists, but that could be done ... um, about once a month ;-)
    Great post, Amber! All your comments are being tweeted to me - we need to find a fix for that!
    Anita @ModelSupplies & DNAshopper

  2. Anita: Thanks for sharing your experience and how you use email marketing.

    I think the product/service and the audience also need to be considered. Older audiences may not be as annoyed by emails as younger audiences, too. Probably not a "one size fits all" solution yet, but I think advertising is changing so fast that we won't recognize it in another few years!

    As for direct mail, I bet we're going to see a reduction in that as postage rates go up yet again.

    It's a world in flux, huh?

  3. Email is not dead, except by those that don't know how to use it. They said that direct mail would die when email became the norm, and every year direct mail just keeps getting bigger and bigger.

    The biggest part of email is that people are becoming super protective of their alias, and do not want the normal sales pitch tossed at them anymore. You yourself may have fallen out of reading email, but if I engaged you thru FB and developed your trust, then sold something to you and earned your deepest trust, I would only engage in further business thru email, not on a public forum where there is potential for privacy leak, and weak tracking of records, etc.

    And if I did not abuse that trust and only sent you relevant and important info that you would benefit from, you would read my emails.

    I have seen statistics where email gets 85-90% of sales and social media doesn't work in some industries. For example, in B2B where there is a long process of selling and product prices $25-50k or more, email provides consistancy and allows for the long letter (content). Also, using social media in B2B is still in its infancy.

    I see a transition in B2C, mainly larger companies that need to turn faster to meet the needs of their customers, or smaller companies that need to compete but don't have the mega-budgets to do it. Having social media available, they can engage in a 2-way conversation and also watch the sideways conversation (fans to fans).

    Companies like Kodak, Dell, HP and Redbox are already doing this. I recently watched Redbox double their FB fans from 500k to over 1 million in 11 days- using just email. Their campaign had a few issues, mainly confusing instructions, but the transition went fairly smoothly. What was unique about the issues, is that it wasn't just Redbox responding and assisting customers, but fans got involved and helped other fans. That is the power of social media.

    I don't follow Ben and Jerry, so I am not sure what they were emailing before or now saying on social media, but if it were up to me, I would focus email on vendors, distributors, retailers and associations, providing product info, specials, deals, sales material and how to setup POPs, promos, etc. I wound have a few autoresponders pumping out benefits in the form of case studies using B&J as a component to getting more sales (targeting pizza, restaurants, etc).

    For consumers I would engage using social media - find their likes, dislikes, create FB games, contests and polls, show how my company was resorting to 'green' manufacturing, as well as doing cross promos with other companies (pizza shops, theaters, etc) and engaging the consumers in things that interest them events, festivals, music, etc.

  4. Alayna: Thanks for the comment. I see that your embedded link goes to a company that offers email marketing! Here's hoping, for you and your colleagues, that Ben and Jerry's decision doesn't catch on, huh?

  5. David: What a GREAT comment! You really brought the dialogue to a whole new level!

    You are absolutely correct. If you earned my trust through social media, I would have no qualms about reading emails from you or your company. You have successfully outlined how technology can work together and shown that platforms and tactics can complement one another.

    It's smart marketers like you who can really make a difference! Whoever you work for is lucky to have you!

  6. B2C clients may not get very good returns from e-newsletters anymore, but nonprofits depend on them, as well as shorter, single-topic e-mail alerts to members and/or subscribers.

    The more diverse a brand's customers are, the less likely they are to be susceptible to a one-size-fits-all e-newsletter marketing approach. But smaller, niche markets & audiences are where e-mail marketing continues to shine. And, of course, one customer's annoying e-mail marketing might be another individual's effective e-mail customer-service solution. Like beauty, much of what constitutes marketing is in the eye of the beholder (or, at least, recipient).

    Perhaps you are referring to broadcast e-mail marketing--the old "push" model (anyone remember PointCast?) that is, essentially, spam. In contrast, opt-in e-mail campaigns continue to generate worthy returns. E-mail also is a critical component in internal (corporate) communications, as well as staying in touch with suppliers, customers, vendors, etc.

    But the only truly effective e-mail marketing to external audiences is done via opt-in.

  7. Steven: I love that all the smart people are coming out to comment on this. Thanks for chiming in.

    I concur, it's all about the approach and the audience. I also agree that some vehicles work better in nonprofit environments where the audience is already interested in the subject or mission.

    As for internal comms, I have a lot of experience with that. Email and e-newsletters can still be very effective with internal audiences that include staff/members/donors/partners.

    I guess I echo what you're saying! What's one person's pain is another person's payout, eh?

    Thanks again for taking the time to comment!

  8. Just saw your blog on LinkedIn. It's great!

    As for email marketing, I work with a nonprofit where it is still quite effective in driving traffic to our website to signup for events, download a podcast, etc. It's still an important part of our mix, especially since our constituents have the option of opting out of our email blasts.

    Keep up the good work!

    Lorell R. LaBoube
    Director of Communications
    Center for Practical Bioethics

  9. Lorell: Thanks for the nice words! I really appreciate that.

    I'm glad to hear that you're still getting good results from email marketing. The consensus on this post seems to be that there's still plenty of life in this approach and I'm glad that it's working for your organization.

    Thanks for adding to the discussion, Lorell. It was good to hear your input.

  10. Amber, thank you for this fascinating (and brief) analysis. I started unsubscribing to all e-newsletters several years ago. I MUCH prefer to communicate and engage with companies through social media.

    Although it may be premature to say that email marketing is dead, I certainly think it is fair to say that it is...dying.

  11. Stephanie: Thanks for the comment! I try to keep my posts brief and I do love to hear how other people feel on the subject at hand.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the matter. It's a changing marketplace, isn't it?


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...