Ever since Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said “email is probably going away” during a 2010 Nielson 360 conference, there has been lots and lots of debate online among marketers about whether or not email is dead.

However, Sandberg was talking about email in terms of personal conversations between friends and family, not marketing emails between businesses and customers or leads.

Email as a mode of marketing and customer communications continues to thrive as an essential channel for reaching people throughout the customer lifecycle; 95% of marketers agree that it retains a very important place within marketing.

Sandberg’s statement is not the only thing that has been taken out of context and misperceived when it comes to email marketing. As new marketing channels have risen in popularity and strategies around email marketing have evolved, there are several misconceptions floating around about its importance and effectiveness. We’ll break down each of the common objections to explain why email marketing is a must for any small business.

Email Is Archaic and Not as Effective as Other Channels

Email Marketing Has a Higher ROI Than Any Other Marketing Channel

Even though email has been around for decades, the way it’s used has evolved, and the best marketers are those who have adapted their strategies to better meet today’s standards.

As Chris Woodard, VP of Growth at TenFold, wrote in a recent Quora post, “From what I’ve witnessed, the ones who zealously proclaim the death of email marketing often do so not because of hard evidence or proof, but because they failed to keep up with the evolution of email marketing and committed mistakes that made their campaigns less effective than they should have been. The traditional ‘batch and blast’ approach to email marketing just doesn’t cut it anymore.”  

Those who experience poor email open and click rates are likely not following today’s best practices for email copywriting and design. Or they’re not following guidelines to ensure email bypasses spam filters and the Gmail Promotions tab to land in their recipients’ inboxes. Or they’re sending mass email blasts instead of segmenting and personalizing their messages. It’s also possible they’re not re-sending emails appropriately to get the most out of important messages.

When email marketing is executed correctly, it can have a higher ROI than other direct marketing channels; in a recent DMA study, it was recorded that for every $1 spent on email marketing, you can estimate around $42 in return — which is actually 19% higher than in 2016. Not only does email marketing have a profitable ROI, it is also one of the cheapest marketing routes you can take, making it one of the most cost effective marketing methods

Not all email marketing is dead — only email considered ‘noise on the line,’ boring email and spam. What is alive and well is smart email marketing.
– Aaron Agius

“When it comes down to it, consumers still derive tangible benefits from email, and marketers still get a real payback,” wrote Aaron Agius in Entrepreneur. “Not all email marketing is dead — only email considered ‘noise on the line,’ boring email, and spam. What is alive and well is smart email marketing.”

Social Media and Other Tactics Bring in More Leads Than Email

Email Brings Sales and Creates Long-term Buying Relationships

While Facebook ads, Google ads, SEO practices, live webinars and other tactics can be effective at bringing in new leads to your business, that’s where their usefulness ends.

Ads cannot be used to nurture those leads into customers, follow up with those customers to ensure their satisfaction and offer an upsell, or ask those customers to refer their friends. Without that kind of follow-up throughout the customer lifecycle, you’ve merely got a long list of leads, not a true marketing function that nurtures sales and creates long-lasting customer relationships that drive new business.

Email is the only channel that offers that kind of longevity and adaptability throughout the entire customer lifecycle. In fact, that’s one of email’s primary functions. As Digital Marketer wrote in its Guide to Digital Marketing, “The goal of email is to assist and expedite a customer’s movement from one stage of the value journey to the next.”

Email is what brings your leads to your sales page where you make the sale. It’s where you send confirmations of the sale and receipts. It’s where you offer and sell your products or send birthday or holiday promotions. It’s where you share your latest content updates or news. It’s where you ask your customers for feedback. It’s where you encourage customers to return to their online shopping cart after they’ve abandoned it. It’s where you re-engage them after they haven’t visited your website in months.

The list could go on. (Actually, here are 13 types of emails you can send, and that’s just the beginning.)

Email is central to your customer relationships. While other channels may be great for attracting leads, email’s value extends much further than the acquisition stage: 59% of marketers say email is best for retention, and 52% say it’s ideal for conversion over other stages in the life cycle, according to a 2018 DMA study.

Marketing Gurus Are Succeeding With Newer Channels

Trendy Channels Are Just Add-ons; Email Is a Steady Foundation

It’s not uncommon for an entrepreneur or well-known marketer to tout some extreme level of success with a newer marketing channel, like Twitter ads or messenger bots, or even some unique twist on a common strategy that made all the difference for their business.

While these success stories are valid and often insightful, that doesn’t mean the same results will apply to every business type or every industry.

More importantly, just because those marketers are promoting that shiny new tool or tactic doesn’t mean they’re not also succeeding with email marketing. Most marketers, including those who are always chasing the trends, typically maintain their email funnels as the tried-and-true, reliable backbone of their strategy — they just might not talk about it because it’s not quite so fancy.

As with anything, there is not one silver bullet marketing channel; it’s about using a mix of a variety of channels. “Email works well but, like every other marketing channel, it works better in combination,” according to DMA’s study.

Despite new trends that have come and gone, email has remained an anchoring necessity for running a functional business, rather than merely an add-on “test” tactic.

People Are Inundated With Email and Don’t Want to Receive It

Email Is the Preferred Communication Method for Most Consumers

It’s true, people receive a lot of email — but that doesn’t mean those emails are unwanted. When was the last time you saw a spam message in your inbox? Email filters have become so intelligent that it’s highly likely that the emails in your inbox are emails you at some point subscribed to.

When someone subscribes to receive your emails, they’re giving you permission to their inbox; they’re signaling that they’re interested in your company and open to hearing from you. The idea that your contacts don’t want you to email them is completely invalid — if they didn’t want your emails, they wouldn’t have opted in to your list.

In fact, many of consumers prefer to be contacted by brands through emails.

Email is also far less intrusive than many other forms of marketing. People choose to check their email on their own schedule, and they can choose whether or not to open the email — as opposed to things like digital pop-up ads that disrupt a person’s online experience and even social media ads that intrude on their personal feeds. They can also choose to unsubscribe at any time (that is, if you’re following email delivery standards, which require that you offer an easy unsubscribe option).

Email is only unwelcome if you’re abusing your privileges by spamming your list. When contacts give you their email address, they expect that you’ll respect their time and their inbox space. A good rule of thumb to follow: Only email if you’re adding value and have a clear purpose — and make sure you’re writing emails so compelling that people can’t wait to open them.

Getting into someone’s inbox is like being invited to their home for dinner.

As Nathan Hangen wrote on Neil Patel’s blog, “Getting into someone’s inbox is like being invited to their home for dinner. If they ask you to take your shoes off, you respectfully do so. It’s the same with email marketing … Be on your best behavior at all times and remember … you’re in their house.”

When you respect your list, they’ll respect you back. Fortunately, the majority of marketers agree: “78% of marketers believe there should be a contact rule to not over-communicate with subscribers,” wrote Jenna Tiffany, member of the DMA email council’s research hub. “This highlights more than ever that email marketers are beginning to think more about the subscriber and starting to be conscious of not over emailing.”

Businesses Have No Control Over Email; Spam Rules Are Always Changing

Businesses Have More Control Over Email Than Any Other Channel

While there are important anti-spam regulations to follow to ensure your emails are delivered, those rules have not drastically changed in many years, and they’re fairly straightforward. Once you’ve got your email system in place, you will likely not need to revisit your processes, especially if you use a reputable Email Service Provider that ensures high standards are met on your behalf on an ongoing basis.

On the other hand, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have changed their algorithms, which determine how often and to which people your ads are shown, numerous times — and they don’t seem to be stopping. You could come up with an entire ad strategy for these channels and then immediately need to change it to meet the criteria of a new algorithm. And there’s no one looking out on your behalf — it’s up to you to stay on top of the ever-changing rules and to ensure you’re following them for every single ad you run.

As Hans van Gent, founder of Inbound Rocket, wrote on Quora, “Twitter, Facebook, all of these social networks out there want to limit the possibility of people leaving their nice walled garden, their ecosystem. Because if people leave, they are losing money. Social networks want you to pay to play on their network with their rules. To make it worse, they are changing these rules on a regular basis. Try growing your business like that! … if you’ve got something to say to your people who are interested, email is the way to go.”

Similarly, you own your email list; it’s yours. You can control when emails are sent — down to the exact day and time — and designate specifically which people certain emails will go to. You can even seed test to make sure your emails make it to the inbox.

With social media, however, your ads are generally uninvited and uncontrolled. When you run ads on those channels, you’re simply selecting people based on their so-called interests — taking a wild guess as to which interests best match up with your product line — and hoping they’ll even see your ad let alone respond positively to it. You typically have no prior permission-based relationship with people on social media, and you have no control over the timing of the ad.

In fact, 90% of emails reach the consumer’s inbox, but only 2% of Facebook followers see a business’s posts in their news feeds.

“A free service like Facebook can decide to decrease the reach you had with your fans to encourage businesses to pay for ads, but you don’t have these types of restrictions when someone has given you permission to send them useful emails,” wrote Phil Spilsbury, co-founder of TCF Software, on Quora.

Emails last longer, too, Spilsbury added: “You’re not just a status update that’s there and gone; you’re right in someone’s inbox where they receive other important communication from their work, family, and friends.”


Email Marketing Is Expensive

Email Is One of the Least Expensive — If Not the Least Expensive — Marketing Channel, Especially With an All-in-one System

If you’re using separate, single-point solutions to manage your email marketing, the costs do add up. You’re paying for an email service provider, a marketing automation tool, a tracking service, and possibly add-on fees as your contact list grows or as the number of emails you send increases. Not only do the costs add up, but so do the headaches of managing all these different systems and getting them to work together cohesively.

The solution to those challenges, and the much more cost-effective option, is to use an all-in-one platform that serves as your email service provider, marketing automation system and tracking service for one monthly fee, typically in the range of a few hundred dollars.  

Compare that to the costs of running a Facebook ad campaign, a print ad or even a direct mail campaign. To be effective on Facebook, you need to spend thousands every month. To run a print ad, it’ll typically cost you upwards of $1,000 — and much higher if you’re looking at mainstream outlets. And direct mail comes with the high costs of printing and postage.

As Aaron Agius wrote in Entrepreneur, “Ultimately, email marketing is affordable, which means that, even if a campaign bombs, the marketer isn’t in trouble. In comparison, given their high spend, failed advertising campaigns using direct mail, print advertising, radio and TV can be disastrous.”

All of these things are “one and done,” whereas email is a flexible channel you can use throughout the customer lifecycle repeatedly for the one monthly cost of the marketing automation platform. When you account for the ROI that comes from email marketing, there’s no question the relatively low-cost investment of an email service provider is worth it.

I Know a Lot More About Customers From Their Social Media Profiles

Actually, Email Provides You More Insight on People Than Other Channels

When you sign up for Facebook, or any social media channel, or even any app or website, you typically use your email address to create the account. That means all the data those channels have about you is tied back to your email address.

“Cross-functional marketing revolves around email,” marketing gurus Neil Patel and Ritika Puri wrote in Definitive Guide to Marketing Automation. “Your customers’ and prospects’ identities follow them all over the web. Email is the heart of this targeting journey.”

In other words, those Facebook Custom Audiences you create to ensure you’re showing Facebook ads to people in your target market are only made possible because Facebook tracks users’ web browsing history and ties that data to individual people based on their email address.

“Email addresses are the core unit of analysis for identifying customers,” wrote Patel and Puri. “All other consumer data points can be attributed to this fundamental targeting component.”

Email addresses are also more reliable than other forms of identification, such as using browser cookie data to track visitors; cookies can be cleared and blocked, and you can’t track across different devices such as personal computers, tablets and smartphones. Email addresses, on the other hand, consolidate traffic across all devices.

“Marketing automation treats email as the basic unit of analysis, no matter what platform you’re using to target your audience,” Patel and Puri wrote. “Email will always matter.”

Plus, people keep their email addresses for years, meaning your email database will have a long, reliable shelf life no matter what channels you use for marketing.

Email Is Not as Targeted as Other Channels

Email Can Be Hyper-segmented and Personalized With the Right Marketing Automation and CRM Platform

One form of email marketing is dead, and it’s the old “batch and blast” mass emailing approach. Today, that’s called spamming, and it’s been replaced with some extremely sophisticated opportunities for personalizing emails to each individual on your list.

With email, you can get far more targeted and personal than with other channels. If your email automation platform is integrated with your CRM, you have a trove of data about all your contacts — which of your products and services they’re interested in or have purchased, which of your landing pages they’ve visited, ads they’ve clicked on, as well as their demographic information. All of that information can be used to ensure you’re sending the right email message to the right person at the right time.

Some larger ecommerce businesses, such as flash-sale site Gilt Groupe, send thousands of variations of their emails based on past user clicks and browsing and purchase history.

Consumers respond positively to such personalized emails. In fact, segmented email campaigns simply are more effective and are considered more trustworthy by 77% of consumers.

Emails with personalized messages have an average click-through rate 12% higher than the average click-through rates for non-segmented emails. The level of personalization you can achieve with email is simply not possible in any other marketing venue.

Why Email Marketing Is Essential for Business Growth

There’s no question email is not only a foundational necessity in marketing and in business, but it’s also a driver of results far beyond the capabilities of any other channel.

As Digital Marketer wrote, “Regardless of the rumors, email is nowhere near ‘dead’ — and if you know how to use it, it will help you exponentially grow your business.”

To recap, here are the extensive benefits of email marketing that make it an unquestionable must-have for any small business:

  • The ROI for email marketing is roughly twice the ROI of other digital channels and heavily outweighs the returns seen on other traditional media channels. Email brings sales and creates long-term buying relationships: It is the only channel that is used throughout the customer lifecycle to encourage sales.
  • Trendy channels are just add-ons; email is a steady foundation: Regardless of new tactics that come along, 95% of marketers believe email has a very important role in marketing today.
  • Email is the preferred communication method for most consumers.
  • Businesses have more control over email than any other channel: Your email list is yours, and email rules change much less frequently than social media algorithms.
  • Email is one of the least expensive marketing channels: The costs of email pale in comparison to other outlets, especially if using an all-in-one marketing automation platform. Plus, its ROI makes up for any cost.
  • Email provides you more insight on people than other channels: Email addresses are a central data point that enable extensive targeting.
  • Email can be hyper-segmented and personalized: With a marketing automation and CRM platform, you can provide trigger-based emails that reach the right people with the right message at the right time.

About Angela Fornelli
Angela Fornelli is a writer and editor with over a decade of experience covering the healthcare, aviation, and technology industries. A Chicago native, she currently serves as Ontraport's managing editor and has a Bachelor's in Journalism from the University of Illinois.