Email Remains King For Promotional Messaging

So sometimes social media gets all the attention for being a shiner medium, but that doesn’t mean email is dead. Not by a long shot. In fact, according to a new survey from ExactTarget [pdf], its email NOT social media that customers seek out most for promotional messages. Interesting, right?

But hold that thought, let’s back up.

ExactTarget’s data comes from the 2012 Channel Preference Study, an ongoing research series that uses data collected through focus groups and online surveys to discover how real consumers interact with brands through email, Facebook and Twitter. None of this “theory” or “assumptions” stuff. They look at the real data behind what’s going on. For the 2012 survey, a total of 1,481 respondents completed the survey between January 27, 2012, and February 1, 2012, answering questions about overall Internet usage, devices owned, personal communication habits, permission, and purchase-behavior related to marketing. You can check out the PDF linked above for the full responses, but it was that last segment that I was most interested in.

Most specifically, it was this stat: 77 percent of consumers stated that email was their preferred channel for permission-based promotional messages.

And as you can see, while the number fluctuated a bit depending on age group, email was still the hands down winner.

Do those numbers come as much of a surprise? No. Email marketing has dominated as a marketing channel for SMBs for years. But it may come as a surprise to small business owners constantly hearing about the benefits of social media in lieu of these other platforms. It’s important to remember that social media is still an emerging trend for most consumers. However, email continues to be a mainstay and comes with a projected ROI of $39.40 for every dollar that is spent on it in 2012. That number has dropped slightly over the years, but it’s worth noting that the projected ROI for social media this year is just $12.90. Is it growing? Yes. But email is still coming in as top dog for promotional messages.


As part of the survey, ExactTarget identified the six factors that dictate channel preference:

  1. Content: Is this a marketing message?
  2. Immediacy: Do I need to send or receive this message right away?
  3. Accessibility: Will I need to reference this message later?
  4. Privacy: Do I want the world to know about this message?
  5. Formality: Do I need to convey a level of professionalism with this message?
  6. Initiation: How did the conversation originate?

If you take a look at those factors and think about them in terms of your own usage, it’s not hard to imagine why many of today’s consumers will still pick email over social. They want to be able to easily reference the message later, they’re concerned about their privacy, they get more email than they do social media responses, etc.

As a small business owner, use this as a reminder to take a look at and evaluate your own email marketing. Knowing that this is how most consumers prefer to be engaged about marketing messages, how can you improve your efforts? How can you engage customers better or increase the size of your email list?

For most SMBs, the answer will be a combination of: increased relevance, consistency, and awareness.
Successful email marketing is about collecting as much information about your users as you can so that you can segment them into relevant buckets based on things like:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Do they have kids?
  • Where do they live? What neighborhoods?
  • What kind of social networks do they frequent, if any?
  • What other communities do they belong to?
  • Average order size?

In terms of consistency, it’s about getting on a schedule so that both you and your consumers know when it’s time for a new mailing to go out. Depending on your business, you may want to send out a weekly deals email. Or a monthly newsletter. Or a quarterly mailing. Identify what will work best for you (it never hurts to poll your audience!) and then stick to the schedule that you set out.

Lastly, it’s about building awareness by asking your customers to subscribe to your email list. This means including prominent subscribe-to-email calls to action on your Web site, as well as other customer touch points like:

  • Store banners
  • Promotional materials
  • Business cards
  • Customer receipts
  • Email confirmations
  • Site registrations

Email marketing is a SMB’s natural best friend because it’s in intimate, it’s friendly, and it’s cost-effective. Before you drive yourself crazy trying to create a presence on multiple social networks, make sure your already grabbing your customers through more traditional mediums like email marketing. That’s where they’re looking for you.


Lisa Barone Lisa Barone is Vice President of Strategy at Overit, an Albany Web design and development firm where she serves on the senior staff overseeing the company’s marketing consulting, social media, and content divisions.

6 Reactions
  1. When people are searching for a solution or directly for your business the timing is up to them. Email is often how you “convert” the person when they’re in search mode.

    Promotion timing is set by you and most likely doesn’t correspond with the exact time the person is searching. Therefore, email is a great opportunity to present your promotion to the user and then, if it fits the criteria you mentioned, they’ll buy. Email is fantastic for both nurturing and harvesting.

  2. Martin Lindeskog

    Do you have tips on how to stand out in the stream of email messages to the recipient’s inbox?

  3. I’ve been saying this for years through the social media buzz. Email still rocks!

  4. Thanks for the post Lisa. I totally agree that email is a great (and cheap) way to reach targeted audiences. I bought a friend a box of cigars three years ago as a gift and i literally get emails every other day about cigar specials. Have I bought again? No. Do I even like cigars? No. But it’s a lot cheaper than post cards and magazines. Maybe after I hit my 1000 email marker, I’ll put in another order for their persistence!

Win $100 for Vendor Selection Insights

Tell us!
No, Thank You