Nigel's Blog

Do Email Lists Still Work?

September 14, 2018

Marketers still highlight the importance of building an email list. Steli Efti of fame is a strong proponent of email marketing. The excellent 2017 book Building A Story Brand by Donald Miller says email “is the most valuable and effective way you can spread the word about your business, especially if your company revenue is under $5 million and you don’t have a large marketing budget”.

As a recipient or consumer of other people’s emails I disagree.

When was the last time you sat down and thought “I might just take a leisurely stroll through my inbox and see what emails I have”? Maybe in 1999, but not so today. Email for me is for business and organising meetings or events, paying bills and updating details. These are the must dos of email. Everything else is largely an annoyance taking me further and further away from zero inbox.

So why do email lists still work so well for marketers? (Or work better than alternatives). Miller tells the story of a simple pdf document called “5 Things Your Website Should Include” that was downloaded by 40,000 people and to whom he could email reminders about upcoming workshops that generated significant revenue.

So why do email lists still work? Here’s why:

  1. Opt-in equals some connection. Because email is now opt-in you must have developed some kind of connection with the people on your email list. Chances are they have some memory of you or your product (though in my case not always!) and so are a bit more likely to read what you have to say (or a bit less likely to press delete without opening).
  2. Email is more likely to be actioned at the laptop (though more and more on the phone). It’s hard to sign up to offers on a phone - it’s just too much of a hassle. Context helps action and laptop is easier to take action from email.
  3. Email is often sent at high point of need eg just after I’ve signed up for a trial for your product. Send me an email straight away and I’m likely to read it. Send me the same email one week later and I’ll probably go back to reading my book or ordering my coffee without even opening.

With Google and Facebook becoming expenses routes to finding customers, email may yet have a renaissance for engaging with potential customers. But more and more email won’t be able to be used in isolation. Email is like cement - pretty useless on its own, but combined with the right materials becomes concrete that will last a century of wild weather. An email sent by my favourite podcast host (with an offer that they might have mentioned will be coming) I am much more likely to engage with - same goes for an active instagram group.

As the “last-mile” call to action email can excel - but sent alone it will never make the distance.

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Nigel Gordon

Hi. I'm Nigel Gordon and here are my musings on business, investing, startups and growth. Follow me on Twitter