Email marketing has received its fair share of bad press over the years. Once the golden child of marketing communications, declining open rates led to much soul searching and the widely touted claim that consumers are annoyed by intrusive commercial messages arriving in their inboxes. It seemed that email’s days were numbered.

Step into the limelight, social media. As email fell out of favour, social’s star was firmly in the ascendant. Early adopters were quick to praise this new marketing channel as the most effective way to reach today’s discerning stakeholder, and many more were wooed by the promise of unprecedented levels of engagement.

While social may often deliver on this promise, that doesn’t mean it is the sole answer to a marketer’s prayers. Social media interaction is all well and good but that doesn’t necessarily translate into tangible ROI. Pepsi learnt this lesson the hard way when the brand forwent its traditional Superbowl advertising campaign in 2010, choosing instead to launch a social platform that funded good works.

While the ‘Refresh’ initiative generated a significant spike in engagement and positive social media sentiment that didn’t translate into sales, and Pepsi dropped to third place in the cola wars behind Coca Cola and Diet Coke. What was an undeniably brave and socially valuable decision turned out to be a commercial flop, and the brand quickly returned to a more conventional way of doing things.

Social isn’t necessarily the most effective tool when it comes to bottom line impact

The moral of this story is that social certainly has a place, but that it isn’t necessarily the most effective tool when it comes to bottom line impact. Re-enter from the wings email marketing. Far from being outdated and ineffective, email is still one of the most powerful ways to reach prospects and customers and should form part of any content marketing strategy. Here’s why.

  1. Email gives you control

Unlike other marketing channels, email marketing puts you in the driving seat and allows you to control exactly what you send to whom. In fact, no other form of communication provides you with the same ability to deliver targeted messages and content.

This means you can share tailored material that reflects the interests and behaviours of your varied segments or personas, wherever they are in the customer journey. That could be anything from an invitation to a webinar that raises awareness among new prospects, to an exclusive research report for existing customers that enhances retention.

Email marketing puts you in the driving seat

You can take this targeted approach one step further through the use of personalised subject lines, which has been shown to deliver impressive results. Research from Experian suggests that including the subscriber’s name in the subject line leads to “a 27% higher unique click rate, an 11% higher click-to-open rate and more than double the transaction rates of other promotional mailings from the same brands”.

  1. Email and social are a match made in heaven

There are very few situations in which one marketing channel is going to offer the perfect solution. Effective communication is the result of multiple tools and channels working in harmony to deliver an integrated and cohesive message.

The same study by Experian shows that “welcome emails sent to segments that subscribed via Facebook had 11% higher click-to-open rates than other welcome mailings from the same brands”. Emails with Facebook or Pinterest in the subject line have also been shown to have higher open and click rates than the industry average.

This demonstrates that interaction with consumers across several channels has a multiplier effect, and highlights the importance of ensuring communication is fully coordinated. In terms of content marketing, this means linking your social media and email distribution plans to create visibility of your material across a variety of touch points.

Interaction with consumers across several channels has a multiplier effect

  1. Email delivers results

Far from being the pariah of marketing communications, 72% of consumers report that it is their preferred way to communicate with businesses*. Further research from the Direct Marketing Association suggests that two thirds “have made a purchase online as a direct result of an email marketing message*”, while Harris Interactive reports that “81% of US online shoppers are more likely to make additional purchases, either online or in a store, as a result of emails based on previous shopping behaviours and preferences*”.

Shoppers are more likely to make additional purchases as a result of emails

Looking at this from a marketer’s perspective, eConsultancy research reveals that 55% of companies generate more than 10% of sales from email*. McKinsey & Company also reports that email is 40x better at acquiring new customers than Facebook and Twitter*.

That’s a lot of statistics in one go, but these findings clearly shows that email is a highly effective way to share your content with a wide variety of stakeholders. That may be prospects but it could equally be your current customers or clients. In fact, studies have shown that email promotions are three to five times more effective when communicating with existing customers in comparison to prospects. That makes sense when you consider that you have already built awareness with this audience and, ideally, created a favourable impression that should make them more open to the possibility of further interaction.

Email is 40x better at acquiring new customers than Facebook and Twitter

If you are already an advocate of email marketing then this is testament to the fact that you are on the right course. For those who are new to this channel, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that email could provide a boost to your current communications, particularly when combined with high quality, relevant content. As with any marketing activity, the key is to be clear on who you are targeting and why, and to measure the results so you can adapt along the way to maximise what’s working.