too much email marketing death by a thousand papercuts

If you’re running an online store, chances are that you’ll have been told how important email marketing is. However, we think that the current obsession with email marketing has probably resulted in the importance of this particular tactic being overstated. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that there is simply too much email marketing out there. Many online businesses seem to choose quantity over quality. Surely there has to be a better way? 

Email marketing in its simplest form involves collecting email addresses and sending out emails to your contacts. It’s a modern form of the the traditional postal ‘mailshot’ and gives businesses and organisations an incredibly cheap way to connect with their audience on a very regular basis.

There are two simple reasons why Ecommerce experts spend so much of their time encouraging store owners to work on their email marketing campaigns:

  1. It’s very effective
  2. Most store owners aren’t very good at it

I remember a new client that we took on a couple of years ago. They had a very simple, very successful import/export business selling various kinds of confectionary. At the time they were one of the bigger Shopify businesses that we’d seen. We built them a new site and did various bits of rebranding work for them. However, after a few months it quickly became clear that despite generating impressive revenues, rave customer reviews and strong year-on-year growth, the company were doing almost nothing in the way of email marketing.

We thought it was worth finding out why this was the case, so began asking a few questions of the store owner. It quickly transpired that he had a mailing list of over 5,000 subscribers, all of whom had been customers, but wasn’t sending out any emails to his database. It was simply sitting there gathering dust. It didn’t take much to persuade the store owner that this needed to be addressed, and he commissioned us to do a couple of hours a month for him building and populating a simple newsletter campaign in MailChimp.

The result? Typically an immediate surge in sales of between $1,000 and $2,000 the same day that we sent out the monthly email. Clearly this is a bit of an extreme example, because the business was already very successful and had built a large mailing list in a very specialist niche. However, by explaining the importance of email marketing we arrived at a win/win result: we picked up a couple of hours of work each month and the client increased his annual turnover by 5 figures. These kind of results can take years to achieve, but the story very nicely illustrates the point that building a mailing list and setting up an email marketing campaign is an effective way to significantly increase the turnover of your online store.

So what’s the problem? Surely every Ecommerce store should endeavour to collect email addresses and keep in touch with customers via email?

Yes. Absolutely. 100%. If you’re not doing it, you should. 

The problem, however, is the frequency with which many brands populate their customers’ inboxes.

Unless you’re one of these sensible people that avoids giving your email address to anybody (or has a dedicated email account for online shopping etc) I’m certain that you’ll know what I’m talking about. You log into your email inbox after a few days on holiday and find hundreds of emails awaiting you. You quickly scroll through and find that 2 or 3 are from people that you know. A couple more might need to be followed up. The rest? Almost entirely from online stores. 

The worst thing is that the biggest brands are some of the worst perpetrators. I suspect that this is in part because they have built large content marketing teams who are set very clear targets for how many emails they should be sending out. This creates something of a vicious cycle; you employ email marketers, which in turn increases the output of your email marketing campaigns, which then means you need to continue employing email marketers to feed the machine.

The reality, however, is that too often when I log in to my inbox and see ‘Amazon’ or ‘LinkedIn’ or that restaurant I visited 12 months ago or the company I used to insure my car with I simply think SPAM.

I don’t open the email. I don’t even read the strapline. I simply hit delete.

Now this probably tells you that I don’t have a particularly efficient way of managing my email inbox. That’s true. However, I’m concerned that there is simply too much email marketing out there and that it’s killing successful brands. Slowly but sure, like death by a thousand papercuts, my general attitude towards companies that I’ve done business with in the past is becoming more negative.

Too Much Email Marketing = SPAM

And we all know the impact of spam on a relationship between a business and its customers.

The format might have changed from leaflets to email, but the result is the same. It’s death by a thousand papercuts.

too much email marketing spam

Is there such a thing as “too much” email marketing?

There is, of course, a very powerful argument that you can’t have too much email marketing.

Effective email marketing campaigns often seem to rise and fall on a few key figures and percentages:

  • The number of email subscribers that you have
  • The percentage of people who open each mailshot
  • The percentage of readers who then click through to an article or product page
  • The percentage of converters who then purchase a product or service from you

Clearly an online store which fails in any of these 4 criteria is likely to have a problem, albeit one that can probably be fixed over time. However, the thing that gets email marketers the most excited is the number of email subscribers that you have.

This is very logical. If you have an open rate of 50% but only have 100 subscribers then you’re going to pick up 50 readers for every email you send out. If you have an open rate of 10% but you have 1000 subscribers then you’re going to pick up 100 readers for every email you send out. Your open rate is lagging way behind, but you’re still getting a lot more readers than the more efficient business with less subscribers.

I suspect that the same principle applies in the marketing departments of a lot of larger online retailers. If you’ve got hundreds of thousands of email subscribers then you might be less concerned about your open rate if you’re sending out a high volume of emails. This is particularly true if each email is highly targeted – in other words, you’re only expecting a certain percentage of your subscribers to be interested in its contents.

There is also a powerful argument that regular email marketing helps to strengthen your brand awareness. After all, if you’re constantly seeing a particular brand name popping up in your inbox then it’s likely to become more familiar over time. Even if you don’t open or read every email, that business is putting their name in your inbox on a regular basis. Some of us will find this frustrating and turn on the business (particularly if the campaigns are poor or don’t appear to offer any value) but again I suspect that larger brands would see this as an opportunity to strengthen their market position.

One observation is that the email marketing experts are often the most guilty when it comes to overpopulating their readers’ inboxes. I’m generally quite discriminate when it comes to giving out my email address, but I do follow various digital marketers. Subscribing to an email marketer is quite an experience. You’ll typically get 3-5 welcome emails in the first 24-48 hours, followed by daily emails for the next week and regular updates for the next month. It can simply be too much. I must confess, however, that when I do have a particular question relating to email marketing strategy I know exactly where to go to find my answer.

Is there a solution to excessive email marketing?

With a purely philosophical hat on, you could argue that small businesses are the solution to excessive email marketing. I’m yet to come across a smaller online store that overpopulates its subscribers inboxes. Why is this? Quite simply because starting up and running an online store is incredibly demanding, and simply doesn’t give you the time to craft detailed email marketing mailshots on a daily basis. It’s also difficult when you’re starting out because you’re unlikely to have the product range or be able to run the kind of offers/vouchers that daily mailshots require.

On a practical level, I think the solution is quite simple:

  1. Prioritise quality over quantity. If this means you send out an excellent monthly newsletter rather than a mediocre weekly one then so be it; you can always increase volume over time.
  2. Know your audience. If they want to hear from you often then it’s sensible to prioritise regular updates. If they don’t need to hear from you for months at a time then diarise this and make sure it happens, but don’t stress too much in the meantime.
  3. Lead with a strong invitation. Too many email marketing campaigns don’t really offer their readers/customers anything of substance. You should be different.
  4. Make your customers feel valued, not pestered.

Winning subscribers and keeping in touch with your customers should be high priorities for every online business. In our opinion this has resulted in too much email marketing. The good news, however, is that retailers of all shapes and sizes seem to be learning this – with very positive consequences for their subscribers.

Written by EcommerceRVW
EcommerceRVW is a dedicated Ecommerce Blog bringing you regular ecommerce articles, reviews, case studies and guides. We're passionate about helping ambitious store owners take their business to the next level.