Email Marketers: Are You Thinking “Outside of the Box”?


Email marketing is widely acknowledged as having the highest ROI across marketing activities for most companies. But that reputation has led some companies to put their email programs on autopilot, except for the occasional tweaks and updates.

One of the common refrains among long-time email industry veterans is that even when executed poorly, email marketing still has a great ROI.

The implication then, is that a lot of brands are leaving money on the table when it comes to their email marketing programs. The key question is: What is the level of effort required to significantly increase the return on your email marketing program?

And this measurement issue - the inability to easily measure success or ROI - is also likely one of the reasons that many organizations don’t expand the depth and breadth of their email programs. One of the ways, however, to get more out of your email marketing program is not just by focusing on how to increase incremental returns from existing program elements, but to leverage your email marketing resources and expertise across your entire company to support a broader set of goals.

Think Outside the Marketing Box

Email marketing’s DNA is as a direct response channel, and industry veterans might remember the early days when email marketing was referred to by terms like “direct e-mail” (yes with a hyphen of course) or “digital direct marketing.”  But despite its name, email marketing’s value goes beyond just being used as a marketing channel.

At its core, email is fundamentally a communications channel, which was brought to the forefront during COVID-19 as brands used email as the primary channel to communicate company policies and updates. And while these emails were executed by marketing, the impetus was often from the executive team, human resources, customer support, and other departments.

But those departments are not experts in email and are definitely not experienced in how to build great email (marketing) programs. And while the marketing team may already have its hands full, helping these other departments and functions achieve their customer and business goals is still fundamentally about marketing. As I like to say, “customer experience is the new marketing.”

If you can, think “beyond the marketing box,” and email can create significant value in helping solve problems in these other departments. But marketing can then also integrate activities and leverage behavioral data that comes from these programs back into your on-going email marketing programs.

A Few Examples of Working With Other Departments

Tackling challenges in other departments can add extra burdens to already taxed email marketing teams. But the value you add to your company will generally lead to expanded exposure for the channel and your team and potentially additional budget and resources. Following are two examples to help jump-start your thinking:


Customer Experience: One of the key lessons we all experienced - whether we wore our marketing or customer hat - during the early phase of the COVID-19 shelter-in-place lockdown was that the customer/brand relation was often changing dramatically. 

My own example was when overnight I went from buying wine and spirits in person at the nearby store of a well-known national wine and spirits retailer to purchasing online and having wine and spirits delivered directly to my front door. I never saw that coming, and based on my experience, it was clear this company didn’t either.

Despite being a member of their loyalty program and a regular customer for four years since they opened a location near where I live, I had never purchased online from them. I’ll spare you all the details, but I had a horrendous initial online shopping experience as I ran into roughly 10 user issues and hurdles while trying to place my first order.

Much of these issues would have been eliminated if the company had onboarded me correctly with an email series and incentivized me to create an online account and make an immediate online purchase such as a recurring order. They could have leveraged my in-store buying habits into their email program to convert me into a recurring online customer.

In this example, the company was likely thinking inside the box and focused only on driving sales to the local store first and not convenience, customer experience and potentially increasing my overall spend across multiple channels. 

This supports the basic goal of increasing revenue, but it starts with a foundational goal of providing a great customer experience and putting the customer first. And email could have played a huge role in this process.


Product Education: Another simple example is using the email channel to educate and help with product adoption which then leads to customer satisfaction and retention. One challenge with a lot of SaaS, web, or mobile services products is users not tapping into a lot of the features, and especially the key ones that drive stickiness. 

A few years ago I worked with a financial services company and they had customers that primarily used either the web to access their service or their mobile app. But the functionality was quite limited on the mobile app compared to what was available with the web version, and they discovered that most of the mobile app users were not aware of the increased functionality with the web version. This led to high rates of churn as the mobile users were disappointed in the limited, but highly valuable features of the mobile app.

Once the company recognized this, they created a multi-email onboarding series that educated these new mobile app customers about the additional functionality via the web.

While a cliche analogy, the email channel has always been most valuable when it was used like a Swiss Army knife, and not just as a single tool. Look for opportunities in your company outside of the traditional marketing use cases, and make email marketing “all it can be” at your company.


Loren McDonald

Loren McDonald
Marketing Strategist/Content Marketer

Loren consults with companies to maximize revenue, leads, and customer retention through content marketing programs including webinars, thought leadership/research and email marketing. He has 36 years of experience as a consultant, marketing executive and thought leader at companies including IBM, Silverpop, Acoustic, Arthur Andersen, USWeb/CKS, EmailLabs, and Lyris.

He has written more than 500 articles, produced dozens of white papers and special reports, spoken at more than 350 conferences in 14 countries and presented on 200+ webinars. Loren has won multiple awards including 2005 Best Marketing Executive (American Business Awards - "Stevie's") and 2011 Email Marketer of the Year (Email Evolution Council).

Social Media:

Twitter: @LorenMcDonald



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