Since the beginning of online advertising, promising new formats—like pop ups, expandable banners, video, social media, native and mobile—have captured and held the industry's attention and dollars. Many of these formats have delivered and become trusted elements of the media mix. At the same time, these newcomers have often overshadowed email and cast it as a dying player in the digital marketing game. In reality, email marketing is a lucrative digital strategy which has not only proven to be the most robust and thriving digital channel for ROI, but which in today's digital ecosystem has emerged as the centerpiece of the marketing automation platforms.
Email's Proven Success
According to eConsultancy's "Email Marketing Industry Census 2014," email marketing increased company revenue proportionately by 28% in just one year. On average, companies attributed 23% of their total sales to the email marketing channel, compared to 18% the previous year. Furthermore, according to EmailExpert for every $1 spent on email marketing, the average return is $44.25. Yet despite such staggering ROI, just $3.5 billion was spent on email marketing in the U.S. in 2014, compared to more than $40 billion in total digital ad spend.
Why is that, when there is such a clear rationale for increased spend on email marketing? Generally speaking, email is constrained by the slow drip of new email signups. Ad tech, despite a 60% tilt toward performance-based ad solutions, has failed to deliver on the promise of email subscriber acquisition. The complexity, constraint and expense of using traditional online ads as part of an email sign-up program has flummoxed email marketers seeking database growth—this is true of large enterprises as well as small businesses. It's simply too complicated and too expensive to execute a social, search or banner campaign with the goal of generating highly engaged new email subscribers at scale.
It's hard work and expensive for a large enterprise to execute a paid media campaign to a landing page for email capture. It can be done, but it is very expensive. For a small or medium sized business, this is generally beyond their means. Optimization is key, and to effectively acquire high quality new subscribers takes more time, expertise and money than typically available to an SMB. But this won't be the reality much longer. Omnichannel marketing providers are starting to integrate email list growth solutions that are not only affordable, but also automated and easy to use.
Omnichannel Marketing Brings Email and Lead Generation Back into Focus
Omnichannel marketing technology is bringing email into focus like never before. Recognizing the superior personalization and engagement inherent in email marketing, a broad swath of digital marketing platforms—from small business marketing technology providers, to inbound marketing platforms, to enterprise marketing "clouds"—have built or acquired email marketing tools. Great email is easier for businesses of all sizes to deploy and optimize, and it is more often paired with consistent messaging across channels. Email is a proven performer that is only getting better.
At the same time, the marketing automation platforms are increasingly serving as one-stop shops for lead generation and digital advertising deployment. The practices and products of some of today's leading marketing automation companies help illuminate the trend. Marketo and HubSpot, big drivers for a long time in the inbound marketing space, both added email to their marketing automation tools and lead generation is a big part of both companies' product suites. After a series of acquisitions, the Salesforce Marketing Cloud now helps marketers deploy social ad campaigns and email campaigns from the same toolkit. Adobe currently provides a self-service DSP, multi-channel orchestration and data management under one roof. Acxiom and Experian also show us that consumer messaging orchestration means the collision of earned, owned and paid media.
This new reality of convergence is helping marketing departments become less siloed, and it's casting light on the demand for a more effective paid media tactic built for customer acquisition. Email lead generation, a major imperative, is a gaping hole in these platforms, only partially filled with a panoply of email signup forms. Bringing traditional ads under the omnichannel tent will not solve this problem. That is why omnichannel providers are increasingly partnering with so called "opt-in advertising" specialists—ad exchanges powering specialized ad units that collect consumer opt-ins and data, paired with integrated data transfer automation.
The Evolution of Customer Acquisition
When advertising enables consumers to invite companies into their inboxes, we are faced with a powerful new type of customer acquisition. Opt-in advertising solutions began to emerge several years ago, but they have recently evolved. The best opt-in advertising providers now bridge ad tech and marketing tech, using all of the programmatic tools of the modern ad exchange, plus data transmission and ROI optimization technology, to automate the email marketer's Holy Grail: delivery of targeted, affordable, highly engaged email subscribers at scale.
Successful opt-in advertising platforms offer simple campaign management tools and use flexible back-end algorithms that leverage data to deliver great results. These email acquisition platforms have the ability to find the right person wherever she is and create a robust email audience. Taking advantage of marketing automation machinery, today's marketers are more and more likely to engage and monetize those voluntarily loyal opt-in audiences.
For the lifetime of digital marketing, email has demonstrated its superior ability to drive measurable results. It is time for the industry to turn its attention and dollars toward leveraging the best of ad tech for tailored email subscriber acquisition tools that build proprietary email audiences at a scale commensurate with email's outsized ROI.
Craig is the President and Chief Operating Officer of New York-based Opt-Intelligence, an online ad exchange dedicated to the user opt-in experience.