Why I Kicked Email Marketing to the Curb

  • 1
  • January 02, 2014
Email-Marketing

When I started violetminded in 2009, I had no idea what I was doing. Let’s be real, when we start out in business, none of us have any frakking clue. It’s the learning curve that keeps we entrepreneurs entertained in the long run.

And as much as we’d like to rail against the best practices of running a business online, we can’t. They’re best practices for a good reason: they work. Email marketing is no exception to that. It works. Dear sweet mother of muffins, it’s effective as hell for reaching your people and hawking your wares to the masses.

I learned a long time ago that the best way to figure out how a system works is to get inside, dismantle it, and examine its inner workings, which is what I’ve done with digital business building. I don’t know how many courses I’ve taken or programs I’ve been a part of that have building a list at the tippy-top of the biznez to-do.

We’re working within a system that is inherently flawed.

Inboxes are slammed with emails from our favourite people, our not-so-favourite-people, brands that we love, and lists that we felt obligated to join because we love our friends and family. Everyone is clamouring for Inbox Zero. It’s a mark of honour to have an empty inbox. We’re valourous in our attempts to thwart the internet monster and its great hoard of email.

It’s. Fucking. Crazy.

In the fledgling days of online business, emails were coveted.

“Did you see the email from our first customer? I hope it didn’t take too long over dial-up!”

(Oh dial-up. I don’t miss you.)

In this golden age of online business, emails are carefully categorized, re-routed, spammed, ignored, deleted, archived, and tagged for follow-up. Anything that we don’t immediately see goes through the equivalent of an internet sieve. 

Email isn’t exciting anymore. Once upon a time, it was the most precious thing about being online. Everyone remembers their first email ever. (Well, I do. I was ten.)

If email isn’t exciting anymore and people dread receiving it… why are we still focusing on reaching a segment of our audience with the one thing that they want less of?

Answer: because that’s what we’re told to do. It’s effective. It’s easy to manage. It’s instant satisfaction when you see people clicking on your campaign and not ignoring it. An open rate of 35% is somehow something to text home about. Got tons of people on your list? Rad, you’re doing it right!

I propose we take a critical look at our messaging medium.

Email marketing sucks for digital creatives. We’re in the business of creativity and part of that is building relationships with our clients. Sending them the occasional newsletter with all the great stuff we’ve been doing is about as effective as that newsletter you sent out with your Christmas cards. The people that love you will love your updates. Everyone else will toss that shiz in the trash and not give it another thought.

For we creatives, the best way to reach our people is to write, create, and reach them on social networks (and in person, of course). I’ve built the good majority of my business through a combination of Twitter, Facebook, and referrals.

But, even though it sucks for some kinds of markets (such as designers, developers, and other commodity-based-service-oriented digital businesses), we still try and build our list.

We give out freebies to hook ‘em.

We send out monthly newsletters (to which many unsubscribe because they forgot they were subscribed).

We try to determine what we’re doing wrong.

The flaw is in the delivery of the message, not necessarily the message itself.

So.

I kicked my email marketing to the curb. I closed my MailChimp account with no trepidation. I know it’s not right for my business or for my people.

Am I suggesting that you nix email marketing if you’re digging it and the results it’s getting you? Hell no.

What I am suggesting is this: dismantle the system and do things your way, even if it seems counter-intuitive and especially if everyone tells you that you’re nuts.

(Alex Franzen & Paul Jarvis are two of the raddest folks I know doing business online and don’t have a Facebook presence. People say they’re nuts. I say they’re doing things their way and I love it.)

Tell me: how do you use email marketing? Do you love it? Does it love you back? Or does the whole thing seem completely borked?

About Amanda Farough

Creative Director & Designer. Deeply committed to revealing the beauty behind business & crafting online spaces that matter. Femme gamer, podcaster, & writer. The Force is strong with this one.

21 Comments

  • McQueen says:

    Yes, yes, YES. This is a HUUUUUUGE error with me. Email marketing works for a lot of people but… I just never found that it worked for me and my peoples? And it wasn’t a “well, you’re not doing it right!!!11!” thing. It honestly just doesn’t ring true to me, and that’s probably because of one simple, simple reason – I rarely read email anymore. I don’t. Look, it’s now 2014 – most of the people I speak to are on FB or Twitter, or they talk to me on Skype. Aside from really uber important conversations for workflow (which I’m looking at a few different client-friendly solutions for), I cringe when email is mentioned. Out of everything on the entire internet has changed, email has NEVER changed. EVER. Sure, they could be doing something “right”… but meh. My gut says to change it. There has to be a better way.

  • No doubt.

    The medium is the message; McLuhan was right, even after all these years. “Can I please spam you?” – what most of our peeps hear if they don’t care two winks about our emails.

    I’ve always been fascinated by how to choose what mediums to use over others. It tends to be a really stressful decision for most small business owners. So what to do? I mean, if “everybody” is doing Twitter, you gotta do it too, right? Nah, nonsense.

    The first question out of every marketing consultant’s mouth should be, “Why?” as in “Why do I want to use XYZ” where XYZ is whatever the hip service of the day is.

    The tricky bit here is that while it’s perfectly OK to avoid digital sharecropping (harvesting “attention” from platforms you don’t own), you kinda do own a list. If and how you use it is totally the crux/bane/lifeline for any given business. I’d love to see what happens next for you; do you spend more time on Twitter? Blogging? Do your comments stay stable? Go up? I ask because I genuinely think you’re on to something, but the proof is in the pudding, so to speak.

    Will you write a follow-up after 3 months?

    • I’d love to do a follow-up to let you know how business is going three months from now. And hey, feel free to send me an email. I see that we’ve got a lot in common (biznez wise). There might be a stellar convo in there somewhere. ;)

  • Joanna says:

    Ooooh, thank you for putting words to this! Always feel hypocritical when I send out a blast since I’ve unsubscribed to just about everything myself. You’ve given me something to think about. Good stuff!

    • Right? It felt hypocritical to me as well. I’m glad that this is a conversation that people are interested in having. Better to question the status quo than allow ourselves to be carbon copies of one another, y’know?

  • […] at violetminded media for having the guts to do what was best for her business + clients – scrap email marketing all together. it’s worth thinking about what you are doing on auto-pilot vs what you feel driven to do […]

  • […] Read more here: violetminded Media | Why I Kicked Email Marketing to the Curb […]

  • Paul says:

    Facebook, Smacebook :) I can’t stand social media, it’s more vapid and ephemeral than email will ever be. My favourite way to communicate with folks is through my mailing list—people open them, click the links, buy my stuff. Without my mailing list, I wouldn’t have a writing career at all.

    But of course, that’s me. And what works for me doesn’t always work for anyone else. So kudos for going against the grain and being true to your values!

    • I love email as a means of communication, for sure. It’s more intimate than just tweeting my face off. (Or updating Facebook like a mofo.) But I’m sure you know that marketing via email as a designer & developer is hella hard, man. Your writing + email marketing = winning. I love getting your missives and look forward to reading them. (Because excellent writing.) But most other folks? Not so much. It’s mostly blah-blah-blah-buy-my-shiz. I’d rather see more creative approaches to hawking one’s wares on the internet. No idea what that looks like… but I’m curious to figure it out.

  • Martin says:

    Sorry to barge in, but:
    I can see why you say these things, but if it doesn’t work, it’s because people do it wrong, usually in one of two ways (or both)

    1: The more often you send, the lower your unsubscribe rate and the higher your sales. Mail often, daily if you can.
    2: Golden rule: 5% promotion, 95% information and entertainment. You write those emails for people to enjoy, and that way they do actually enjoy reading them. No point in sending just pitches: make it worth it for people to pay attention.

    So, are you going to open your chimpy account again? :)

    • Hey Martin. Thanks for popping in and offering up your advice.

      I can appreciate the fact that there are right ways and wrong ways to approach email marketing. I’ve seen high-converting campaigns and low-converting ones often enough to know where the sweet spot CAN be.

      Here’s my point: for some industries and some types of work, it’s an inappropriate solution. It doesn’t matter how entertaining I can be (and I’m mad entertaining), it doesn’t feel right. It feels disingenuous. Does it worK? Sure! I don’t doubt the effectiveness of the methodology (which I pointed out several times).

      I want to open up a discussion to get business folks to question WHY they’re using a messaging medium instead of just following blindly, because that’s what we’re told to do when we first start out. I don’t have the answers to an alternative (as of yet), but experimenting is going to be part of the fun.

      And nope nope, I’m not reopening my MC account. Not even remotely tempted.

      • Martin says:

        I think the feeling it’s inappropriate is a personal thing (thereby entirely valid, don’t get me wrong). I just don’t think one can say it’s not right for a particular industry – in fact I think it can work for any field or industry.

        Having said that, I agree it’s good to question why we do things. And if it really doesn’t feel right, I’d be the last to insist email marketing is the way to go.

        The main reason that I like it so much is how effective and easy it is for building direct relationships with people. But that’s just my mileage.

    • It all depends on the recipient, of course — but, getting daily emails from a blog? I unsubscribe, faster than lightning!

  • I love all of this. Back story: With the help of Allissa Haines I have up’d my game and improved my business and online persona. I went 12 months straight with an email marketing campaign and got positive results/feedback. It was once a month and hard. It got a little easier. It was hardly about selling my stuff, mostly fun. In October 2013 I sent the last email saying I was skipping Nov/Dec. I was keeping it simple, cutting things off my to do list. “Be back in January”. I myself have achieved inbox zero in the last 12 months.
    The emails helped me develop my personality (which was lacking /I lost sight of on my actual blog) Gearing up for this year to focus on quality blog posts.
    So my question – what would you do? Send a January email saying I am no longer sending emails? You can get posts via email or follow me here, here and here. …..
    Your thoughts?

    • The grand majority of my audience, even from the ones that subscribed on MailChimp, were followers and friends on other networks. To the ones that weren’t (I did some cross-checking), I sent personal emails to each of them saying that I was closing my account and would look forward to chatting with them in the future.

      The response?

      Crickets, man.

      It leads me to believe that the ones on my list were the kinds of folks that weren’t right for my business in the first place.

      The alternative, in my eyes, is deeper connection with a smaller audience. My business has never been about sheer numbers, after all. Being able to take that MailChimp off my back to focus on other avenues of connection will be freeing. I plan on writing a follow-up in a few months to let you all know how this grand experiment is going.

      Being able to question the status quo is a big part of the work that I do. And though it’s not the right solution for me or my people, it can be for you and yours. Just keep it in the back of your skull to always be questioning best practices and not follow blindly.

      (PS. I love Allissa!)

  • Thank you so much. I will think about those thoughts. You’re right, it will be freeing. I’m already feeling it. Will focus on quality not quantity. Cheers to a happy 2014!

  • Rhiannon says:

    I like the way you’re breaking this open into a conversation we should be having about what’s right for us and our businesses.

    I’ve never been what I’d call ‘good’ at email marketing, even though I’ve impressed my clients and colleagues with some of the campaigns I’ve done, which must have been completely by accident because … well, it’s not my Thing. I don’t do it well. It feels like an extra thing I must think of, whereas the other types of marketing I engage in feel obvious and more ease-ful to me.

    Something that feels like pushing = not something I want in my life or in my business.
    Something that feels like ease = something I want to cultivate in my life and in my business.

    Thanks, sisterfriend, for bringing this into further awareness. It’s a super important conversation to have. <3

  • SandyMc says:

    Intriguing Amanda, thanks for raising the topic. Emails are just so

    I had to work really hard not to feel like a first-class fraud when I started emailing my people. After dividing my list up into people I had met face to face, had a great conversation with AND who where interested in what I had to offer, it was so much easier to email them, as it felt like I was continuing the conversation. It was way more about offering them something, not trying to get them to upend their wallets.

    Now I send the same emails to both lists, because they’re more real. They’ve become another means of continuing the conversation.

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