Why E-mails Are Still The Best Marketing Tool (And How Human Nature Can Make Yours Reach Consumers)

As humans, it’s very easy to lose sight of the small things. In our daily lives, we all juggle many prospects and problems at once, dealing with the complex relationships between all those individual issues and how they affect us regularly. In most cases, it’s natural to prioritize one thing and stick to it until it’s done; we’re not always given the luxury of time to think and truly reflect on everything, which can lead to us postponing or immediately ignoring things that we don’t feel the urgency to deal with at the time. There’s always a chance we could come back to them later, or would have judged on a different light if we weren’t dealing with a lot at once,  but alas, more pressing matters await us. That’s just human nature.

The previous paragraph can also be seen as a short explanation of a central concept of advertisement: value. Value goes well beyond qualitative and quantitative, and value is the reason why e-mail marketing is now, more than ever, absolutely necessary and will trump over social media-oriented campaigns long-term. In this text, I’ll tell you why exactly, and in the process you might learn a thing or two about yourself.

Before we proceed, I want you to keep in mind that before being potential consumers, influencers, brand builders, producers of content, etc. we are all human beings. We may be in different positions from the people we are trying to communicate with due to us trying to sell a product or a service to them and the fact effective marketing requires extensive research as opposed to being on the receiving end of that equation, for which little to no qualification is needed… but regardless of fancy words, we’re still people establishing a connection with other people. Forget that and however good a product you have, you will not be marketing it to its full potential.

Now that we’re clear on us all being humans, I want to get back to “losing sight of the small things”. Before we had e-mails and banner ads on webpages, we had snail mail and billboards, and while it should be obvious to anyone that any billboard would be magnitudes bigger in physical dimensions than any letter that gets through your door, it would be a mistake to infer that something huge that can be seen by many people will carry the same emotional pull as something that feels personal. Therefore, in this context, the “small things” would be whatever is not the focus on their mind.

And you can ask, “but how can we know exactly what someone needs?”, to which I bring up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:

The graph above is a representation of Dr. Abraham Maslow‘s theory in psychology on what were the innate motivations and needs behind human actions. These are placed on a pyramid, as to imply that these needs depend on the others under them as a foundation before they can be focused on. What Maslow was saying, roughly, was that there was an order to things being prioritized and as it is intrinsic to humans, you will not usually see people skip steps. These are all needs a person will have standing between them and feeling completely comfortable with their life, but the further up you go, the more abstract they become. For example, it’s easy to to see why someone would not be worrying primarily about romance (Love) if they had issues with their living situation (Safety) or if they were starving (Physiological). Some people might find it harder to understand the distinction of why succeeding in one’s career (Esteem) is often treated as less important than having a group of peers, large or small, or a family that appreciates them and makes them feel at ease (Belonging).

What might surprise you is that, unlike what many psychologists would, this theory did not get tested by approaching people who were known as mentally ill in order to figure out what they lacked, but rather, the test subjects were a select group of college students considered to be among the healthiest 1%. Maslow was aiming to understand what people such as Albert EinsteinFrederick Douglass or Eleanor Roosevelt had in common in feeling fulfilled enough in life that allowed them to think about greater things than their own existence.

To summarize, you won’t be dedicating a lot of time to big-scale concepts if you’re worried about not having enough of things you feel you need in a specific order because you’re a human being, and as such, until those needs are filled, you will take active steps towards getting your share or that in itself will leave you even more discontent with your situation at the moment. With how much time everyone has to dedicate to work and other aspect of their lives, it’s easy to neglect these needs throughout most of the day.

Can you think of which medium for ads on the internet drives the most response towards filling all these needs?

 

 

If your guess was “Social Media”, you did good.

It is painfully simple and beautiful in its simplicity: all your friends are there. You follow pages and join groups catered to your interests. Content is delivered to you through a timeline even if you don’t actively pursue it once you already signed up to it, or sometimes, because your acquaintances have tagged you on things. You get to share news you care about and agree with, as well as stay updated about things that matter to you. And it’s all free!

The only catch is that it’s not really free.

All of which I listed makes it an attractive field for anyone trying to come across new potential customers, especially by making use of a platform’s infrastructure to target people more likely to purchase or take part in whatever it is that they’d be offering. Comprehensive data mining makes it an advertiser’s paradise, at the cost of some degree of privacy. But besides the clear ethical quandaries, one issue plagues each and every banner, popup or text ad-based website: potential for discovery is not at all the same as engagement.

For example, if an ad being big and bold was any indication of how effective it would be, all of the websites doing advertising would look like this:

 

 

While it might surprise younger viewers, they actually did for a long time. This image is not very far from what almost all of the Internet in general used to look like, ever since the first few banners graced us with their presence around 1994.

Over the course of the years, banner ads evolved a little (even if that image is proof not all ads did): rather than a mismatch of fonts and blinking images to get your attention, in general the tendency in the industry started leaning towards more subtle alternatives. The reason why ads had to change was a phenomenon related to how we perceive things on the Internet called Banner Blindness. Essentially, web users got so accustomed to seeing ads all the time and knowing those were not things related to their interests that they “phase out” ads instinctively by now.

To give some context with numbers, for every 100 banners in the world, on average 1 of them is clicked on. In fact, it is estimated that 93 out of those 100 weren’t even seen. The advent of browsing tools such as AdBlock, which makes usage of an understanding of how advertisers work to allow users to preemptively clean up web pages, forced many sites to change strategies in acquiring revenue on what used to be, in spite of how small it might seem to someone who isn’t in the field, one of the biggest sources of income for webmasters.

It might not seem like it, but even after the major drop from 1995’s 2% Click-Through Rate to 1998’s 0.5%, the Return on Investment was still worth it for most advertisers. However, the browsing tools that effectively prevented ads from being loaded, period, made them reconsider if this was the best way to go about securing the interest of the public.

In order to counter these tools, measures are being worked on such as Native Advertising. The idea with it is for the ad to match both form and function of the website,as to not only avoid detection by these tools, but also to not detract the reader too much from what the website, or social media platform, has to offer. For example, advertisers can be sold better placement in searches of specific keywords, recommendations on the side of the website separately from editorials, or even the very controversial In-Feed cases, in which the distinction between original, regular content and advertisement presented as such is blurred, which many see as unethical.

 

 

The reason why I put in the time to explain these issues is simple: most of this is not a problem at all with e-mail marketing, and in fact most of the counters advertisers had to come up with have their roots on it.

It is important to make note of the fact that all the different forms of advertisement on the web tend to serve different demographics and purposes. The purpose of this article is not to denigrate other ways to reaching out to potential customers, but to provide context; in the end, everything is about humans attempting to establish communication.

In order to give proper context, there are some things that must be considered.

First things first: everyone in any social media platform will have an e-mail by default, as you need an e-mail to sign up for those, and essentially every other site that requires signup. Secondly, not everyone online will have social media accounts, or social media accounts in every major platform. From those two points, we can infer that the number of people with e-mail accounts is at least the same, if not bigger than the number of people in any platform of social media and, by consequence, all of them, which already makes it a very desirable target for marketing.

But there is a third point that is extremely important: no websites are too big to fail. In 2014, after 10 years, Google-owned community Orkut was shut down over not achieving the same growth of another social media giant, Facebook. At the time, Orkut counted with 29 million unique users and while its competitor counted with a little over 30 million unique users, Facebook was on an upswing while Orkut‘s growth came to a halt. As soon as the investors feel the opportunity is past, the ride is over for everybody.

From an advertiser’s standpoint, having to migrate your focus from one service to another will invariably result in contact losses. It is not unusual for consumers, being humans and by consequence having multiple other priorities, to forget to follow a tastemaker’s new page in a new social media platform, or keep up with one specific website if it changes domains. Relying on a service that allows you to connect to masses for anything other than outreach is less than ideal because if their policies change or the services fold, you don’t have a direct connection to the audience you managed to captivate.

On the other hand, e-mails have to essentially stay the same over the course of many years because they are treated as your passport throughout the internet. Trying to change e-mails and keeping your accounts in several sites in check is a hassle and most people will avoid it whenever they can because of it. As far as advertising goes, the implication here is that e-mail marketing is a reliable way to connect with the client; people can change their phone numbers, their names, move houses, states or countries over the course of time and still keep their e-mail addressees… and as if completely retaining your user base that wasn’t enough of an incentive, there is another key concept that differentiates e-mail marketing from other forms: it is not intrusive.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: the first form of digital spam came in e-mail form. And that is true:

 

 

And it is undeniable that receiving spam through e-mail is part of everyone’s lives. However, Banner Blindness does not seem to apply to e-mails, leading to e-mail servers to focus their efforts into filtering out clear attempts at such by using a criteria that involves repetitive patterns, keywords, number of people the message was sent to, etc. while whitelisting (as in, allowing privileges to trusted sources that wouldn’t be given to just anyone) certain servers known to be used by advertisers in a form of curation. And that perception of curation as well as a proper environment for your message is why e-mail marketing thrives where others still have shortcomings.

E-mail marketing will not attempt to distract you from seeing a cute dog photo, or finding out the name of your friend’s newborn child. It won’t stand in your way while your flirt or reconnect with someone you have not seen in years. It doesn’t make you worried about whether your cookies are giving out too much information about your browsing habits by showing you wedding rings because you booked a trip for two. You will not be interrupted while watching videos or told to wait while a sponsored message plays before the content you actually want to get to is presented to you.

All those things are done by other forms of Internet marketing and are seen by people in general as annoyances even if they like the products; it is perceived as such because the products are standing in, blocking the gates of whatever fills a need or a desire in the potential consumer, now probably an upset and fidgety person that can’t wait for you to be done talking about whatever it is you’re going on about so they can keep enjoying their day, and that is the opposite of what advertisement has to be.

Instead, e-mail marketing is something that you signed up for, voluntarily and consciously. You want news on this specific topic, you want to hear more from that blogger, you’d be interested in new car-related sales and if a new game comes out by a publisher, you’d be more than happy to hear about it before everyone else. The e-mails are directed to you as opposed to many without any information you didn’t offer, so it is personal without intruding or assuming.

And if by any chance you’re not interested in what the service or company have to offer with the message, removing yourself from the list tends to be as painless as possible from the consumer-side. It still would require active effort that might deter someone who is unsure of whether they are just not interested in the sales this week, or if they really don’t want to hear from your business again to bother to click on Unsubscribe and confirm it.

In fact, even getting rid of that one e-mail constitutes active effort, and gives your content a bigger chance of getting, at the very least, the headline read by someone who has not only shown interest in the industry your product is related to, but in your brand as a whole. From the consumer standpoint, it is definitely not the same as if you received snail mail and just forgot to open some of the letters either.

Due to a lot of people using e-mails at work and school, there is this innate pressure to keep your inbox clean, but not enough that deleting everything without at least having an idea on what the contents of a message are is an acceptable way to go at it, because you’d feel as if you could have deleted something important.

And that’s the major difference that results from customers not feeling blindsided: in the right place and time, an ad is not an annoyance keeping them from something, but instead, it can be important to them and that’s how you want them to perceive whatever you have to offer: as something that is worth their time, attention and perhaps more. You want it to have value in their eyes.

With e-mail marketing you get engagement that no other platform can offer, curated content that is approved by the consumer by default, a great way to get exact data on what marketing strategy appeals or not to your user base by being able to gauge clicks and connections directly rather than trying to piece everything together from search reports and referrals, incentives for the customer not to just ignore your content, an approach in a neutral environment where advertising is more welcome than among family and friends, as well as the knowledge that human nature, conditioning or very real AdBlock services will not make your offer virtually invisible to the people you’re trying to reach.

Why get in the way of basic human needs when you can make them work for you? Don’t be a bother, be a valuable asset.