Email marketing versus social media – once more

Beware of comparing apples and oranges

Beware of comparing apples and oranges

According to a blog post of Email Delivered there is a “heated debate inside marketing circles” about what’s the best option when it comes to focusing your marketing efforts: social media or email marketing.

Although I had promised myself not to rant (well) anymore I can’t help but beg you to please refrain from this way of thinking. If there’s a heated debate going on inside marketing circles about these questions, I’m very happy that it’s not a debate in my marketing circles.

With all due respect to Email Delivered and my apologies for jumping upon their blog post (spoiler alert: they do conclude there’s a place for both, certainly when “connected” so all is fine) I would like to look at a few things regarding the discussions about this versus that in marketing in general.

Email marketing: we’re doing fine

First of all, I understand where such blog posts are coming from in general. Email marketers can be kind of protective about…email marketing and can be a strange bunch. I know, I consider myself as one (just as I consider myself as a B2B marketer, social media marketer, content marketer, search engine marketer, offline marketer, whatnot marketer). Note: not all email marketers are weird but since we’re generalizing….

And there’s nothing wrong with comparing stuff, especially if the conclusion is that everything has its place as Email Delivered does but the problem is that we all too often look at it from the wrong perspective (according to my opinion, of course), compare apples and oranges (Twitter is not Facebook is not LinkedIn is not whatever, likewise for the goals and even the different “tools” within a social platform – LinkedIn is a good example of that) and don’t paint the full picture (social is not just about Facebook nor just about branding, traffic, demand generation, customer service, etc.).

Second of all, email marketers had to endure a bunch of utterly silly ’email marketing is dead’ blogs and messages over the past few years and it’s frustrating (ask around, I always ranted about that too).

Thirdly, email marketing is doing very well. As we all really should know by now it’s not a coincidence that virtually all social networks send us mails to “engage” us (or: let us know they still exist). Furthermore, email is and remains the preferred interaction channel, is the glue of most marketing and, heck, it’s even a key channel for that other relatively “new” (well…) kid in town: content marketing, something we’ve been doing forever too.

Living in harmony

So, yes email marketing is alive, kicking, effective, super cool and also extremely relevant for many marketing goals and people still enjoy receiving emails, even if there’s a bit of communication chaos. They know what they want and if email is relevant for them, it’s relevant for us. We can even say that email marketing could pretty well become even more important soon but that’s for another post.

However: it’s time we stop sending the wrong messages and, if they are really debated to begin with, stop debating the social versus email marketing topic which is a non-topic anyway. Social, email, content, they all work very well together if…done well and if we dive into the details and realities instead of just some aspects.

A message to email marketers who are still frustrated about “email is dead messages”: please wake up, you’re not alone. Search engine marketers need to hear that “SEO is dead”. Content marketing killed it (gasp). Folks who use social media in their marketing mix in a smart and effective way have to hear social media is dead (yawn). And pretty soon, content marketers will hear that content marketing is dead because it’s becoming mainstream and, looking at it, it’s really all about good integrated marketing, focusing on customer value, profit and the customer experience. As is email marketing, social, inbound and all the other terms we invented. There is only good, bad and mediocre marketing and the judgment about that is in the eye of the beholder, mainly our customers.

Social or email?

Why is this debate whether you should invest in email or social silly?

Email marketing, along with search engine marketing, are the two oldest, most tested and most proven forms of highly measurable digital marketing. Of course it is also constantly evolving, especially in the just mentioned integrated – or at least, connected – context. Email service providers know it as they have seen many marketers flock to marketing automation platforms, which are also just a stage in further developments.

Social media marketing is not about one channel like email. It’s also not about just a limited number of goals. And it’s most certainly being used in efficient ways by many marketers who often still are testing the waters (don’t laugh, it’s true) or maturing in their use of “social” (can you define what social is?). And, sure they made mistakes. So did I. So did you. But email is around since, like, ever, right?

One of the probable mistakes (and still, it depends) is focusing too much on building houses on someone else’s ground (which doesn’t mean it can’t be useful or that pay to play as such is not a good thing, as long as it serves your goals and delivers). With email marketing you’re “at home”. With a blog too. And we use blogs, right? And they are social media. No, wait, now they’re content marketing. Or, well, who cares? We’re still building houses on someone else’s ground that might go horribly wrong or be perfectly fantastic by the way in other areas. Take content. I personally haven’t written one single post on LinkedIn yet. Many email marketers have. I like my own “house” but, then again, it might also make sense to put content on the platform of the social Rolodex of course. Indeed, it depends.

What matters more (or perhaps most)

I could go on for a long time but let’s just forget about all those platforms, channels and tactics for a while and – really – come to the point (it’s about time, you’re probably long gone by now).

All debates about this tactic/channel versus that tactic/channel are useless because:

  1. Your customer doesn’t care at all and defines how he interacts with you and guess what: it’s not via one channel (and not one program, campaign, goal, piece of content, etc.). He/she just wants to get what he/she wants to get, fast if possible (also if not possible and preferably with a big fat smile and rebate on top of it).
  2. Integrated marketing, whereby campaigns, programs and channels, strengthen each other in a smart way, gradually improving whatever results you strive for, simply is a must. Not because of the inherent potential effects as such but because of the customer-centric view this requires (which requires a cross-divisional and more optimized way of working around the customer and marketing goals).
  3. Each business is different. Each customer is different. Each touchpoint is different. Each customer experience is different. Each marketing goal is different. There are end goals and intermediary goals to reach those goals. There’s more than data-driven marketing. There’s more than simple cause and consequence. And there is no black or white.

With apologies for the (small) rant. Again, I know Email Delivered just wanted to state the importance of email marketing and that the post says that each channel is different and can be effective, especially when they leverage each other’s strength.

I would just like to see those messages about what is the best option when it boils down to channels and tactics go away. The this versus that. The this is dead and that’s alive.

But, then again, it’s a pretty silly wish as we’ve been repeating it since ever, just a few folks seem to read it, dozens disagree and this versus that posts are so popular in these days of catchy headlines and in an age when content marketing is confused with eyeballs, reach and populism.

To make it up: here’s the infographic that came with the post. By the way are infographics content marketing or is it social as everyone wants to see them shared all across the place? Well, they generate traffic anyway, as this rant does. Sigh.

By the way: the post by Email Delivered came to my attention via an email sent to me via a website called Social Media Today which contained a blog post mentioning the infographic that without any doubt will be shared by many on Pinterest. That says it all, doesn’t it?

Images purchased under license from Shutterstock

About the author

J-P De Clerck

J-P is the founder of i-SCOOP. He's a digital marketing and business consultant with hands-on international experience, proven results and a 100% customer-centric view. J-P is active on the crossroads of marketing, management, customer service, publishing, digital technologies, psychology, media and IT since 1992. Follow him on Twitter via @conversionation of or connect on LinkedIn.